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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 04:35 GMT 05:35 UK
European press review

The 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion to end the former Czechoslovakia's experiment with liberal communism, the Prague Spring, is marked by the major Czech papers. In France, heatwave woes and economic worries continue to generate comment.

A scandal involving politicians in Hamburg's regional government draws the attention of German papers. And a Ukrainian paper reports on special prison cells for "rich criminals".

Czechoslovakia, 1968

In the Czech Republic all major dailies mark the 35th anniversary of the invasion by the forces of the Warsaw Pact that crushed the former Czechoslovakia's communist reform movement, known as the Prague Spring.

Those seven months of work towards a freer society were an act of creation and vision
Pravo

The cause of the invasion, a commentary in Mlada Fronta Dnes believes, was that the former Czechoslovakia, "instead of trying to throw off the yoke of communism, sought instead to improve it".

"The Kremlin leaders must have been surprised when they started receiving advice from Prague on the proper form of communism".

"The paradox of history," it observes, "is that the Czech recipe for improving communism would only have lead to its swift destruction, as Gorbachev demonstrated 20 years later".

In the opinion of a commentary in Pravo, "the Prague Spring was not in vain."

The truth is that Czechoslovakia became a battlefield between two groups of communists, and the 'nicer' ones were defeated
Hospodarske Noviny

"Those seven months of work towards a freer society," it says, "were an act of creation and vision, an attempt to take a heroic stance towards our own history".

But a commentary in Hospodarske Noviny questions the wisdom of marking the day.

"Is there any point," it asks, "in commemorating further proof that great powers often trample upon the rights of smaller nations?"

"The truth" about the Prague Spring, it says, is that "Czechoslovakia became a battlefield between two groups of communists, and the 'nicer' ones were defeated".

"But they were still communists and wanted to build socialism."

The anniversary does not pass unnoticed in the former Soviet Union.

"August 1968 was a time of lost hopes for change in society and of 'fraternal assistance' from Soviet tanks," a commentary in Russia's Izvestiya says.

"The arrival of Soviet troops in Czechkoslovakia is often called an 'invasion' but it was more like a 'hostile takeover', a term used in business to describe one major company swallowing another."

France's unhappy summer

According to a report in France's Le Figaro, the country's main chain of undertakers estimates that the total number of heatwave-related deaths for August may be as high as 13,600, more than double the government's figure.

The paper expects the issue to be high on the agenda during today's cabinet session - the first since the summer break - which, it notes, should also be used by President Jacques Chirac to "break his silence" on the subject.

The slowness of the response to the health situation has given unexpected ammunition to the [opposition] Socialists
Le Monde

"Another piece of bad news" for the government, the paper adds, is the 0.3% drop in the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter.

"It is now clear that economic growth this year will fall far short of the 1.3% expected by the government."

"There is a growing incompatibility," the paper says, "between the promised cuts in income tax and the European Commission's warning that France must put its public finances in order."

Le Monde agrees that things are not looking easy for the French government.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's autumn, it says, "will not begin under the best auspices".

Mr Raffarin "had hoped that the return from the summer break would bring a new impetus" to his cabinet team, the paper says, "but in fact the government looks more shaken than rested".

"The slowness of the response to the gravity of the health situation has given unexpected ammunition to the [opposition] Socialists."

Besides the consequences of the heatwave, the government will be faced with continuing unrest among schoolteachers and workers in the entertainment industry, it says, not to mention "the formidable tasks of completing the 2004 budget and the bill on financing a social security system which is showing an accumulated deficit of 16 billion euros".

A scandal in Germany

Several German papers consider the wider implications of a political crisis in Hamburg, whose Christian Democratic mayor, Ole von Beust, has sacked the city-state's right-wing populist interior minister, Ronald Schill, over allegations of blackmail.

Mr Von Beust has said that Mr Schill had threatened to tell the media that the mayor was having a homosexual affair with the city's justice minister unless he withdrew a threat to sack an interior ministry official suspected of corruption.

In Germany, too, many politicians have become celebrities - and this is not a good thing
Sueddeutsche Zeitung

For the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the Hamburg scandal is a "lesson on what can happen when a party, the Christian Democrats, joins forces with a dubious partner in order to gain power". Mr Schill, according to the paper, was lacking in "the character department".

The scandal also shows the extent to which politicians' private lives are intruding into politics, the paper says, "even in Germany where this kind of scandal was more the exception than the rule for decades".

This trend, it believes, has changed the political culture, and both the media and politicians are to blame. "In our country, too, many politicians have become celebrities - and this is not a good thing."

According to Die Welt, Mr Schill "sought to use the accusation of homosexuality as a political weapon" and, as a result, "he was punished not only by being sacked but also by the public's contempt".

"What was seen as 'dirty'," the paper argues, "was not the nature of the disclosure but his attempt to exert pressure by means of alleged disclosures over the mayor's private life".

Three-star prison

Special "business cells" for Ukraine's rich criminals have appeared in Dnipropetrovsk, according to the Ukrainian newspaper Fakty i Kommentarii.

Following a recent refurbishment, "the cells have been so luxuriously fitted out that they are superior to many hotels."

"Each business cell is big enough for two people," it reports. "Pretty bedspreads cover the wooden beds. There is a desk, a TV set and a fridge."

Instead of having to slop out, business prisoners have access to a proper low-level toilet, and "can wash and shower with hot water". "The cost of such luxuries is 116 hryvnyas (about $20) per night - roughly as much as staying in a three-star hotel."

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.




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