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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Économie, libertés : les dossiers chauds de Prague

by F.P.

Economy, freedoms: the hot files of Prague

Translated Saturday 24 January 2009, by Colyn Wohlmut

Czech industry seems particularly fragile against the crisis, while young communists stay muzzled.

The Czech economy is just fine — at least, that is the message the government is sending. But things these days are not that simple for the old “teacher’s pet” of democratic transition, which converted to a market economy after the Eastern Block was shattered.

Who could imagine that ten thousand Czechs are scraping by, while the automotive industry, for example, is a particularly well-established industrial force in Central Europe? So Toyota, which has a plant here, has announced that its employees in Japan will be on furlough for 11 days. “Will the Czech Republic be next?", asks Jaroslav Blaha, editor at Grande Europe, a French web journal devoted to Eastern countries. He is disturbed by other repercussions of the crisis, because “certain sectors have invested, via Czech banks, in Icelandic funds", a country in bankruptcy.

Above all, the government brags that it has reduced the public deficit. Certainly, it has dropped from 109 million crowns (4.14 million euros) to 71 million crowns (2.69 million euros). But this reduction was accomplished by a reduction in public spending, especially unemployment benefits. This point, Jaromir Kohlicek, member of the Bohemian-Moravian Communist Party and European Deputy, precisely articulates the government’s strategy: hide the unemployment figures.

Official figures cite 300,000 unemployed persons (6.6% of the eligible population). In reality, 500,000 Czechs are not working. With the crisis, this situation may worsen. Already, at Skoda, 800 temporary workers have been eliminated. And in the glass industry, many small businesses have declared bankruptcy, one after the other.

Czechs seem to be disheartened about their future, if one believes the polls which indicate a 27% drop in confidence over one year.

In their own defense, the Czechs can counter with a political force: The Bohemian-Moravian Communist Party, third largest national political force in the opposition. There, without a doubt, the repression against young communists will continue. This movement has simply been banned because it declares that it “prefers post-national ownership”; simply put, it states that the methods of production should be held in common. The motto proclaiming freedom in “a Europe without borders”, begun by the Czech presence in the E.U., seems to have suffered a major setback in….the Czech Republic.

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