- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Protest democracy

Czech Ambassador Alexandr Vondra was proud to see scenes of striking television journalists and crowds of 100,000 demonstrators supporting them in downtown Prague.

To him, the strikes and protests showed the Czech Republic has truly matured as a democracy tolerant of peaceful demonstrations.

Mr. Vondra described the Jan. 1 protests in the latest edition of the Czech Embassy newsletter as a conflict between journalists for the Czech public television station and a newly appointed board of directors.

The journalists, "perhaps correctly," complained that the new board was attempting to exert political pressure on station programming and threaten its independence, he said.

Twelve years after the fall of communism in 1989, "the Czech Republic is now a parliamentary democracy that guarantees all basic rights and freedoms to its citizens, including the freedom of speech," Mr. Vondra wrote.

The strike briefly disrupted programming, but independent stations covered the story, showing the government no longer could control the flow of information, he said.

"Additionally there is a new generation of young journalists who are not willing to follow politically motivated orders or to stop their investigative reporting simply because someone does not like it," Mr. Vondra wrote.

"Here lies the problem, as well as the difference. Some politicians, most of whom still remember the times of domination by a one-party system, do not believe in the complete independence of public media."

The "journalists' rebellion" is hardly unique in the former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe, he said.

"It is a common feature of all post-communist countries struggling to build a stable and functioning civil society, having already achieved their main goal of a functioning free market and democracy," Mr. Vondra wrote.

'Look forward'

The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon has passed on a message to the Lebanese prime minister from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is asking Arab leaders not to prejudge the hawkish Israeli prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Powell, in his message to Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, expressed "hope that all sides in the region will give an opportunity to the new Israeli government which is still in the process of establishing itself to look forward in the direction of a comprehensive settlement," Ambassador David Satterfield said last week.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the Palestinian parliament. She holds a 10 a.m. news conference at the National Press Club. Tomorrow she is scheduled to address the American Committee on Jerusalem and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Tomorrow

• An Israeli delegation representing Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, which is scheduled to conduct talks with Bush administration officials and members of Congress. Moshe Arens, former defense and foreign minister, Zalman Shoval, former ambassador to the United States, and Dore Gold, former ambassador to the United Nations, hold a news conference at the National Press Club at noon on Thursday.

• A delegation from the Balkans that will discuss news coverage of the region with invited guests at the Freedom Forum. The group includes: Dukagjin Gorania, chief editor of KTV-KohaVision in Kosovo; Zeljko Ivankovic, deputy editor of Banka Magazine of Croatia; and Sonila Pepa of Tele Norba television in Albania.

Wednesday

• Alassane Ouattara, president of the Republican Rally, a leading opposition political party of Ivory Coast. He meets with invited guests at the Freedom Forum.

• Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative Party member of the British Parliament and opposition defense and foreign affairs spokesman, who addresses the Heritage Foundation.

Thursday

• David Trimble, first minister of Northern Ireland, joins invited guests for a panel discussion on democracy and terrorism sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and discusses the political situation in Northern Ireland Friday at 9 a.m. at the National Press Club.

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