Feb. 2nd, 2006

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The English-language People's Daily Online reports that, a decade and a half after the split of Czechoslovakia, the Czech and Slovak languages

Ivana Formanova loves watching old movies. But when a film from the former Czechoslovakia comes on in the Slovak language, she quickly switches channels.

"I don't really understand it. It's too hard to sit and watch and figure out what they are saying," the 15-year-old Czech, born in the former Czechoslovakia, says.

The Slovak and Czech languages have so much in common that Czechoslovak officials once considered them two versions of the same tongue.

But 13 years after Czechoslovakia split into the independent Czech and Slovak republics, the ties that bind the two languages are fraying. Some experts believe the day will come when Czechs will barely comprehend their Slavic neighbours.

"I think Slovaks felt Czechs would always understand us," said Mira Nabelkova, a Slovak linguist at Charles University in the Czech capital Prague.

Mindful of young people like Formanova, Czech television executives decided last year to begin dubbing Slovak shows into Czech. Many middle-aged and older Czechs were outraged and articles criticizing the move appeared in the national press.

The executives justified their decision by citing studies that show 30 per cent of Czech teenagers and young adults have trouble understanding Slovak entertainment.

"The more you meet people, especially children, who have difficulty understanding, the more you realize how different the languages are," Nabelkova said.

Elsewhere, The Guardian observes that the recent support given by Antonio Tejero, leader of Spain's 1981 coup attempt, to the Popular Party is one in a series of catastrophic missteps that is cutting into Popular Party support sharply.

Spaniards ousted [the Popular Party] just four days after the 2004 train bombings committed by Islamist terrorists that killed 192 Madrid commuters. The People's party had tried to pin the attack on the Basque terrorist group Eta.

Since then, the party's vigorous pursuit of old-fashioned conservative causes has looked unlikely to win the backing of young, modern Spaniards on the right or centre.

It has angrily defended the traditional privileges of the Roman Catholic church, opposed gay marriage and predicted a national apocalypse if Catalonia and the Basque country are handed greater autonomy.

The party's belligerent attitude has encouraged some of Spain's more troglodyte elements, including Tejero, to crawl out of the woodwork.

With every spluttered protest of support for their ideas by angry generals, former coup-plotters or, even, Spain's increasingly politicised Roman Catholic hierarchy, the People's party is seen as stepping further away from the centre.

"Every time a bishop takes to the streets to protest, our poll ratings increase," confided one source close to Mr Zapatero.

In Hong Kong, Leslie Kwoh writes (in The Standard) that Hong Kong's immigration policies are not only discouraging mainland Chinese from immigrating to Hong Kong, but that they might be undermining the city-state's economic future.

"Darker skinned minorities and mainland Chinese are discriminated when it comes to recruitment, equal remuneration and harassment in the workplace," said Shalini Mahtani, the founder of Community Business, a local charity that emphasizes equal opportunity in the workplace.

In fact, 91 percent of mainlanders living in Hong Kong have experienced discrimination, according to a study in 2004 by the Society for Community Organization, a non-governmental organization. Forty-four percent said they experienced discrimination when looking for a job, while 17 percent said they faced discrimination in the workplace.

About 36 percent of mainlanders living in Hong Kong said they experienced discrimination when seeking government aid, such as health benefits or police attention.

These figures have increased considerably since the last study, conducted in 2001, according to the organization.

Participants in the study also expressed concern at the government's upcoming legislation on race discrimination in the workplace, which does not protect "ethnically Chinese" from discrimination by locals.

Almost 99 percent of mainlanders polled responded that they hoped the proposed bill would be changed to protect migrants.

However, the Home Affairs Bureau has explained that "discrimination by a local Chinese person against a new arrival from the mainland" does not constitute racial discrimination, and "discrimination on account of a person's new migrant status is outside the intended scope of the proposed legislation."

[. . .]

In a report to be published next year, [Hong Kong University economist Richard] Wong says that most of the people who come to Hong Kong are not trained in highly skilled labor, such as telecommunications or Internet technology infrastructure.

"Unable to draw diverse talents from the rest of the nation and the world, Hong Kong's human capital stock is lagging far behind New York and London," the report said. "With a low fertility rate and restricted immigration, Hong Kong is not only aging, but also its talent pool is at risk of becoming stagnant, thus threatening future competitiveness."
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