Eleven of world’s best known authors, including four Nobel Prize winners, have come to the defence of the Czech-born writer Milan Kundera, accused of being a communist police informer, the news agency AFP reported on Monday. A statement, signed by Salman Rushdie, Phillip Roth and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others, said that “a defamation campaign was under way aimed at tarnishing the reputation of Milan Kundera”. Last month, a Czech historical institute published a police report from 1950, suggesting Mr Kundera informed Czechoslovakia’s communist police on a Western agent who spent 14 years in prison as a result. Milan Kundera, who left Czechoslovakia in 1975 and has since lived in France, vehemently rejected the accusation. The statement in Mr Kundera’s support was also signed by Orhan Pamuk, John Maxwell Cootzee and Nadine Gordimer.
During his visit to Belgrade, President Václav Klaus said that he expected Serbia to apply for EU candidacy within the first six months of 2009, during the Czech presidency of the European Union. At the start of his two day visit to the Balkan country on Monday, the Czech President met the Serbian head of state Boris Tadic who thanked Mr Klaus for his attitude following Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Václav Klaus, known for his sympathy towards Serbia, heavily criticized the Czech government’s decision to recognize the independence of the former Serbian province in May this year.
The European Commission on Monday lowered its estimate of Czech GDP growth for 2008 to 4.4 percent, down from a previous forecast of 4.7, made earlier this year. In 2009, the commission expects economic growth to slow down to 3.6 percent. Even so Czech economic growth is expected to remain higher than the average EU growth projected at a mere 0.2 percent next year. The European Commission also predicted that inflation in the Czech Republic would drop dramatically from the estimated 6.6 percent this year to 3.1 percent in 2009 due to lower demand for consumer goods and the strong Czech crown.
The government has approved a draft bill that should allow foreigners to buy real estate in the Czech Republic without restrictions. The bill passed by the government on Monday will abolish an exemption which the Czech authorities negotiated with the EU on the country’s entry to the European Union in 2004. If passed by Parliament and approved by the president, the bill will enter into force in May next year. According to insiders, the law will especially benefit potential buyers from other central and eastern European EU member states.
Trial production began at carmaker Hyundai’s first European plant, located in Nošovice in the Czech Republic, as the first Czech-made Huyndai i30 left the production line on Monday morning. A ceremonial launch is scheduled to take place in a week’s time. Roughly 18,000 cars are expected to be produced at the site by the end of the year. The factory represents an investment of 1.1 billion euros; the company is expecting to produce 200,000 cars next year, and to employ more than three thousand workers by 2011.
The state budget of the Czech Republic ended in October with a surplus of 10.9 billion crowns, or more than 570 million US dollars, the Finance Ministry said on Monday. For the same period last year, the surplus was 27.2 billion crowns. This year, the deficit is expected to end with a deficit of roughly 20 billion crowns.
An epidemic of hepatitis A, which hit the Czech Republic in the summer, has began to fade away, the country’s Chief Hygiene Officer Michael Vít told reporters on Monday. Only 59 cases of the infectious disease appeared last week, which was 50 cases fewer than the week before. Since January this year, 1163 people have been infected with hepatitis A in the Czech Republic.
The destruction of a Marian Column in Prague’s Old Town Square, which occurred in 1918, was remembered in the Czech capital on Monday. The column was pulled down 90 years ago, five days after Czechoslovakia’s declaration of independence as it was believed to have been erected in praise of the victory of the Habsburg coalition at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. The 14-metre-tall column was however built in 1650 in gratitude for the end of the Thirty Years’ War. A gathering was held on the site where it once stood; the event, organized by the Association for the Renewal of the Marian Column in Prague, concluded with a concert followed by a Roman Catholic mass in the Holy Trinity Church on Old Town Square.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has confirmed his decision to defend his position as Civic Democratic Party leader at the party’s December congress. He revealed the news during a special briefing on Sunday, ending speculation he might give up the post over increasing opposition within his own party. Questions over Mr Topolánek’s political future came to the fore since his party’s poor showing in regional and Senate elections in October. So far, only one other candidate, deputy leader Pavel Bém, has officially announced he will also be running. Mr Bém recently compared his party to a ship drawing water, badly in need of a new “captain”.
In related news, the prime minister said on a Sunday TV interview programme that there would be changes to his cabinet following the defeat of the coalition parties in the recent regional and Senate elections. But he declined to confirm any names yet. There has been speculation those affected could include the embattled Health Minister, Tomáš Julínek, blamed by some within the Civic Democratic Party for failing to reassure the public of the need for healthcare fees at the doctor’s, a key issue in the elections. Other names mentioned in the media in connection with a possible cabinet reshuffle include Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič and Culture Minister Václav Jehlička.
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