Churches will probably receive 267 billion crowns (some 14.5 billion US dollars) from the Czech state in compensation for their property confiscated by the former communist regime, Mlada Fronta Dnes reports. Last week members of the ruling coalition and churches agreed on financial compensation worth 83 billion crowns. The state won’t be able to pay out the sum in a one-off payment as it would threaten the state budget, Finance Minister Miloslav Kalousek told the daily. The compensation will therefore be paid out gradually throughout a period of sixty years. The cabinet will discuss the planned compensation for churches at the beginning of next year. If it passes through the parliament, the churches will start receiving the payments as of 2009.
The popularity of Czech presidential candidate Jan Svejnar is increasing, according to a poll conducted by the STEM agency. The results of the poll suggest that 34 percent of respondents would like to see the incumbent Vaclav Klaus re-elected to the post. However, the same number of people would prefer to see his rival Jan Svejnar in the post. In a poll conducted in November, almost half of respondents didn’t know Jan Svejnar at all and only 15 percent wanted to see him as president. Mr Klaus’s popularity may be falling due to his unwillingness to participate in a televised debate with his opponent. He recently rejected Mr Svenjar’s offer of a one-on-one debate on the grounds that his views were well known and he had already proved himself in the office.
A Czech operational programme aimed at drawing EU funds for support in the field of science is likely to be the last of all EU countries’ programmes to be approved by the European Commission. Czech officials will negotiate the details of the programme in late March at the earliest. The operational programme will make the Czech Republic eligible for up to 54 billion crowns (the equivalent of roughly 3 billion US dollars) in EU subsidies. Delays in the implementation of the programme forced Dana Kuchtova of the Green Party to step down as education minister in October.
A new baby box for mothers who want to give up their unwanted babies was installed in Pelhrimov, south Bohemia. Local councillors decided to establish a baby box after a child had been found abandoned at a hospital toilet earlier this year. Ten babies have been left in a baby box since they were established two and a half years ago. The last baby was placed in a baby box in Prague last week-end. Until now, five baby boxes have been operating in the country and three more are to be set up next year.
Most Czechs believe that the post-war decrees of the then Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes, which stripped local Germans of Czechoslovak citizenship and property rights, should continue to be valid. However, the number of those advocating this opinion has been steadily declining in the past five years, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency. The results also suggest that the number of those who regard the post-war expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia as a just step has been on decline as well. In the recent poll 48 percent of people said that that the expulsion of Sudeten Germans was a right step. Five years ago this opinion was expressed by 60 percent of respondents.
The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Prague mayor Pavel Bem and wife of the Czech president Livia Klausova have taken over the symbolic Bethlehem Light from scouts in St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle. On Saturday, scouts distributed the Bethlehem Light by train all over the country. Until Christmas Eve people can come to light their own candles in the cathedral as well as in the lobby of the Czech Radio building in Prague. The Bethlehem Light tradition was established by the Austrian radio station ORF in 1986. In the Czech Republic, this tradition started after the fall of communist regime in 1989.
The highest building in the Czech Republic located at Prague’s district of Pankrac has been finished and it is ready for its first tenants. The City Tower building is 109 metres high, with 27 floors and 800 underground parking places. The construction of the building started in 1983 and it was originally to become the main centre of the former Czechoslovak Radio. It was bought in 2000 by its current owner, the ECM developer.
The Czech Republic and eight other EU members joined the Schengen border free-zone at midnight Thursday. The lifting of border controls has created a vast border-free zone for 400 million Europeans in 24 countries stretching from Spain to Estonia. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended celebrations at the border crossings Zittau-Friedenstrasse-Hradek nad Nisou, where the three countries’ borders meet, hailing the Schengen expansion as an important step to a one-tier Europe.
The Schengen expansion has taken years of preparation and the European Union estimates that about one billion euros (1.4 billion dollars) has been spent on improving security on the zone's new outer frontiers. The Czech Republic has no outer frontiers, bordering only with other Schengen members but its international airports have all introduced tighter security measures.