In his traditional New Year’s Day address, President Václav Klaus has
called on Czechs to protect and cultivate their identity in order not to
lose their freedom in a world where borders are becoming increasingly
President Klaus also said that despite many problems, Czechs are now
in the best possible period in the country’s history, which he said is
proved by the fact that Czechs are not leaving the country en masse even
though they are free to. Mr Klaus also said that an upward trend in
mortgage borrowing suggests a faith in the future. In the address,
broadcast live on three national TV channels and on Czech Radio, President
Klaus noted that 2008 is another year in a succession of years, all ending
in the figure eight, that were milestones in the country’s history –
1918, 1938, 1948 and 1968.
This year’s address was the last in Mr Klaus’s five-year term of office which expires in two months time. Next month, Mr Klaus will seek re-election in a vote held at a joint session of both houses of parliament.
The sole rival of Mr Klaus in the presidential election, economist Jan Švejnar, has told the ČTK news agency that he hopes 2008 will be a successful year for the Czech Republic. Mr Švejnar, who has both US and Czech citizenship and lives alternately in the United States where he teaches at university and in the Czech Republic, says he plans to meet lawmakers and tour the Czech Republic ahead of the election. Mr Švejnar is currently in Prague with his wife Kathy, and their children Daniel and Laura. Later this week, Mrs Švejnar will return to the United States where she works at a university. She will, however, attend the presidential election in Prague.
Although rescue workers have described this New Year’s Eve celebrations as relatively calm compared to previous years, three people were killed in accidents during the night around the country. Two died in separate road accidents, one man was killed in a fire and one seriously injured in a shooting accident. A child was rushed to hospital after falling out of a window while watching a fireworks show. The country’s rescue workers were called out to investigate dozens of cases of injury, mostly due to alcohol and careless handling of fireworks. They also reported many cases of alcohol poisoning.
Thousands of people gathered in the centre of Prague to celebrate New Year’s Eve. An estimated 10,000 attended a four-hour concert on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, broadcast live on TV Nova; others watched a musical show on nearby Old Town Square. The authorities reported on Tuesday morning that most of the streets in the city centre had been cleaned following the night’s celebrations.
As of January 1st, old-age pensions will rise by an average 346 crowns a month, bringing the average monthly pension to 9,111 crowns (around 500 USD). There will be a three-percent increase in pensions for former political prisoners and WWII resistance fighters or their spouses. About two million people are entitled to old-age pensions in the Czech Republic. Trade unions have criticised the rise as too small to cover additional expenses caused by the government’s fiscal reforms.
Changes are also due in the welfare system. A number of social benefits have been abolished and others have been reduced. Sickness benefits have been completely abolished in the first three days of an illness. Changes in the system of unemployment benefits are meant to motivate the unemployed to actively seek work.
Hundreds of Czechs and Slovaks gathered on Monday on the Velká Javořina Mountain to celebrate New Year’s Eve together. The event on the peak in the White Carpathians which lies on the Czech-Slovak border took place for the 16th time but for the first time since both the Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the Schengen border-free area. The idea of the annual gatherings first originated in 1992, as a symbolic expression of disagreement with the division of Czechoslovakia.
The first babies born in the Czech Republic in 2008 are Alžběta Križovenská and Lucie Nepovímová from the Central Bohemian towns of Kladno and Rakovník. Alžběta and Lucie were born in the first minute after midnight. According to the ČTK new agency, nine boys and six girls were born between midnight and six a.m. on January 1st, 2008.
A thirty-eight-year old woman and her forty-nine-year old partner were remanded in custody on Monday on suspicion of murdering the woman’s five-year-old son. The body of the boy, who had been reported missing since August, was found in the couple’s car on Friday during a random police road check. An autopsy should clarify the cause and time of death. The boy, who had been placed in the custody of his father by a court, stayed with his mother and her partner at an unknown place from August. The boy’s father was looking for his son all over the country. He also turned to the ombudsman for help. He complained of the slow work of the judiciary and police negligence and expressed fear for the boy's life. The woman’s two other children had died before they turned one year.
Several hundred people were protesting against possible mining of uranium in North Bohemia on Sunday. A uranium ore deposit near the community of Kotel, North Bohemia, was discovered in the 1960s but mining there never started due to poor economic prospects. Earlier this year, however, a mining company asked the authorities to establish a protected deposit area on the site which environmental organisations consider a first step leading to the launch mining. Local inhabitants fear that mining could start in the area as the prices of uranium have skyrocketed in the last decade. The deposit is estimated to contain some 115 000 tons of uranium ore which – at current prices – is worth between 500 and 600 billion crowns, or around 30 billion US dollars.