Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has distanced himself from a book by American writer Paul Polansky which alleges that Mr. Schwarzenberg’s aristocratic parents used prisoners from the Lety concentration camp as a cheap labor source on their estate. In his book The Storm, Mr. Polansky claims that in the early years of the war, when the German-controlled Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was still under Czech administration, though based on German directives, the Schwarzenberg family contacted the Interior Ministry and requested that one of the labour camps being built should be located near their estate, so that they might have cheap laborers to work in their blizzard-decimated forests. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalová said that Mr. Schwarzenberg had read Paul Polansky’s book and found it contained basic errors and false information. The statements about Lety are a case in point, she said.
Caricatures of the prophet Mohammed have appeared in Prague, together with slogans stressing the importance of freedom of speech. According to the news website Novinky, the billboards were seen in a number of Prague locations. They are said to be copies of the original Danish caricature with slogans such as “Freedom of speech comes at a price” and a link to a web page which is still under construction. Its authors allegedly want to condemn Islamic fundamentalism and stress the importance of upholding freedom of speech. Similar billboards appeared overnight in Brno, Moravia at the end of March. Muslims in the Czech Republic have condemned these actions but say they will not respond to provocation.
A dozen international authors, including US novelist Paul Auster, Pakistani Tariq Ali, Canadian Margaret Atwood and Czech Ivan Klíma are taking part in the 2008 Prague Writers' Festival which opened in the Czech capital on Sunday. In its eighteenth year, the festival spotlights the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 and what it represented: ideas, freedom of expression, revolt against of bureaucracy, and pent-up feelings of frustration. The writers' experiences will be shared in conferences, lectures and debates, the main theme of which is "Laughter and Forgetting," a reference to Czech author Milan Kundera's novel of the same name. The Prague Writers Festival ends on June 5th.
Politicians from two of the government's ruling coalition parties clashed Sunday over impending votes on the EU Lisbon Treaty and a controversial US anti-missile radar base to be built on Czech soil. Green Party Education Minister Ondřej Liška warned the Civic Democratic Party that it would be playing with fire if it linked support for ratification of the Lisbon Treaty with a demand that Green Party lawmakers support the US radar base. He said failure by the Czech Republic to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by end of this year could bring down the coalition government. Meanwhile, the Civic Democrats, the strongest party in government, are outraged by what they see as a lack of support from their coalition partners. Several Green lawmakers have said they would not back the US radar in a parliamentary vote, putting at risk Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek chances of pushing through the controversial radar deal.
Opposition Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek has said members of his party had expressed readiness to actively support two young Czechs who are on a hunger strike in protest against the planned US radar base on Czech territory. Mr. Paroubek who visited Jan Tamáš and Jan Bednář at their headquarters last week expressed concern for their health. Both have gone without food since May 13th. At a party conference over the weekend several dozen Social Democrats suggested that they would be ready to take up a relay hunger strike, each going without food for a certain period of time, in a protest that would last until the autumn when Parliament is expected to vote on the radar base.
The Czech Republic will do its best to try to get Germany and Austria to open up their labour markets to Czech citizens, Czech Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas said at a debate on cross-border work-mobility on Saturday. The minister said that the Czech Republic’s motto for its European presidency in the first half of 2009 was “Europe Without Barriers” and that the country intended to try and secure that for all member states. France, Belgium and Denmark have indicated that their will open their labour markets to Czech citizens before the end of the year, which would leave only Austria and Germany holding out. Germany has said it intends to protect its labour market until 2011. Mr. Nečas said it would create a strange situation for Germany to withhold this right to the citizens of a country presiding the EU.
The police have reported a record number of road-deaths in the month of May, with 78 people killed and 316 injured. The number of motorbike casualties is particularly high, with five bikers killed last weekend alone. The police say that speeding, drink-driving and driving without a license are largely responsible for the high number of accidents. Last week a driver without a license lost control of his car and smashed onto the pavement killing a young mother and her four- year-old son on the spot.
A ten-months-old baby boy is in critical condition after falling face down into a brook running through his parent’s garden. The baby, who was out on a blanket in the fresh air crawled off and fell into the brook before anyone noticed he was gone. The police are investigating the incident and may press charges of negligence against his parents.
Two young Czechs who have been on a hunger strike since May 13th in protest against the siting of a US radar in the Czech Republic have asked to meet with President Klaus. Anti-radar activist Jan Tamáš sent the president an open letter requesting a meeting, shortly after Mr. Klaus urged American Vice-President Dick Cheney to speed up the signing of a bilateral agreement on the radar. In the letter Jan Tamáš says he is deeply disturbed by the fact that the president should be going against the will of his people and suggests that by doing so Mr. Klaus is trampling on democracy in the Czech Republic.
The opposition Social Democrats are holding a two-day party conference on policy matters in preparation for the autumn local and Senate elections. Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek slammed the reforms of the centre-right government and said that as soon as it got the chance his party would scrap medical fees, prevent the introduction of university fees and bring back blanket child benefits. The opposition leader said he was confident that the autumn local and Senate elections would reflect the public’s widespread dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs.