Members of Prague’s Town Council have voted to approve the abolition of Prague’s Masaryk train station located in the centre of Prague. Trains will be diverted in the future to the city’s Main Station or Hlavní Nádraží, while plans are afoot to possibly convert the site into a shopping centre, with assurances that the shell of the historic station will be preserved. However, the plans remain controversial - a recent online poll conducted by the newspaper Právo found that almost 84 percent of respondents want the site to remain as a train station. The company ING Real Estate Development has been awarded a contract to alter the site. Meanwhile, other stations are also expecting major renovations – work at the city’s Main Station is already underway.
Despite recent storms in some parts of the country, scientists are warning of dangerously low groundwater levels across the country. River levels are falling and wells are drying up, according to the Czech Hydrological Institute. New figures presented by the institute suggest that water levels are at anywhere between 60 to 20 percent of normal levels, with smaller streams faring worst. River systems, such as the Berounka, Litavka and Sázava are believed to be in the worst condition with significantly reduced water flows. In some places, once deep rivers can now be crossed on foot, warns the Institute. Changing weather patterns are believed to be the cause of the problem, with short bursts of rain insufficient to replenish water levels. Mild winters are also believed to have played a role. According to scientists, the country would need a prolonged period of around 3cm per day precipitation in order for water levels to begin to recover.
The August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops led to 108 deaths and around 500 serious injuries according to newly updated statistics from the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. The youngest victim was a two-year-old Slovak boy who was run over by a Soviet armoured vehicle; the oldest victim was an 82-year-old Czech woman. The Institute is charged with studying the crimes and general history of both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Czechoslovakia. The new findings are helping to shed light on one of the darkest chapters in Czech history. According to the new data, the greatest number of people died when Warsaw Pact troops attacked an unarmed crowd in front of the Czech Radio building in the centre of Prague – some were shot, others were run over by invading tanks. The new detailed findings will help the relatives of victims to secure financial compensation totalling up to 150,000 crowns thanks to legislation passed in 2005.
New figures from the Czech Transport Ministry suggest that since the new points system was introduced for drivers in 2006 10,754 people have lost their licenses. Prior to the points system, drivers were able to pay fines for traffic violations, leading to criticism that drivers, particularly wealthy ones could essentially escape responsibility for reckless driving. The Czech government changed the rules in order to battle high numbers of traffic accidents in the country. The new figures also detail that 575, 731 drivers were given penalty points – there are currently an estimated 6.3 million driving license holders in the country according to the Transport Ministry. These numbers indicate that around 15 percent of drivers do not have so-called “clean licences” a number three percent lower than in Germany. Further evidence that the points system appears to be working is that fatalities on Czech roads have fallen by around ten percent from the previous year.
The Serbian ambassador to the Czech Republic Vladimir Vereš returned to the country Wednesday after a three month absence. The ambassador was recalled to Belgrade in protest at Czech recognition of the independent state of Kosovo. Since July, Serbia has had a new pro-European government which is seeking to improve ties with the EU. Kosovo has so far been recognised by around 40 countries and was recognised by the Czech Republic on 21 May 2008.
A spokesperson for the Czech Bishop’s Conference has warned that the number of nuns, monks and friars in the Czech Republic is falling. The Czech Republic, which ranks as one of the most atheistic countries in Europe apparently has 1775 nuns and 785 monks and friars, whereas in 1995, the number was 2647 nuns and 959 monks and friars. The reasons that have been given are multi-fold, including the deaths of many older members and the fact that those lured by the church after the fall of communism have not been replaced with newer members in the ensuing years.
A new survey by the Median polling agency has found that a third of Czechs give priority to workplace success over matters of family. The survey also found that more men preferred work to family over women. However another finding suggested that 44% of Czechs do not seek to make extra money in their spare time, preferring instead to relax and enjoy themselves. Only 2% suggested that they prefer making more money on the side in their spare time.
The Prague Stock Exchange has been put up for sale by a majority of its shareholders. The stated reasons for the sell-off are a trend towards consolidating or merging financial markets as well as a perceived interest in buying this commodity. Among those seeking to sell-off their shares are the companies Patria Finance, Tiger Holding, Komerční banka and ČSOB, according to Czech television. These four companies together hold a 50.01 percent stake in the stock exchange. There is mounting speculation that the stock exchange could be bought by a similar foreign institution. Last year the Prague Stock Exchange made around 200 million crowns in profits.
Eleven senior representatives will attend the Beijing Olympics according to the newspaper Mladá Fronta Dnes. Factions within the government as well as numerous Czech NGOs remain highly critical of the regime in China. Chief among the Czech official delegation will be Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek – although he will be missing the opening ceremony on Friday. Ondřej Liska, Minister of Education and member of the Green Party will not be attending, despite being one of only a handful of Czech politicians to receive an official invitation. In several instances, high-level politicians will be represented by their deputies, while Interior Minister Ivan Langer is believed to be attending the Games as a private citizen.
The Christian Democrats may be hovering on the brink of parliamentary extinction according to most polls, but that has not stopped the party from taking on an unpopular subject – banking fees. In a statement, the party noted that Czech banking fees are the fourth-highest in the EU as a proportion of GDP, and that lack of a transparent and competitive environment is detrimental to consumers. Officials within the party have also called for a public debate on the issue.