Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the self-immolation of Jan Palach, a student who took his life in protest against the Czech public’s apathy following the Soviet-led invasion of 1968. Palach’s suicide turned him overnight into a symbol of national resistance. Several events have taken place to commemorate Palach’s death, including a special mass followed by a procession to Charles University’s Philosophical Faculty, where he was a student. There was also a gathering outside the National Museum on Wenceslas Square, at the spot where Jan Palach set himself alight on January 16 1969.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has reportedly told his Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico, that the Czech Republic is prepared to offer its eastern neighbour alternative gas supplies in the future. The comments were made following talks between the two men centred on resolving the prolonged gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has seen a suspension of Russian gas supplies to Europe. The Czech Republic is less affected because of a decision made in the 1990s to source gas from Norway via a northern pipeline, but Slovakia has been hit hard by the stoppage. The burgeoning agreement would see the Czech Republic using this northern pipeline to send gas to Slovakia, although the details have yet to be ironed out, and approval sought from the German and French companies that run the pipeline.
The Social Democrats are to recommend the removal of a procedural block which prevented a vote on the renewal of a law enabling Czech military forces from operating overseas. Czech forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have been operating under a provisional two month extension ever since a formal extension was blocked by the opposition Social Democrats at the end of last year. Should the mission not be renewed, Czech forces would be obliged to return to the Czech Republic beginning March 1st. However, the Social Democrats have also signalled that this move is contingent on the government abolishing controversial doctor’s visitation fees. Talks are scheduled for early next week.
Former president Václav Havel’s condition has stabilized, his doctor Martin Holcát said on Friday, though it is unlikely the playwright will be leaving intensive care in the next couple of days. The playwright was hospitalized on Sunday night with breathing difficulties and underwent minor surgery, which was followed by complications. On Wednesday, Mr Havel received a visit from the current Czech president, Václav Klaus, as well as from his brother Ivan Havel. On Friday, Mr Havel also received the current Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. Mr Havel has long been battling with health problems that are partly due to the five years he spent in communist jails for his dissident activity. The former chain smoker suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed in 1996 after being diagnosed with cancer.
Justice ministers from each of the European Union’s 27 member states have attended an informal meeting in Prague. Top of the agenda for the talks at the city’s Congress Centre was the issue of family law across Europe. The meeting was chaired by Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil and took place as part of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. It follows an informal meeting of EU interior ministers held in the Czech capital on Thursday.
A twenty-seven year old Tunisian man by the name of Mohamed Ali Houatmia has been convicted in the Czech Republic of raping and sexually abusing several under-age girls. Mr Ali Houatmia was sentenced to three years in prison by a court in the Czech town of Tábor. The Tunisan man is married in the Czech Republic and has two daughters. He was convicted of raping his fourteen-year old step-daughter as well as her friend; he was also found guilt of sexually abusing three other friends of his step-daughter between 2006 and 2008.
Czechs “lead” Europe in consumption of the drug ecstasy according to a new assessment made by experts at the National Drug Addiction Monitoring Centre. According to their data, ecstasy is the most popular drug among Czechs aged between 18 and 34, with about 7 percent of those in that age group having tried the drug. Among the entire Czech population, the figure is reportedly seven percent. However, the group also stated that ecstasy consumption appears to be falling, with the average age of those seeking treatment for the first time on the increase. Figures suggest that in 2007, 213 people died of excessive use of drugs use, with forty percent of the cases involving illegal drugs. 2008 figures have not yet been released.
Regional hospitals across the Czech Republic will cease the collection of visitation fees from February 1, according to a decision made by a meeting of the country’s regional governors. The decision is possible because the opposition Social Democrats hold every governorship in the country, and have vehemently campaigned against any kind of doctor’s fees. The new formula will not abolish the fees, but rather will see regional authorities cover the costs of doctor’s visitation which will then be paid to health insurance companies. The decision only affects hospitals run by regions. All health fees were recently defeated in a bill passed by the Parliament’s lower house. But the law is still pending approval by the Senate.
Tennis player Petra Kvitová has captured her first career WTA singles crown with a straight-sets victory over fellow Czech Iveta Benešova in Friday's final at the Moorilla Hobart International. Kvitová scored a convincing 7-5, 6-1 victory to win a tournament seen as a something of warm-up for the Australian Open.
The world-renowned Czech architect Jan Kaplický has died at the age of 71. He passed away after collapsing in the street in Prague on Wednesday, only hours after his wife Eliška gave birth to a baby girl, the couple’s first child. Mr Kaplický emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1968 and settled in London, where he worked with architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers before becoming the lead architect behind Future Systems, one of the most innovative design offices in the world. He is perhaps best known for the Selfridges shopping centre in Birmingham and the Media Centre at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Mr Kaplický’s design for a new National Library building in Prague – nicknamed the blob – won an international tender before meeting political resistance and effectively being scrapped.