Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has made clear that the state budget deficit for 2009 could practically double as a result of the economic downturn. On Czech TV’s debate programme Otázky Václava Moravce on Sunday, the minister said that the deficit could go as high as 75 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 3.5 billion US dollars). According to Mr Kalousek, the final numbers will depend on the country’s overall economic performance. The state budget, approved in December, had counted on a deficit of 38.1 billion crowns, but the previous number was based on projections the economy would grow by 4.8 percent. Following the increased impact of the global financial crisis, the finance ministry has now estimated that the Czech economy could grow by as little as 1.4 to 1 percent.
The Czech Roma organisation The Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust has welcomed a commitment by Michael Kocáb to push for the removal of a controversial pig farm at the site of a former concentration camp. The newly-named minister for minorities and human rights made the pledge on Friday. During World War II, more than 1,000 Roma were interned at the Lety u Písku concentration camp in southern Bohemia: 327 people died at the site, while more than 500 were transported to the Auschwitz death camp. Non-governmental organisations have been pushing for years for the removal of the pig farm, which was built in the 1970s, and for the introduction of a memorial at the site.
The minister for minorities and human rights, Micahel Kocáb, has labelled as “completely unacceptable” a march on Saturday by right-wing extremists through Janov - a largely-Roma area in the town of Litvinov, in the north of the Czech Republic. Saturday’s march, organised by the right-wing Workers’ Party, was without incident, but in a statement Mr Kocab compared members’ activities to those of militant SA groups in the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Germany. About 30 members of the Workers Party on Saturday marched in so-called “patrols” in Janov, handing out leaflets to local non-Roma residents, asking whether they were satisfied with measures taken by the local town hall. Last year, the extremist party organised a march in the area that led to the worst street violence in the Czech Republic in eight years.
The Deputy prime minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra has allowed that cooperation with Russia on the US missile defence system is a possibility, but he stressed that Moscow should not have the right to veto where NATO security matters are concerned. Mr Vondra made the comments on commercial broadcaster TV Prima on Sunday. US and Czech officials have signed treaties on the deployment of a US radar base to the Czech Republic as part of the US defense system, but these have not been ratified by Parliament yet. On Sunday Mr Vondra said that, regarding missile defense, he expected the new US administration under President Obama would place greater emphasis on dialogue not only in NATO but also with the Russian federation.
Christian Democrat MP and former minister for regional development Tomáš Kvapil is in serious condition after suffering a stroke on Saturday. Mr Kvapil, who is 53, had to undergo emergency surgery, the news site Týden reported. The MP's family has been in contact with the Christian Democratic Party leadership. Tomáš Kvapil served as minister for regional development from 1997 to 1998 and is well-known for his opposition to a Czech reality TV show called Výměna manželek – in which contestants swapped their families for an allotted period of time.
Saturday saw seven deaths on Czech roads, following the same number a day earlier, making this weekend the grimmest on Czech roads so far in the new year. In one incident on Saturday, a 26-year-old driver collided with a 69-year-old pedestrian, both suffering fatal injuries. Two others died in a separate accident the same day when the driver lost control of their vehicle, hitting a tree.
Czech artist David Černý has criticised the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes for a hoax interview the daily ran in its Saturday edition, aimed, its editor-in-chief said, at testing Mr Černý’s sense of humour. The fake interview came in response to the artist’s recent duping of Czech officials and members of the public, that his controversial piece Entropa was the work of different European artists. It was only after it was unveiled in Brussels that it came to light that Entropa - which parodies European stereotypes - was largely Mr Černý’s alone. Saturday’s Mladá fronta Dnes made no effort to hide its interview was fake, apologising at the end of the article. The artist responded by suggesting there is a difference between how far a newspaper could go, saying it wasn’t the same as art.
The Czech Republic’s second elections to the European Parliament will probably take place on June 5 and 6. The EP elections are to be held between June 4 and 7, with each state specifying the exact date on its own. Under the Czech election law, the election days are Friday and Saturday. President Václav Klaus has to set the EP election date by the 7th of March, 90 days ahead of the election at the latest, according to a decision of the EU Council. Political parties will be required to submit their lists of candidates by the end of March. Following EU enlargement, the Czech Republic will have 22 seats in the European Parliament, two seats less than in the previous period.
The health of former Czech president Václav Havel, who was hospitalized with a lung inflammation last Monday, is steadily improving. His doctor repeated on Saturday that if no complications arise, Mr Havel could be discharged from the hospital late next week. Václav Havel, who is 72, was hospitalized last week, after complaining of breathing difficulties. He underwent minor surgery which was followed by complications. He is reported to be suffering from respiratory problems caused by a congestion of the right lung, part of which was removed in 1996 when he was diagnosed with cancer.