Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Prague Saturday morning for a three-day visit to the Czech Republic. Addressing his first audience in English after a few words in Czech, the pontiff called upon Czechs to rediscover the Christian traditions that helped shape their culture, and recalled the bravery of Cardinals Josef Beran and Frantíšek Tomášek, Archbishops of Prague who steadfastly opposed to the communist regime. The first stop on the pontiff’s schedule was the Carmelite church housing the Infant Jesus of Prague, a wax statue that has been revered by Catholics since the early 17th century. Pope Benedict then drove by thousands of onlookers to Prague Castle to meet with President Václav Klaus and other politicians. The papal visit is the first since the last of John Paul II’s three visits to the country 12 years ago. Pope Benedict did however visit the Czech Republic as a cardinal in 1992, when he lectured at the Church of Saint Vojtěch in Prague.
The Pope will celebrate two open-air masses in Brno and in Stará Boleslav over the coming days and major security and traffic measures have been taken to deal with the 100,000 people expected to attend the events. Traffic restrictions will be in place throughout Saturday around the Prague Castle district, and a part of the country’s main east-west motorway, the D1, will be closed near Brno from Saturday evening through Sunday. 450 soldiers and 300 elite police officers are charged with securing the stops on the pope’s schedule, and 1,000 police officers will be on patrol for the first mass at the airport in Brno.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Saturday that the issue of property settlements between the state and the Catholic Church would not be a priority for the Vatican as long as the global economic crisis persists. Speaking after what he called a “very practical and comprehensive” meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Prague castle, Mr Fischer said that resolution of the disputes would be deferred until more favourable economic times arrive. One of the main disputes between the Czech state and the Vatican is the ownership of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle.
In other news, an investigative report published in the daily Mladá fronta Dnes has caused shake-ups in two Czech political parties. One leading candidate for the new centre-right party TOP 09 resigned his seat in parliament on Saturday and two Communist Party vice-chairmen have been asked to resign after the paper revealed they had promised a reporter, who was posing as a casino owner, to attempt to modify an upcoming amendment to the lotteries act in exchange for party donations of one million crowns. The party members also agreed to conceal the identity of the donor, which would be a violation of the law. The TOP 09 member in question, MP Ladislav Šustr, who is also on the supervisory board of the lottery operator Sazka and has been stricken from the TOP 09 ballot, said his actions were of his own accord and were not coordinated with the party. According to Mladá Fronta, the Green Party was the only one to refuse the proposal outright.
The Czech Film and Television Academy (ČFTA) has nominated the film Protektor by director Marek Najbrt to compete for the Best Foreign Language Film category at next year’s American Academy Awards. According to ČFTA director Petr Vachler, Protektor - which tells the story of a Czechoslovak Radio reporter and his Jewish wife during WWII - was chosen in part because of the success enjoyed by other Czech films with similar themes in America. Czech or Czechoslovak films have been nominated for the prestigious award nine times, most recently in 2003, when Ondřej Trojan’s Želary lost to the Canadian comedy The Barbarian Invasions. The final nominees for next year’s award will be announced on February 2, 2010.
The daily Právo has reported that former MEP Jana Bobošíková is set to become one of the leaders of the new “Citizens’ Rights Party” that former prime minister Miloš Zeman has said he may form. Ms. Bobošíková declined to either confirm or deny the speculation. The formation of the party itself is to be decided on in October at a convention of the association “Friends of Miloš Zeman”. Ms Bobošíková, a former ally of President Klaus and erstwhile presidential candidate for the Communist Party, is also currently involved in a complaint against the Lisbon Treaty to be filed with the Constitutional Court.
A woman was killed and a man is in critical condition after being struck by a police vehicle involved in a high-speed car chase Friday evening near the town of Krnov at the eastern Polish border. Police were in pursuit of a BMW that had escaped an order to pull over when the couple stepped out into the road. The woman, who was 23, was killed instantly. Police have since found the runaway vehicle and its driver.
The lower house of Parliament has approved an austerity package for 2010,
removing the threat of a government resignation. The package of tax-hikes
and spending cuts will reduce next year’s budget deficit to 162.8 billion
crowns that is 5.2 percent of GDP. Following a number of modifications,
Finance Minister Eduard Janota’s austerity package was approved by all
parliamentary parties with the exception of the Communists.
Friday’s vote gave wide political backing to the interim cabinet led by Prime Minister Jan Fischer, which is expected to lead the country until early general elections in mid-2010, after a court struck down plans to hold an early poll this autumn. Mr. Fisher said that his cabinet would present the lower house with a draft budget proposal for 2010 by September 30, along with the government’s policy programme for the coming months.
Deputies in the lower house on Friday also approved a bill which would reduce the salaries of state employees and constitutional officials by 4 percent in 2010. This includes all civic servants, MPs, senators, judges and state attorneys and should save the state close to 127 million crowns. An earlier proposal for a 20-percent cut failed to win approval. The bill will now go to the Senate.
Preparations are in full swing for the Pope’s upcoming three day visit to the Czech Republic. Pope Benedict XVI will arrive on Saturday for what has been described as a pastoral visit intended to bring a message of faith and hope to Czechs 20 years after the fall of communism. The visit, during which the Pope will serve two open-air masses, has been timed to coincide with St. Wenceslas’ Day, a state holiday in the Czech Republic in honour of the nation’s patron saint. Pope Benedict XVI will meet with the country’s leading political and cultural figures as well as Catholic dignitaries and representatives of other churches.