As the Czech Republic prepares for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI at the weekend so a list of splendid gifts from the country’s religious and political figures has taken shape. Cardinal Miroslav Vlk has a mass bowl inscribed with Czech and papal symbols for the pontiff, while President Václav Klaus intends to offer His Holiness with two items made by prestigious Czech manufacturers. The Christian Democratic Party announced that they would be presenting the pope with a truly earthly gift, a rock from a monastery that the communist regime used as a work camp for political prisoners.
Czech President Václav Klaus on Tuesday told the American newspaper Washington Post that he sees the European Union as a greater threat than Russia. Currently in New York for a summit on climate change, Mr Klaus said that while Russia today plays nothing like the role in daily Czech affairs that the Soviet Union did, the EU threatens the ability of the Czech Republic to maintain its identity as a state. This, the president said, was the rationale for his opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, among other integrative processes. The president also criticised the “frustrating” amount of regulation in the Czech Republic at present, saying it was greater now than it had been 20 years ago prior to the fall of communism. The political system in Russia, he said, and freedom in general is currently at its highest point “in the last two millennia”.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout met with his US counterpart Hillary Clinton on Monday. Discussions on the margins of the UN General Assembly centred on what shape relations between the two countries should now take after the US decision last week not to go ahead with its original missile defence plans in the Czech Republic and Poland. Mr Kohout said after the meeting that the two sides had examined civil areas where they could cooperate in the future and gave the example of stepped up Czech participation in US space programmes. Mrs Clinton mentioned broader research and development cooperation. She said on Friday that the two countries are frontrunners for a mobile missile defence system which the US would now like to roll-out in Europe.
Farming revenues for 2009 are expected to drop by 20 billion crowns, the Agricultural Association of the Czech Republic has reported. In spite of optimistic economic forecasts made during the summer, the year will thus be the first to end in a loss for Czech farmers since the country’s accession to the European Union in 2004. The major factor is the sharply reduced prices of milk and grains, which alone account for more than a 75% of the dive. The Czech Agrarian Chamber originally forecast a two-billion-crown profit for Czech farmers; the chamber’s chairman Jan Veleba now says he did not want to insinuate a loss prematurely to avoid banks’ toughening up loan conditions for farmers. In 2008 Czech agriculture recorded profits of 9.7 billion crowns.
The British daily Telegraph reports that the constitutional complaint brought against the Lisbon Treaty by a group of Czech senators may allow British conservatives the time to hold a referendum. Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has reportedly warned EU leaders in private that the challenge could create a long delay for the treaty’s ratification in the Czech Republic. Should that delay outlast the current British government, and the British Conservative Party win elections tentatively planned for May, ratification of the Lisbon Treaty would face yet another major hurdle, as the Conservatives have pledged to put the treaty to a public vote. The other countries yet to pass the Lisbon Treaty – Ireland, Germany and Poland - are expected to do so in the coming months; the fact that the Czech Republic is behind in the process has been a major issue in the country’s EU relations.
The Czech caretaker government will negotiate with political parties on Tuesday to try and seal a deal on a budget for 2010. The government on Monday unanimously backed a cost-saving and tax-raising budget proposal for 2010 tabled by Finance Minister Eduard Janota. Mr Janota’s package is seeking to limit next year’s budget deficit to 155.3 billion crowns instead of the record 230-billion deficit the country is now heading for. Prime Minister Fischer has made acceptance of a budget with the deficit capped at 170 billion crowns a condition of his staying on in office after the abandonment of autumn elections. The package is expected to be presented to the lower house of parliament on Thursday.
A survey released Tuesday by the daily Mladá fronta Dnes suggests that 77% of Czechs do not trust the government’s anti-crisis measures. According to the report, for which 976 people were polled, people believe that politicians only talk about solutions, and that these do not improve life in any way. The most sceptical of respondents were people aged 45 or older. The same survey claims that a massive 80% of the population does have confidence in domestic banks in the Czech Republic, which the report says are particularly trusted by men and people under the age of 34.
A Prague bus driver died on Monday evening after being struck by a drunken passenger he was attempting to force off the vehicle. Neither medical examinations of the body nor the autopsy however has shown any evidence that the deceased died as a result of violence, and the suspected attacker has been released from custody. According to witnesses, a scuffle ensued after the suspect lit a cigarette in the public bus. The driver collapsed, and a passing police patrol caught the suspect as he was attempting to flee. According to the Prague Public Transit Co. some 20 drivers a year are injured in violent incidents with passengers.
Nine people have been charged in South Bohemia with violations of anti-fascism laws after police found video recordings in their possession in which they were using Nazi slogans. According to Czech Television the case is indirectly related to the attempted murder of a young man who was stabbed in the area last year after admonishing a group of extremists giving the Nazi salute. Police investigating the attack found the recordings on confiscated computers. If convicted the suspects face up to five years in prison.
An apartment in the town of Týn nad Vltavou, to south of Prague, exploded Tuesday afternoon leaving an elderly woman dead and one man in critical condition with burns to most of his body. 30 residents were evacuated from the building, in which a nursing home is also located. Police have yet to determine the cause of the explosion and the resulting fire, however witnesses have claimed that the injured man had threatened to set the flat on numerous occasions.