Czech politicians have expressed sadness and shock over the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski who was killed on Saturday, along with dozens of others, in a plane crash. The plane was destroyed after its pilots attempted to land in poor visibility near Smolensk, Russia, clipping treetops before hitting the ground. The Polish president, his wife, and an official delegation which included the head of Poland’s central bank, legislators, and military representatives, were on their way to a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Katyn massacre of 70 years ago. All those on board were killed. Speaking at a press conference in Prague, Mr Klaus said it was a huge loss which had saddened him deeply and said that he had been a true friend. The president has sent a telegram to Mr Kaczynski’s brother, Jaroslaw, the former prime minister of Poland, expressing his condolences.
In related news, other Czech politicians responded on Saturday also
expressing their condolences over the tragedy. The Czech Prime Minister,
Jan Fischer, currently in the United States, stressed that the death of Mr
Kaczynski and others on the presidential plane represented a huge loss not
just for Poland but also for the Czech Republic. He stressed that
the Czechs shared in Poland’s grief.
The Minister for EU affairs Juraj Chmiel sent his condolences to his Polish counterpart the State Secretary for EU affairs Mikołaj Dowgielewicz. In a statement he expressed shock over the crash, calling it a national tragedy. The minister also referred to his own Polish ancestry and said his thoughts were with the Polish people, especially with the families of those who had died.
The Archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, has been inaugurated to his post at a ceremony and special mass at Prague’s St Vitus Cathedral. On Saturday morning the archbishop, who is also the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, took up the Pastoral staff from his predecessor Cardinal Miloslav Vlk. Czech President Václav Klaus, who spoke at the ceremony, thanked Archbishop Duka’s predecessor for his years in office and expressed the hope that unresolved issues between the Church and state – such as the ownership of St Vitus Cathedral and property restitution – would be resolved. Archbishop Dominik Duka, who is 67, was appointed the new Archbishop of Prague on February 13 of this year.
President Václav Klaus has said that he has been informed on who will be the next US ambassador to Prague; the president revealed the information on Friday, shortly after meeting with US President Barack Obama at Prague Castle. He did not reveal a name but did say that the person in question was a member of the US delegation that travelled to the Czech Republic for the US-Russia summit. The news website Euro.cz on Friday cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying the next US ambassador to Prague will be 49-year-old Norman Eisen, an expert on ethics and a close aide to the US president. The site reported that Mr Eisen’s parents survived the Holocaustand that his mother was from the former Czechoslovakia. Unofficial sources, however, did not confirm Mr Eisen as the choice for the Czech news agency. The Czech Republic has been without a US ambassador for 15 months.
The Social Democratic Party, leading in the polls ahead of May’s national election, has set conditions for potential coalition partners, a number of them appearing to rule out the country’s right-wing parties. On Friday, Social Democrat chairman Jiří Paroubek said that his party would only be willing to enter a government that would abolish health care fees introduced by the former cabinet and would be willing to reintroduce progressive taxation instead of a flat tax rate. The conditions appear to rule out parties such as traditional rivals the Civic Democrats or the newest right-of-centre party TOP 09. In recent months it has been speculated that the Social and Civic Democrats could from a grand coalition in order to agree on reforming spending and taxes to lower the budget deficit. It is unclear how likely that scenario is now. The Civic Democrats trail the Social Democrats - a distant second place in most polls - although in recent weeks the right-of-centre party has narrowed the gap somewhat.
The Czech news site Novinky.cz has reported that an assistant to a Social Democrat senator was attacked at a discotheque in Špindlerův Mlýn, north Bohemia, on Friday night. 25-year-old Michal Červ, who works for Senator Vladimír Dryml, suffered a serious concussion and a break to his eye socket, after he was hit in the head by an assailant wielding a telescopic baton. The attacker himself ended up in hospital after being jumped by others in the bar. Senator Dryml has said that as far as he knew his assistant had been sitting quietly at the bar and had provoked no one; he also suggested the attack could have been politically-motivated. He has made clear he wants to ask Interior Minister Martin Pecina to ensure that the case is fully investigated; police are already looking into the incident.
Jaroslav Zavadil has been elected the new head of the Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, a Czech umbrella union, at its congress, ČMKOS spokeswoman Jana Kašparová has said. Mr Zavadil, the only candidate to run for the post of chairman, was supported by 337 of 368 delegates who cast their vote. He replaces Milan Štech who did not seek re-election. His predecessor announced his departure in January, citing the long period during which he had headed the umbrella union and his need to focus more on duties as the deputy head of the Senate. Mr Štech, who is 58, has been a senator since 1996; he headed the ČMKOS for eight years.
A statue commemorating Czechoslovakia’s second president, Edvard Beneš, was unveiled in Brno on Saturday, in front of Masaryk University’s law faculty. The ceremony took place with around 500 people in attendance; Brno’s mayor, Roman Onderka, called Mr Beneš one of the most important figures in Czechoslovak history. The sculpture is a copy of a statue by Karel Dvořák which stands in front of Prague’s Černín Palace, the seat of the Foreign Ministry. The copy cost 1.6 million crowns to produce. The project was long sought by members of the community of Czechoslovak legionaries, as well as the Association of Czechoslovak Aviators 1938-1945.
Hockey club Vítkovice stopped opponents Slavia in their tracks on Friday, earning a spot in the Extraliga finals against Pardubice. Vítkovice outplayed Slavia Prague, winning by a score of 3:1 in a best-of-seven series that the club dominated, allowing Slavia only a single win. Vítkovice will now face Pardubice, who swept Liberec in their series, for the championship title. Pardubice won the playoffs back in 2005; this year, they are being buoyed by the legendary goalie Dominik Hašek in net.
Czech goalie Ondřej Pavelec, who plays for the Atlanta Thrashers, was unable to stop Russian forward Alexandr Ovechkin on Friday, who notched up two goals for the Washington Capitals. Washington won the game 5:2 and hold an unassailable first spot in the Eastern Conference with one game left to play. Atlanta are out of NHL playoff contention. Ovechkin’s goals on Friday put him atop the list of this season’s goal-scorers, one goal ahead of Canada’s Sidney Crosby.