A minute’s silence was observed in the Czech Republic at noon on Saturday to mark the Polish air crash tragedy a week earlier. Flags also flew at half mast from government buildings to mark the death of Polish president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others when their government plane crashed in western Russia. Many members of the country’s elite had been on the plane which was transporting the Polish delegation to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre at Katyn of more than 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Czech public television and Czech Radio observed the noon silence. Sporting and cultural activities were also either interrupted or cancelled. The main television channel was later due to screen the film ‘Katyn’ by Polish director Andrej Wajda which dealt with the original massacre and attempts to cover it up. The Czech government called for two day’s of mourning on Saturday and Sunday.
Czech President Václav Klaus, Prime Minister Jan Fischer and archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, will attend the funeral of the late president Lech Kaczynski in Cracow on Sunday. They will have to travel there by train because air connections continue to be disputed. President Klaus was a close friend as well as political ally of the conservative Polish president. A funeral ceremony attended by tens of thousands of Poles in Warsaw’s main square was held in memory of the plane cash victims on Saturday.
Czech airports remained closed on Saturday to all incoming and outgoing
flights because of the cloud of volcanic ash that has spread across much
Europe. Czech airports were closed soon after midday on Friday. The
continued closure followed talks with the Czech weather service and
Europe’s air traffic agency, Eurocontrol. The emergency committee
monitoring the situation says that flights in and out of the Czech
could resume at the earliest at noon on Sunday.
The cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano has created air traffic chaos across Europe with air traffic coming to a stop in Britain from Thursday. Scandinavia and continental Europe were then affected as the cloud moved eastwards. Hopes of an early resumption of flights have been dashed by a resumption of volcanic activity.
In the Czech Republic, extra long distance buses have been laid on by coach operator Eurolines to Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, Munich and Amsterdam. But no extra services can be put onto Britain because the channel rail tunnel is already fully booked. Czech Railways reported a rush to buy tickets with business up 30 percent on normal due to the disruption to air traffic. Business was especially brisk for tickets to Germany and Austria. Booking office hours were extended to deal with the rush.
Those with breathing problems, the old, and young have been warned to take care because of the high amount of ash in the air caused by the Icelandic volcano. They should not for instance stay outside too long as conditions are similar to those when there is a serious smog, according to spokeswoman for the Association of Practitioners, Irena Kudrnovská. The Czech weather office said on Saturday the worst concentrations of the ash had drifted away from Czech Republic towards the Balkans. But the problem is far from over with fresh eruptions occurring.
US intelligence agency, the CIA, had a very good picture of the Soviet build up of forces before the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and warned the then president Lyndon Johnson it was about to happen. That is the message from around 500 archive documents relating to the Warsaw Pact clampdown collected and released by the agency at a recent seminar in Austin, Texas. The papers show that the CIA warned of the build up of forces on August 2, saying an invasion could happen two weeks later. On August 20, the CIA noted that Soviet leaders had cut short their holidays for an emergency meeting. They said this was likely connected to an invasion. President Johnson rejected that interpretation. The Warsaw Pact forces rolled in that night to stamp out the liberalising moves by Czechoslovak authorities in the previous months. Some previous interpretations suggested the West was surprised by the Soviet-led invasion.
Czech-born cardinal Tomáš Špidlík, the theologian, philosopher and writer, died at the age of 90 in Rome on Friday. He was known as one of the foremost experts on the eastern church. He was appointed a cardinal in 2003 by Pope John Paul II, who counted Špidlík as one of his friends. Cardinal Špidlík was born near Brno in 1919 and later studied Czech and Latin at the city’s Masaryk University. He left Czechoslovakia after the communists took power in 1948, first to study at Maastricht University and then left for the Vatican. He worked for Vatican Radio but later pursued his academic studies.
Czech popular music prizes, the Ceny Anděl 2009, were due to be awarded at Prague’s exhibition grounds on Saturday evening. The main categories for the prizes include best male and female singer, best group, best album and discovery of the year. The two-hour event will be broadcast live on commercial broadcaster Nova TV. The awards are regarded as among the highest in Czech pop music.
In ice hockey, the Czech Republic beat Slovakia 3:2 on Saturday in the second friendly warm up match ahead of the World Championships in Germany in May. The outcome of the match was decided in the last five seconds by back Tomáš Mojžíš. In the first game on Friday, the Czechs won by a convincing margin of 6:2. The team finished the first period with a 3:1 lead, pulled further ahead to 5:2 by the end of the second period before adding a final goal in the last period. The star of the game was forward Lukáš Kašpar who scored two of the goals.
Separately, national ice hockey coach Vladimír Růzička has been given another problem ahead of the upcoming World Championships with the announcement by forward Josef Vašíček that he cannot take part because of health problems. Vašíček adds to a growing list of players the coach cannot count on. Defenders Tomáš Kabele and Roman Polák and forwards Václav Prospal, Michael Frolík, Kamil Kreps and Zbyněk Irgl have all excused themselves over the last days.