The Senate has moved forward the reading of a bill on Czech Army involvement in foreign missions over the next two years in order to forestall a veto by the incoming opposition-dominated Senate. Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka said that the matter should not be postponed for the sake of the troops abroad and the country’s obligations to NATO. Chairman of the opposition Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka said the move made a mockery of all citizens who had come to vote in the Senate elections, in which the Social Democrats gained a majority of the upper house. The government’s plan for foreign military missions until 2013 includes a temporary increase in soldiers in Afghanistan and the gradual reduction of troops in Kosovo.
Meanwhile, the main contingent of Czech troops in Kosovo has returned home in what the Defence Ministry said was a historic moment. Ninety-two members of a reserve battalion will remain at the Czech base at Šajkovac to keep the base in order should it be needed in the future. The Czech Defence Ministry has agreed to send troops back to Kosovo within 14 days in the event that the country’s security situation requires it. The reserve battalion will remain at the base until mid-2011 and all troops will be pulled out of the country by the end of that year. The Czech Army has been involved in the KFOR peacekeeping mission in the former Serbian province sine 1999.
The Public Affairs party has ascribed its loss in the weekend’s senate elections to its perception as a right-wing party. Members of the party leadership told Czech Television that they were hurt by their association with the right-wing coalition government and that the party must make sure that it is the “most left” party in the government, guaranteeing the social side of planned reforms and basing its platform more on ecology. What changes the party intends to take in its image and direction are to be hammered out at a conference the end of November. The Public Affairs party made a poor showing in municipal elections a week ago and did not win a single senate seat in this weekend’s elections to the upper house of Parliament.
In related news, a civic association has filed a constitutional complaint against Public Affairs’ “party obedience contract”. The association says that the contract limits the freedom of expression of parliamentarians, who the constitution says must vote according to their own beliefs and conscious. Public Affairs instituted the contract prior to general elections earlier this year and several candidates were struck off of ballots for refusing to sign it. The contract stipulates that party parliamentarians must vote in agreement with the party leadership or face a fine of up to seven million crowns.
The Ministry of Culture announced the winners of the State Prizes in culture on Monday. The State Prize for Literature will go to 68-year-old author Antonín Bajaja for his novel ‘Na krásné modré Dřevnici’ (On the Beautiful Blue Dřevnice). Chinese studies expert Oldřich Král will be receiving the award for translation for his lifetime of work. The prize for theatre will go to Karel Kraus and the music award to Ilja Hurník. The awards include monetary prizes of 300,000 CZK and will be presented t Prague’s Veletržní palác on October 28.
Officials at a clinic in Prague’s Hloubetín have reported a healthy two-day-old newborn was left in their babybox on Monday morning at around 4:30 am. The founder of the Czech babybox system, Ludvík Hess, said that the little girl had been given the name Jana. The baby was the second in 12 hours to be left in a babybox; another child, several days old, was left a facility in Jindřichův Hradec. Since the system was introduced a number of years ago, 36 children, unwanted by their parents, have been saved through babyboxes. Thirty-nine such facilities, monitored by doctors, are found across the Czech Republic.
The Ministry of Education announced Monday it was preparing a proposal to initiate entrance fees for public collages as of the next academic year. Deputy education minister Kryštof Hajn said the change would be made through an amendment to the colleges act and added that the amount of the fee would be decided by each individual school, but would not be more than 6,000 crowns per student per year. According to Education Minister Josef Dobeš, the fee will be temporary until the introduction of deferred tuition in 2013/2014: 20,000 crown per year that student’s can pay back after finishing their degree and reaching a certain salary.
The Czech Republic on Tuesday is to receive the first of ten exiled Cuban families whom it has agreed to grant political asylum. The Czech Republic and Spain are currently the only European countries that have agreed to take the families, according to the Ministry of the Interior. The ministry say it will provide for all of the families’ needs, including health and psychiatric care, accommodation, schooling and translation services. EU ministers agreed on Monday that the union would not alter its relations towards the Caribbean country in spite of the release of a number of prisoners in recent weeks. The Czech Republic has long been one of Europe’s fiercest critics of the Cuban regime.
The Czech Army intends to sell roughly 64 million crowns worth of property over the next year, the Ministry of Defence has announced. Over the next twelve months the ministry plans to sell some 900 automobiles and 6000 pieces of equipment, including handguns, armour, parachutes and rocket launchers. Other items run the gamut from air turbine fuel to musical instruments. The ministry is seeking to manage a spending limit of 44 billion crowns next year, or five billion less than this year. Seven hundred civilian employees are to be let off by the end of this year and 350 open army positions have been cancelled.
The state faces a fine of up to one billion crowns should it back down from the construction of new dormitories and other buildings for the central military hospital, the website Aktuálně.cz reports. According to the news site, that is the penalty for unilateral withdrawal from the project contract signed between the Ministry of Defence and the Prague Military Hospital Concession during the tenure of the interim government. The consortium declined to either confirm or deny the amount of the fine, but said it had worked five years on the project and had high related costs.