Four European foreign ministers, including Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, have called on the EU to review its relations with Belorussia as the country’s election commission formally concluded that President Alexander Lukashenko had won a fourth term in office. In a blistering article published in the International Herald Tribune on Friday, the Czech, Swedish, Polish and German foreign ministers said Sunday’s election had been a charade with no democratic legitimacy whatsoever. The ministers said the policy of forging closer ties with Minsk was no longer desirable in the light of present developments and urged greater pressure on the Lukashenko regime to release more than 600 protesters detained during a crack-down on opposition demonstrators. The joint article by four of Europe’s foreign ministers speaks openly of a policy of oppression in Belorussia and is the strongest reaction yet to the vote.
Some 200 people gathered at Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery on Christmas day to pay tribute to one of the greats of Czech literature – twentieth century writer Karel Čapek, who died 75 years ago today. Best known as a science fiction author, Karel Čapek was a writer of great scope whose legacy remains pertinent to this day. Some of his best-known works are R.U.R Rossum’s Universal Robots, which coined the word robot, The Makropulos Affair which deals with human mortality, The Absolute at Large, a vision of consumer society, and Krakatit which anticipated the invention of a nuclear-weapon-like explosive.
Snow and icy roads are complicating traffic in many parts of the country. The D8 highway to Germany which was closed for several hours on Friday in the wake of a serious accident is now once again open to traffic in both directions. Road maintenance crews report problems on the D5 highway which has not yet been fully cleared of snow and many of the country’s smaller roads are hazardous due to ice and snow drifts. Traffic police have warned drivers to exercise caution and not set out without winter gear.
Thousands of people are attending Christmas masses celebrated in Czech and Latin around the country. Christmas masses in Prague’s Catholic churches are being celebrated in nine other languages besides Czech and Latin. These include English, German, French, Italian as well as Korean. On Christmas day English speaking residents can attend Christmas mass in English at the Church of Our Lady Victorious in the Lesser Quarter or hear mass in Latin at St. Havel’s Church. ( A list of masses celebrated in foreign languages is available on the web page of the Czech Bishop’s Conference) Although the Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, attending Christmas mass is part of the Czech Christmas tradition and churches around the country are packed with people.
Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda served fish soup to the homeless on Prague’s Old Town Square on Christmas eve. Fish soup is part of the traditional Christmas meal eaten in most Czech households. The mayor served out more than 2,000 portions in the middle of the city’s main Christmas market exchanging well-wishes with people in the queue. Meanwhile, Transport Minister Vit Barta was busy handing out gifts and spreading good cheer at Prague’ main railway station where many of the city’s homeless congregate. The festive atmosphere on old Town Square culminated with a concert featuring the best-loved Czech Christmas mass by Jakub Jan Ryba performed by soloists of the National Theatre in Prague.
The quality of the air in the heavily industrialized north-eastern part of the Czech Republic, is reported to have improved slightly after control mechanisms were put in place on Thursday, but 7 out of 16 monitoring stations still report excessive levels of pollutants. An order for the region’s biggest polluters to scale down production remains in force and public transport in Ostrava is still free of charge. The authorities have advised children, elderly people, those with breathing difficulties and heart diseases to limit their stay outdoors. Ostrava city hall had earlier filed a lawsuit against the Czech state for not having taken sufficient measures to improve the situation in the region.
A newborn baby girl who was placed in a baby box in the town of Opava on the day before Christmas is said to be well and healthy. Doctors said she bore no signs of abuse and the authorities are waiting to see if her natural parents will not make an effort to reclaim her, before offering her up for adoption. The child has been named Magdalene, after the nurse who found her. Although the institution of baby boxes remains controversial, with critics arguing they make it too easy for parents to give up their children, baby boxes in the Czech Republic have already saved 40 lives. Babies abandoned outdoors have a small chance of survival unless they are found very soon.
The Public Affairs party is proposing an amendment to the road law which would abolish signs warning drivers that a speed monitoring device in being used on a given stretch of the road. Public Affairs deputy, Stanislav Huml, who is an expert on road safety, is determined to push the amendment through Parliament, on the argument that its preventative role is extremely limited. Huml say that the 2009 amendment which introduced the warning signs is having a negative effect in that drivers often only observe speed limits along the given stretches and feel free to violate them elsewhere. The transport ministry has welcomed the proposal.
Close to two dozen people in the town of Skutec had their Christmas eve celebrations disrupted by a gas leak in one of the apartments. Three people were taken to hospital for treatment and twenty-one people were evacuated from their homes as employees of the local gas utility company took care of the problem. A faulty gas flow heater is believed to have been responsible.
The vast majority of Czechs perceive Christmas as a family holiday and prefer to spend it at home or with relatives. According to the Czech Association of Travel Agencies interest in holidays abroad at this time of year is fairly small. Around 200 thousand people are reported to have booked stays in the mountains over Christmas and around 100 thousand headed for exotic destinations.