Addressing the latest wiretapping scandal which exposed past corruption
and cronyism at Prague City Hall, President Václav Klaus said various
special interest groups attempted to take advantage of the difficult times
the country is going through to increase their influence. In an opinion
piece for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes on Saturday, Mr Klaus also
criticized the media for assisting the special interest groups by
publishing “artificially created scandals”. These media campaigns, the
president said, threatened to destroy the country’s democratic system.
President Václav Klaus had come under fire for his stance on the latest scandal. He criticized the leaking of the wiretaps as an attempt to “destroy democracy”. However, Mr Klaus failed to address the contents of the recordings which suggest that former Prague Mayor Pavel Bém discussed some of his decisions with a powerful lobbyist.
The coalition Public Affairs party received money from anonymous donors,
the daily Právo reported on Saturday. Two out of the party’s three
biggest donors last year are bearer share companies; one of them is
registered in Panama. Together, they donated over six million crowns to the
party. Deputy party leader, and deputy prime minister Karolína Peake said
she was “taken aback” by the report, and would make inquiries within
The junior coalition Public Affairs party, which in 2010 ran on a strong anti-corruption platform, was itself recently rocked by corruption scandals; their founder and unofficial leader, Vít Bárta, is being tried for bribery. One of the party’s promises was to abolish bearer share companies, seen as a major corruption vehicle in the Czech Republic.
Oldřich Černý, the head of the Forum 2000 Foundation and a former collaborator of the late president Václav Havel, died on Saturday at the age of 65, a spokesman for the foundation said. Oldřich Černý worked as a book editor and translator before he became a security advisor to president Havel in 1990. He was also the head of the Czech intelligence services for some time in the 1990s. In 1999, he became the executive director of the Forum 2000 Foundation, an organization co-founded by Václav Havel which brought to Prague some of the world’s leading thinkers and intellectuals for annual conferences.
Dozens of people gathered for an anti-Roma rally in Varnsdorf, in the north of the country on Saturday. They protested against new “ghettos”, low-income community sites mostly inhabited by Romanies which they said were appearing in the town. The protesters also signed a petition addressed to the government. A planned march through the town’s Romanies districts was cancelled at the last minute. A police spokesman said not incidents had been registered at the rally.
Dozens of state-owned castles, chateaus and other historic monuments on Saturday opened to visitors for the new season. The season at monuments run by the Czech National Heritage Institute begins with a project entitled “Living Monuments” which offers interactive family tours through the heritage sites. A spokeswoman for the institute said entrance fees would be kept at the same levels as last year while visiting hours at some of the monuments would be longer.
Two people suffered injuries after falling on the tracks at two metro stations in Prague on Saturday. A woman reportedly jumped onto the tracks at the Opatov station on the C line at around 9 AM; at around the same time, a drunk man fell on the tracks at the Radlická station of the metro’s B line. A spokesman for the city transport company said traffic on the two lines was interrupted for up to 40 minutes.
Kometa Brno beat HC Plzeň 1929 1:0 in the third game of the best-of-seven semifinal series in Brno on Friday, and is one win away from reaching the finals. The visitors pushed hard to go ahead but were unable to overcome Brno goalie Jiří Trvaj who is in top form. Kometa scored the only goal of the game in a power-play in the second period when Jakub Svoboda picked up a rebound puck in front of the goal and drove it in. Kometa have a chance to end the semifinal series on Saturday.
Outgoing education minister Josef Dobeš has tendered his resignation to President Václav Klaus. The two met privately at Prague Castle on Friday morning. Mr Klaus was a supporter of the embattled minister, in the past calling him “the best education minister the country had had since the fall of communism”. However, Mr Dobeš came under fire for mishandled education reforms and the mismanagement of EU funds, as well as a highly-controversial decision to extend accreditation at the troubled law school in Plzeň. While he said his official reason for resigning was 2.5 billion crowns in planned cuts to his ministry’s budget (which he warned would negatively impact teachers’ salaries) many believe the step was a last attempt to save face rather than be dismissed by the prime minister. A successor has not been named yet.
In related news, students held a happening in front of the Education Ministry in Prague on Friday celebrating Mr Dobeš’ resignation; activists are primarily opposed to his reforms in higher education – which include plans for the introduction of tuition fees and other changes. In the happening, students released a picture of Mr Dobeš tied to helium-filled balloons. Organisers have made clear they will continue to protest the governments’ reforms which they argue are a threat to academic freedoms.
The latest edition of The Economist has taken note of the
"lobbying" scandal in Prague and its possible implications for
the ruling Civic Democrats. In a short article this week, the daily gives a
run-down of the main points of the affair, including how secret wiretaps
recorded in 2007 revealed apparently highly-inappropriate conversations
between ex-Prague Mayor Pavel Bém and powerful lobbyist Roman Janoušek.
The scandal broke in Prague last week after bits from the tape were
transcribed and published by the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes. Discussed
in the tapes were sales of city and state property as well as office
appointments, suggesting the measure of influence Mr Janoušek had during
Mr Bém’s mayoral term.
The Economist also notes the use of the expletives, bizarre coded language, and nicknames by the former mayor and lobbyist and points out that neither of the two had disputed the tapes’ authenticity. The weekly and others suggest that the scandal could strongly harm the Civic Democrats, of which Mr Bém is a member. The former mayor has suspended his membership until he clears his name. The case is currently under investigation.