A monument in memory of Jan Palach, the student who set himself on fire in protest against public apathy to the Soviet-led invasion of his homeland in 1968, was unveiled in Prague on Saturday on the anniversary of his self-immolation. The monument designed by American sculptor John Hejduk was unveiled at Alšovo nábřeží in Prague, the embankment near Jana Palach square. A plaque at the base of the monument displays David Shapiro’s poem, “The Funeral of Jan Palach”, which reportedly inspired Hejduk. The ceremony was attended by members of Jan Palach’s family, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew H. Shapiro and Prague mayor Adriana Krnáčová, among others.
Civic Democratic Party chairman Petr Fiala was re-elected party leader at the party’s election conference in Ostrava on Saturday. Mr. Fiala, who has led the party for two years and ran for the top post unchallenged, was supported by 436 delegates out of 469. He said the party, which fell from grace in 2013 in connection with a corruption scandal, was ready to make a comeback and accept responsibility for the country. Alexandra Udženija was elected first deputy chairwoman.The party’s immediate goal is to succeed in this year’s Senate and regional elections. Polls suggest it has the support of 8 to 9 percent of voters.
Snow and ice are complicating traffic around the country, and traffic police have had to close a number of small roads in the regions. Conditions are worst in Moravia and Silesia which had over 10 cm of fresh snow overnight. Drivers heading for the mountain regions have been warned not to set out without winter tires and chains. Maintenance crews are working around the clock to clear roads and fresh snow has been forecast in the next 24 hours.
Czech Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said the country should not take in any more refugees. In an interview for the daily Právo, Mr. Babiš said it was the primary duty of Czech politicians to guarantee security for the country’s own citizens. The situation has changed radically and I believe that under the present circumstances the Czech Republic cannot and should not open its doors to migrants, Mr. Babiš told the daily. He criticized the EU for failing to take effective action to bring the situation under control, saying Schengen’s outer borders must be made secure.
Over two hundred people gathered outside the Norwegian embassy in Prague on Saturday to protest against Barnevernet’s policy of taking children away from their families. Barnevernet’s policy stirred fresh anger in the Czech Republic after the organization removed a seriously ill nine-month-old baby from the care of its Czech mother and Norwegian father in late December. They said the parents had not sufficiently bonded with the infant, who has a rare genetic condition and is in hospital awaiting a kidney transplant. Last year a Norwegian court ruled that two boys removed from their Czech parents by Barnevernet were to be put up for adoption. The Prague protest is part of a chain of demonstrations against Bernevernet in a number of countries.
Gabriela Soukalová stayed perfect on the shooting range in driving snowfall and beat two Germans to win her 10th career biathlon World Cup event in a 12.5-kilometer mass-start race on Saturday, the AP news agency reported. The overall World Cup leader from the Czech Republic covered the distance in 41 minutes, 13.2 seconds. Franziska Hildebrand was second, 13.9 seconds behind, after one penalty lap. Laura Dahlmeier had two penalty loops for two missed targets and finished 24.4 seconds behind in third. Halfway into the 26-event season, Soukalová has 611 points.
Ornithologists are conducting a regular mid-winter water bird count at approximately seventy sites around the country. The time around mid-January is considered most appropriate for this activity since the birds flock around rivers, lakes and dams with a minimum of movement. In 2015 ornithologists registered 237,529 individuals from 31 different species. The annual monitoring goes back 50 years with wintering water bird populations monitored across Europe.
Dutch minister of foreign affairs and immigration, Bert Koenders and Klaas Dijkhoff, have reportedly admitted on a trip to Prague Friday that the EU agreement on sharing out immigrants through quotas is not fully working. The Dutch delegation was in the Czech capital to sound out the Czech government at the start of the Netherland’s six month presidency of the European Council during the first half of 2016. Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek repeated that all of the Visegrad Four countries are opposed to immigrant quotas. Sources say the Dutch are hoping the Czech Republic will play a moderating role and curb possible conflicts over the next months in particular with Poland and Hungary. A report to the Czech government next Wednesday says only 259 immigrants out of the 160,000 earmarked for relocation from Italy and Greece actually moves to new destination by the end of 2015.
The West Bohemian spa towns of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, and Fratiškovy Lázně still have a chance of being included in a prestigious UNESCO list of heritage sites but the Moravian spa of Luhačovice is not longer in contention. That was the result of a two day working group in Prague examining the bids of the Czech spa towns. They will still have to take their chances of being listed along with five other European spas, including Bath, Vichy, and Baden Baden.
Minister of defence and environment, Martin Stropnický and Richard Brabec, on Friday symbolically handed over the former military exercise area of Brdy, which is now a protected landscape area. Around a third of the designated area of around 350 square kilometres is already open to the public. Remaining areas though still have to checked for unexploded munitions, a process is scheduled to last until the end of 2017. Paths also still have to be properly signposted. The area, around 40 minutes by car from Prague, is likely to become a popular destination for cyclists and walkers.