A very special ceremony took place on Prague's Charles Bridge over the weekend. The deputy mayor of Prague Jan Burgermeister inserted a casket containing a message to future generations into the ninth pillar of Charles Bridge. The casket contains basic information about the Czech capital, its history and its inhabitants in the year 2005. There is a map, a film about Prague on DVD, a copy of the Constitution, the Czech currency in coins and banknotes and other memorabilia. "I cannot help wondering who will find this, in how many centuries from now and what the world will be like then," Mr. Burgermeister told journalists. Many Prague churches, spires and pillars allegedly contain "messages to future generations".
Over 800 politicians, cultural figures, war veterans and members of the public attended a commemorative gathering at Terezin, the former Nazi concentration camp for Jews. Of the 140, 000 people who were interned at Terezin between 1940 and 1945, 33,000 died and 87,000 were transported to Nazi death camps elsewhere. Of those 15,000 were children. They came from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Holland and Denmark. Speakers at the commemorative gathering recalled the horrors of Terezin and stressed that everything must be done to ensure that history would not repeat itself.
The Czech Dentists association says that patients should have a greater share in covering the cost of treatment. At present patients pay for only 20 percent of treatment directly, the rest is covered by health insurance companies. Czech dentists would like patients to cover at least 40 percent of the cost, arguing that in most EU states up to 60 percent of dental care is covered directly by the patient. This would require a change of legislation which the present government, in particular health minister Milada Emmerova is not inclined to support.
Bavaria's state premier Edmund Stoiber has criticized the so called Benes decrees which formed a legal basis for the expulsion of over 2.5 million Sudeten Germans from post war Czechoslovakia. Speaking at a meeting of the Sudeten German Landsmanshaft, an association of expellees, Mr. Stoiber said the wrongs of the expulsion had not been righted and that Europe had missed a unique chance to resolve the sensitive issue on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. The Czech Republic has refused to revoke the Benes decrees on the grounds that they are part of a larger post-war settlement package adopted as a result of the outcome of the war.
President Klaus said in an interview for the daily Lidove Noviny that he would respect the outcome of the vote on the EU Constitution but that until then he reserved the right to criticize it. The President was reacting to criticism from Brussels and some Czech politicians with regard to his strongly negative stance to the EU Constitution. If the Czech Republic ratifies the EU Constitution then as President I would have to accept that, or else seriously consider leaving my post, but until then I have the same right to my opinion as any of the other ten million inhabitants of the Czech Republic, Mr. Klaus told the paper.
Over one hundred members of the ruling Social Democratic Party met in Prague on Saturday to establish a leftist faction within the party and agree on forms of cooperation. Among the founders of the leftist faction are Jan Kavan and Vladimir Lastuvka, two rebellious back-benchers who threatened to withhold their support for the coalition government of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek just two weeks ago. Mr. Kavan said the leftist faction did not aim to destabilize or break up the party, but rather to deepen party democracy and make sure that the Social Democrats remain true to their policy programme. No reforms at the expense of the poor, Mr. Kavan told the press.
Political analysts have welcomed the end of the drawn out crisis, but they are sceptical with regard to the government's ability to push through badly needed reforms of the health and pension system in the remaining 14 months left to regular parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister has said he is ready to tackle those challenges and will negotiate with the opposition parties in order to secure support for the planned reforms. The leader of the opposition right wing Civic Democratic Party Mirek Topolanek said on Friday that although his party had not supported this Cabinet it was prepared to hold talks on crucial reforms.
Several dozen people on Friday gathered at Lety, the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Romanies, to attend a commemorative ceremony for the 326 people who died there in the war years. Lety is a sensitive and controversial legacy for Czechs since the camp was staffed solely by Czech guards and was initially set up by the Czech puppet government early in the Nazi occupation. Adding insult to injury, the communist authorities later built a pig farm on the site of the former camp, which has not been removed to this day. The European Parliament recently approved a resolution urging the Czech government to have the farm relocated as quickly as possible.
The centre-left coalition government of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on Friday narrowly won a confidence vote in Parliament, ending a lengthy political crisis. All 101 deputies of the three party coalition supported the Cabinet in the 200 seat lower house, an outcome that was expected after the new Prime Minister secured the support of a few rebellious back-benchers. Both opposition parties voted against the old-new government. In his address to the house Mr. Paroubek said he aimed to bring stability to the Czech Republic. Outlining his Cabinet's priorities the Prime Minister highlighted tax, health and pension reforms as well as ratifying the EU Constitution. Mr. Paroubek, formerly local development minister, is the country's third prime minister in nine months.
The Czech National Bank governor Zdenek Tuma on Friday expressed surprise over the radical way in which the country's anti-monopoly office launched proceedings against a number of Czech banks whom it suspects of having created a cartel on fees. Tuma said he did not believe that to be the case, noting that the Czech National Bank board did not see any obvious symptoms of a cartel, but that he fully respected the independence of the anti-monopoly office. If the banks in question - Ceska Sporitelna, Komercni Banka and CSOB - are found guilty they could face a fine of up to 10 million crowns /420,000 US dollars/each.