The Christian Democrats have distanced themselves from an official government promotion campaign designed to raise awareness about its impending presidency of the EU. The comments came following a meeting of the party faithful on the subject held on Tuesday. They have now asked their coalition partners to come up with a better idea than the current “We will sweeten Europe” campaign, which features a sugar cube falling into a cup of coffee. The Christian Democrats have also stated that they were not consulted about the campaign. The campaign caused controversy after it was realised that it also had an anti-European connotation because the Czech president Václav Klaus, a prominent Euro-skeptic, had once stated that the country will dissolve like a sugar cube within the EU. The Czech Republic is set to assume the EU presidency in January 2009.
Known neo-Nazis continue to serve in elite units within the Czech army, despite the authorities having detailed information about their activities – this according to a report in the daily Mladá fronta Dnes. The paper identified several neo-Nazis within the Czech army back in November, providing evidence of attendance at neo-Nazi gatherings and demonstrations and also photographs of the men holding flags adorned with the swastika. This led to assurances by Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová that the members would be dismissed from the army – Nazi groups are explicitly outlawed in the Czech Republic. According to a new report by the paper, the identified men still remain in the army despite Defence Ministry assurances. The revelations have led to calls from civic groups and also several politicians for the matter to be resolved without further delay.
A coach believed to be from Denmark caught fire and eventually burned up on a stretch of the D1 motorway between Prague and Brno. Police say that all the passengers managed to escape before the blaze engulfed the vehicle. The incident occurred shortly before 2pm Tuesday, and led to the motorway being sealed off for a number of hours causing major tailbacks. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.
Fugitive Czech businessman Radovan Krejčíř has been handed a seven year jail term for the abduction of fellow businessman Jakub Konečný in 2002. He is alleged to have hired a Kosovar Albanian to abduct the businessman during a financial dispute. The prison term was handed out by a Prague court, with Mr Krejčíř in absentia. The businessman is currently in South Africa, having succeeded in thwarting Czech attempts to have him extradited back to the Czech Republic to face numerous charges of property fraud and several other alleged crimes. Mr Krejčíř escaped from police custody in the Czech Republic in 2005 in shady circumstances during a police search of his home. The current verdict can be appealed if Mr Krejčíř chooses to do so.
The Czech political world continues to be in a state of shock after the resignation of Jan Morava following allegations that the Civic Democrat MP collected compromising materials on fellow politicians with a view to blackmailing them. Two “rebel” Civic Democrat MPs Jan Schwippel and Juraj Raninec have stated that they hope that the shockwaves from the scandal do not stop at the resignation of Mr Morava. Evidence has suggested that these two allies of chief rebel MP Vlastimil Tlustý were also at the centre of attempts by Morava to obtain compromising materials on colleagues opposed to Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s reforms in areas such as healthcare and the economy on the grounds that that the reforms are too weak. The two MPs Jan Schwippel and Juraj Raninec have now threatened to leave the party unless fellow Civic Democrat Petr Tluchoř, whom they accuse of knowing about the conspiracy, is not stripped of his post as the head of the party’s group of deputies.
The former Czech president Václav Havel has labeled Russia and Belarus as newer and more sophisticated authoritarian regimes. The comments came during a security conference the former president was attending, which was held in Prague. In references to the current conflict in Georgia, he also added that the West should not hold back in letting such regimes know what they think of such perceived wrongdoings, while also cautioning that oil should not be allowed to trump human rights.
The share of Czech students graduating from university has grown slightly according to a report by the OECD. However, the country still falls far beneath the OECD average. According to the organisation’s figures, the OECD average for higher education within the population is 27% - the Czech figure is 14%. The Czech figures have been rising slowly for the past number of years, but analysts argue that much more needs to be done. OECD figures also suggest that the Czech Republic lags in the amount of spending per pupil – the average is 6.4% of GDP spent on education, while in the Czech Republic, the figure is 4.6%. University spending per student is also below the average of 16000 USD per student, with the Czech Republic only spending 6000 USD per student.
Ludmila Brožová-Polednová, an eighty-seven year-old woman from Plzeň has been sentenced to six years in prison for her involvement in the capital murder of post-War dissident Milada Horáková. Ms Horáková was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter, parliamentarian and also an anti-communist in the post war period of Czechoslovakia. She was arrested on trumped up charges by the communist authorities in 1949 and executed less than a year later. Ms Brožová-Polednová acted as prosecutor in that trial and was sentenced in 2007 to eight years imprisonment – although this was subsequently overturned on appeal. Now, in what is likely to be the final chapter in this saga, following a ruling that Ms Brožová-Polednová’s alleged crime has not in fact exceeded the statute of limitations, she faced a fresh trial and appeared in court today for the first time ever. Ms Brožová-Polednová has not denied the charges, but denies direct culpability, although she has stated that she is prepared to go to jail if convicted.
The Czech national football team is preparing for its opening World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland, which will take place on Wednesday in Belfast. The match will be the first competitive game under the team’s new manager Petr Rada, who succeeded Karel Brückner after the Euro 2008 tournament concluded this summer. Mr Brückner, meanwhile has taken over as manager of the Austrian team, winning accolades for a surprise 3:1 victory over France in qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa.
A new opinion poll shows that the Civic Democrats, the largest party in the governing coalition, have slightly increased their preferences in August, cutting the lead of the opposition Social Democrats to 5 percent. The survey, conducted by the Median agency in August, suggests that the Social Democrats have the support of 36.8 percent of the electorate, with the Civic Democrats on 31.6 percent. The preferences of the Green Party have slumped down ahead of the party’s congress last weekend from 7 to a mere 4 percent, which is beyond the five-percent threshold to enter the lower house.