A large European Union flag erected in the centre of Prague to mark the Czech EU presidency has been damaged for the second time in a fortnight, Czech Television reported on Thursday. The flag was set alight late on Wednesday evening, said an employee of the emergency services. On New Year’s Day, somebody made a hole in the flag, which has been mounted on the giant Prague Metronome monument to mark the Czech Republic taking over from France at the helm of the EU.
The European Union will send Czech Energy Minister Martin Říman and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs to Moscow on Saturday to discuss the current feud between Russia and Ukraine that has left millions of Europeans freezing. Moscow had originally asked for all of the countries affected by the gas war to send a delegation to the meeting, but the talks have been downscaled to include just Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko, as well as the two EU representatives.
Former Czech President Václav Havel’s condition has improved, though it remains serious, his doctors said on Thursday. Mr Havel received a visit from the current Czech President Václav Klaus on Thursday afternoon, as well as from his brother Ivan. The playwright was hospitalized on Sunday night with breathing difficulties and underwent minor surgery. His condition subsequently deteriorated. On Thursday morning, however, doctors said that Mr Havel’s state was ‘slightly better’ and that he had sat up and watched the morning news. Mr Havel has long been battling with health problems that are partly due to the five years he spent in communist jails for his dissident activity. The former chain smoker suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed in 1996 after being diagnosed with cancer.
The annual Prague Autumn International Music Festival will not take place this year due to a lack of funding, it was announced on Thursday. A spokesperson for the festival said that at this time of global financial crisis, it was proving too hard to attract sponsors. The music festival, established in 1991, has brought some of the biggest names in classical music to Prague over the years. In 2008, the festival’s main sponsor, the drugs company Zentiva, pulled out. The firm repeatedly denied the resultant rumours that its withdrawal was linked to strained relations with the festival management.
Interior ministers from the 27 member states of the European Union met in Prague on Thursday to discuss a vast new security database for Europe’s border-free Schengen zone. The system was due to be running in 2007 but has been plagued by technical and legal problems. Speaking after the informal meeting, Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer told press that it was ‘obvious’ the original timetable for the database could not be adhered to, but that the project remained one of the ‘biggest issues’ in the field of European security. The giant database links information gathered by police in 25 countries. It is predicted that the revised completion date of September 2009 will now also prove unrealizable.
In related news, Slovakia has also complained about the way it is depicted in Mr Černý’s ‘Entropa’. Slovakia appears in the installation in the form of a salami wrapped up in a Hungarian flag. Slovakia’s relations with its neighbour Hungary are at times complicated, with a sizeable Hungarian minority living in particular in the south of the country. Slovakian Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš complained to Deputy Czech Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra in a phone call, a spokesperson for the Slovak government said on Thursday.
The world-renowned Czech architect Jan Kaplický has died at the age of 71. He passed away after collapsing in the street in Prague on Wednesday, only hours after his wife Eliška gave birth to a baby girl, the couple’s first child. Mr Kaplický emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1968 and settled in London, where he worked with architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers before becoming the lead architect behind Future Systems, one of the most innovative design offices in the world. He is perhaps best known for the Selfridges shopping centre in Birmingham and the Media Centre at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Mr Kaplický’s design for a new National Library building in Prague – nicknamed the blob – won an international tender before meeting political resistance and effectively being scrapped.
Former choirmaster Bohumíl Kulínský has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for sexually abusing teenage members of his choir. On Thursday, the High Court in Prague overruled a previous verdict which handed the former head of Bambini di Praga choir a three year suspended sentence for having sexually abused 40 of his female charges. The Prague court ruled that Mr Kulínský should be banned from working with young people for the next ten years. Three of the girls the choirmaster was charged with abusing were under 15 years of age.
Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek has announced the names of four new cabinet members being appointed as part of a long-promised reshuffle. Daniela Filipiová becomes the new health minister, while fellow Civic Democrat Petr Bendl has been appointed minister for transport. Former rock musician Michael Kocáb was nominated by coalition partners the Greens to be minister for human rights and minorities. Christian Democrat Pavel Svoboda will meanwhile become head of the Government Legislative Council. Speaking on Thursday, Premier Mirek Topolánek said that he had put the new ministers’ names forward to president Václav Klaus for final approval. He said the cabinet newcomers would be officially appointed on January 23.
Czech officials have apologized to Bulgaria for any offence caused by the artwork the Czech Republic selected to represent the country’s EU presidency. At the official unveiling of the work in Brussels on Thursday, Czech Deputy PM Alexandr Vondra said that he was ready to ‘engage in a dialogue’ with Sofia, and have the image, which portrays Bulgaria as a Turkish style toilet, removed if necessary. The sculptor behind the work, David Černý, also apologized and said that he would hand back the money he had been paid for the installation. Mr Černý’s work, ‘Entropa’, uses national stereotypes to depict each of the EU’s 27 member states. The controversial work provoked further outrage when it was revealed that Mr Černý designed all of the component parts of sculpture himself, instead of cooperating with artists from each of the EU’s countries as was originally agreed.
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