Former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg on Thursday confirmed speculation he will be taking the leading role in the new party. One of the Czech Republic’s most popular politicians, Mr Schwarzenberg represented the Green Party in the previous government in the post of foreign minister. Speaking at the official presentation of TOP 09, Mr Schwarzenberg said that he recognised he did not have the support of a part of the Green constituency, but that as a former forester he would remain a proponent of that party’s ideals. His migration to the new centre right party is another part of the ongoing reorganisation of many parties following elections to the European Parliament and the reshuffling of the Christian Democratic leadership. The Green Party chairman and vice chairman also resigned this week
The Czech Health Ministry has ruled out a fourth case of swine flu in the country on Thursday. Two Czechs who had recently arrived from the US were originally diagnosed with the virus, however one of them is apparently not infected. 193 Czechs have been tested for swine flu since the country reported its first case on May 25 and another 10 days later. The World Health Organisation on Thursday declared an official pandemic, with over 26,000 infections and 140 deaths reported across 73 countries.
One of Czech President Václav Klaus’s closest aids, Petr Hájek, has said that he believes the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 may have been organised by the US secret services, reports Mladá fronta Dnes on Wednesday. Mr Hájek made the statements in his new book ‘Smrt ve středu’. President Klaus’s advisor added that he believed Osama bin Laden was nothing more than a media fiction. When questioned about Mr Hájek’s statements, Václav Klaus said he believed this new book was ‘revealing and immensely useful’ in certain respects. Petr Hájek has recently courted controversy by likening Darwin’s theory of evolution to Marxism and casting doubt on the harmful effects of smoking.
Former Christian Democratic leader and ex-finance minister Miroslav Kalousek has officially unveiled his new centre-right party, TOP 09. The official announcement had been highly anticipated as the party is expected to draw many members from other centre-right parties. TOP 09, which stands for tradition, responsibility and prosperity, will be based on a platform of social conservativism and fiscal responsibility with a strong emphasis on “Europe’s Judeo-Christian tradition”. Historically one of the leading members of Christian Democrats, Mr Kalousek resigned his party membership on account of what he sees as increasing leftward tendencies. Five other Christian Democrat MPs have also left the party, reducing its tally of MPs from 13 to seven.
The Czech lower house voted on whether to ban smoking in restaurants on Wednesday, and decided that it should be left up to restaurants themselves to decide whether smoking was, or was not permitted on their premises. This was the least strict of the three proposals put forward. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Czech President Václav Klaus, the new legislation will come into effect in July 2010. Smoking is banned in public buildings, trains, in stations and at bus stops in the Czech Republic though there is no smoking ban in the country’s bars and restaurants.
The French prime minister Francois Fillon has criticized the Czech EU presidency and linked Prague’s governance of the bloc to the low turnout at European elections across the continent this weekend. Addressing the French Parliament, Mr Fillon said that, under the Czech presidency, the European Union had returned to its classic approach of slowly finding the least bad consensus and that this Europe of ‘small steps and compromises’ was ‘wholly unacceptable’. In his damning speech, Mr Fillon said that European citizens did not agree with this approach and had voiced their protest by failing to turn out at this weekend’s elections to the European Parliament. Former Czech Prime Minister and former head of the Czech EU presidency Mirek Topolánek brushed aside Mr Fillon’s criticism on Wednesday. Speaking to Czech paper Pravo, he dismissed Mr Fillon’s criticisms as small-minded.
The state prosecutor has pressed charges against five of the ten people arrested Tuesday in a series of raids on right-wing extremists. The other five men detained have been released from custody. The police said the raids were the culmination of months of investigation into far-right groups in the Czech Republic. If found guilty of ‘promoting a movement suppressing freedom and human rights’, the individuals charged could face up to eight years in prison.
Some 689 Czechs were either in prison or custody abroad in December 2008, the Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday. Seventy-five of those detained were being held on suspicion of drug-related crimes, the ministry said. In 2007, the ministry registered over 1,000 Czechs in foreign prisons. The country with the highest number of Czechs in jail is neighbouring Austria, where 156 Czechs are currently behind bars, followed by Spain where there are at the moment 91 Czech prisoners. Some 75 Czechs are currently in an American jail, the ministry said. According to a spokesperson, the number of Czechs in jail abroad could in fact be many times higher, as these were only the cases that the Czech Republic’s consulates around the world were aware of.
Academics from Charles University’s Faculty of Arts have found that only one in three Roma under the age of 18 are sufficiently fluent in the Romani to pass the language on to later generations. The study found that roughly the same number have a passive understanding of the language. The head of the research team, Jan Červenka, said even worse results had been expected due to the heavy language assimilation of recent decades. On the whole, roughly half of the Czech Republic’s Roma population is fluent in the Romani language.
Ten people were charged following a series of raids on Tuesday evening targeting far-right extremists in the Czech Republic. Flats and cars were searched and goods were confiscated from one Prague shop as part of the biggest anti-extremist police operation this country has ever seen. According to the head of the Czech Police’s Organised Crime Unit, Pavel Hanták, the raids were the culmination of months of investigation into far-right groups in the Czech Republic. If found guilty of ‘promoting a movement surpressing freedom and human rights’, the ten people charged could face up to eight years in prison, Mr Hanták added. In related news, all members of the government and the heads of both the Czech lower house and Senate signed a statement on Tuesday pledging to take a common stand against growing extremism and racism in the Czech Republic.