The Freedom Train commemorating the 20th anniversary of the departure of thousands of East Germans to West Germany from the then Czechoslovakia left Prague’s main railway station on Thursday morning. The train will retrace the historic journey with a group of former East German refugees on board. This time around it will stop at stations in what was the former communist German Democratic Republic before arriving in the Bavarian border town of Hof. Thousands of East Germans camped out in the grounds of the West German embassy in Prague in the autumn of 1989 before being given permission to leave for the West on September 30, 1989.
Minister of Education Miroslava Kopicová has called for schools to give greater priority to teaching modern history. She says lessons tackling the history of totalitarian regimes would make pupils more sensitive to attacks on democracy and human rights and help counter extremism. The recommendations are directed at primary and secondary schools. The call for more attention and more imaginative teaching of recent history in Czech schools has been made in the past by some history teachers themselves as well as leading Czech historians.
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament backed a proposal on Thursday for the president to be elected directly by citizens in future. They voted in its first reading for a two-year old proposal by left-wing Social Democrats for direct elections to replace the current indirect voting by members of parliament. The Social Democrats’ proposal also seeks to weaken some of the president’s current powers to appoint top judges and members of the central bank on his own. It wants the prime minister to agree to these appointments as well.
The International Monetary Fund has worsened its forecast for Czech economic contraction this year but increased its growth prediction for 2010. The IMF now expects that the economy will shrink this year by 4.3 percent instead of its previous prediction of 3.5 percent. But it sees 2010 growth at 1.3 percent instead of just 0.1 percent. The IMF predicts continuing low Czech inflation with this year’s 1.0 percent rise followed by a 1.1 percent rate in 2010.
Environmental group Arnika has announced an improvement in the Czech Republic’s overall pollution performance last year compared with 2007. It said that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, fell last year. The group added that the introduction of new integrated pollution rules forcing companies to keep track and publish their pollution performance had contributed to the cut. It warned, however, that some companies appeared to be increasing carcinogenic emissions.
But the country’s biggest exporter, car maker Škoda Auto, has announced that it will stop production for two days at the end of October. The reason is the fall off in demand for its bottom of the range Fabia model in Germany fallowing the ending of the country’s scrap car incentive in September. Škoda Auto already cut its daily production of the Fabia by 200 to 1,000 a day at the start of this week according to a union newspaper.
The Czech Constitutional Court will start dealing with a new complaint against the Lisbon Treaty within a month, court chairman Pavel Rychetsky said on Thursday. The complaint, lodged on Tuesday by a group of right-wing senators, is being followed for its impact on delaying ratification of the EU-reforming treaty or even sinking it altogether. Czech President Václav Klaus has said he will not sign the treaty until the court has handled the latest complaint. That has sparked speculation that the Czech court procedure could last until British elections next spring. The leader of the opposition Conservatives has promised a referendum on Lisbon if it still has not been ratified by all EU states.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said that the government should select its candidate as new EU Commissioner by October 20. Mr Fischer was speaking after meeting with the Christian Democrats’ nominee, Pavel Svoboda. Czech political parties are currently advancing different names to fill the plum position. The Social Democrats want current commissioner and former prime minister Vladimír Špidla to stay on in the post. The Civic Democrats have voiced support for former European Affairs minister Alexandr Vondra. But Fischer insisted that it was the government’s job to make the selection.
Czech industrial production fell by 8.1 percent in August compared with the same month a year earlier according to preliminary figures released by the Czech Statistical Office on Thursday. In July, the fall was 18.2 percent. New orders were down by 13.8 percent in August compared with August 2008, the office added. Most analysts have greeted the figures as surprising good, indicating that industry is stabilising after its dramatic falls due to the economic crisis.
In related news, Czech MPs approved on Wednesday a bill preventing the
government from privatising Prague’s Ruzyně Airport. The bill, proposed
by Social Democrats, also received support from Communist and Christian
Demcorat MPs. The Social Democrats are concerned that selling the airport
at a time of the economic crisis would result in a loss for the Czech
state. Plans for the privatisation of Ruzyně Airport were approved last
year by the cabinet of PM Mirek Topolánek.
The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Klaus. Observers believe however that Parliament’s upper chamber, with its majority of right-wing senators, will return the bill to the Chamber of Deputies.
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