In his New Year’s address to the nation President Václav Klaus stressed the role of the individual in a free and democratic society and urged Czechs to use their vote wisely in the coming election year. He said the country needed a strong, action-capable government which would see it through the economic crisis and not leave the bill to future generations by a policy of growing indebtedness. He urged Czechs to use their talents and skills in free enterprise and take responsibility for their future. The president spoke of family values, tolerance and charity, which he said should start close to home, where a neighbour or someone in the vicinity might be in need of a helping hand. True to form, Mr. Klaus lashed out against environmentalists, telling Czechs they should work to solve the problems at hand and leave the problems of the distant future to sci-fi writers.
Half a dozen members of the Prague Polar Bears Club of hardy men and women turned up for their annual New Year’s swim in the Vltava river on Friday. The group swum a kilometer-long stretch down the river in water temperature of 3 degrees Celsius. The tradition of keeping fit in this way dates back to 1923, but doctors warn untrained individuals against trying it just for fun.
The Czech Republic has become the first country in the European Union to introduce breathalyzer tests as standard procedure whenever a police officer stops a vehicle. The measure is expected to curb the progressive rise in alcohol-related road deaths. A driver who refuses to take the test can be fined up to 50,000 crowns and even get his license revoked. The Czech Republic has a zero-tolerance drink driving policy.
An amendment to the criminal code which takes effect on January 1st defines precisely how much drugs one can legally possess for one’s own use. According to Czech law possession of “more than a small amount” of any given drug constitutes a criminal offence, but until now the law did not clearly define what “a small amount” was. The amendment stipulates that one can legally grow 5 marihuana plants or have 15 grams of marihuana in one’s possession, 4 tablets of the party drug Ecstasy, 1,5 grams of heroin, 1 gram of cocaine and so on. The guidelines should make it easier to fight drugs-trafficking and help rather than punish users.
Prague fire-fighters had a busy night on the last day of the year getting close to 40 emergency calls, mostly to do with firework-related accidents, such as garbage containers on fire. In contrast to previous years the vast majority of these accidents resulted in material damage only, with people suffering only light injuries due to dangerous manipulation with fireworks. The CTK news agency notes that this may also have been due to the economic crisis, town halls organized fewer outdoor events and unlike other years there was no mega-concert on Prague’s Wenceslas Square.
Retailers are gearing up for a second round of sales, with some outlets cutting prices by as much as 75 percent. The biggest price reduction should affect electronics, wear, toys and cosmetics. Some outlets have announced the biggest sale ever in an effort to get Czechs to spend money after disappointing retail sales in December. Czech consumers have generally cut back on spending and the prediction of a likely fall in real incomes in 2010 has not helped matters.
Jailhouses in the Czech Republic have started releasing prisoners whose sentences will be scrapped or reduced under a new criminal code that takes effect as of January 1st. Under the new law some crimes, such as driving without a license or poaching, have been reclassified as misdemeanors. This will result in the unconditional and automatic release of over 1,500 prisoners and hundreds of others will see their sentences reduced. While the change of law will give overburdened Czech courts more paperwork, it is expected to alleviate the problem of overcrowded prisons.
Over 100 Czech holiday makers unexpectedly celebrated the arrival of the New Year in the Dominican Republic after their flight was cancelled due to technical problems. Czech Airlines rescheduled the flight for two days later, saying a spare part needed to be flown in before the airbus could make the flight back. The airlines covered the cost of accommodation and a New Year’s dinner for all 118 passengers. This particular flight had problems on the way out as well, after it was damaged by a de-frosting machine shortly before its planned take-off.
The Czech Finance Ministry plans to issue 153 billion crowns worth of state bonds to help cover a projected budget deficit of 162 billion crowns in 2010. The remaining part of the gap will be covered by raising the volume of long-term loans. Overall, the Finance Ministry plans to borrow up to 280 billion crowns this year within the adopted strategy of state debt financing and management.
Three quarters of Czechs regard 2009 as a “bad” year, suggests an opinion poll conducted by the CVVM agency. While 54 percent of respondents said the year had been “more on the bad side”, 21 percent described the last 12-month period as “very bad”. Meanwhile, the poll indicates that 43 percent of Czechs believe that next year will be the same as this year, and one third of respondents said they thought 2010 would be even worse than 2009.