November 17th is a state holiday in the Czech Republic, marking the
country’s return to freedom and democracy. Eighteen year ago this day an
attack by riot police against demonstrating students on Prague’s Narodni
Trida sparked mass protests that led to the fall of Czechoslovakia’s
communist regime. Leading politicians, cultural figures and members of the
public visited memorials to the victims of communism on Wenceslas Square,
Narodni Trida and other sites in the Czech Republic to lay flowers and
light candles in memory of those who fought against oppression.
The commemorative ceremonies are also linked to an earlier anniversary – a student march in 1939 held in protest against the Nazi occupation that was brutally suppressed. The protest served as a pretext for more reprisals against Czech intellectuals. The Nazis raided a university campus on the night of November 17, nine students were executed without a trial and 1200 were deported to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. All Czech universities were then closed.
Opposition leader Jiri Paroubek tied the knot for a second time at Hotel Esplanade in Marianske Lazne on Saturday. He married Slovak-born Petra Kovacova with whom he cooperated closely in the past few years and developed a close relationship. Mr. Paroubek divorced his wife of thirty years two months ago. The wedding was a private affair for close friends and family.
Meanwhile, in his own address to the nation, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said that 18 years was a relatively short time in a country’s history and that the Czech Republic’s democracy was still young and fragile. He said it was particularly important for the young generation to learn the lessons of the past. Some of the excesses we have recently witnessed suggest that the fight for freedom and democracy has not yet been fully won, the prime minister noted.
Teachers have threatened to go on strike on December 4th if the government fails to increase the education sector’s expenditures for 2008. The proposed budget reckons with a 1,5 percent increase in teachers’ salaries which will barely cover inflation. Trade unions say that more money is needed for teaching aids, sports facilities and maintenance.
In a speech at the university campus that was the scene of the Nazi brutalities, President Vaclav Klaus said that the two anniversaries – one relating to Nazi, the other to Communist oppression - were closely intertwined and we should forget neither of them. He said it was important to recognize what had led the country from one form of oppression into another and noted that many Czech intellectuals had naively embraced leftist utopian visions and that after having been disappointed by the Western allies Czechs had blindly sought security guarantees from the East.
A number of protests and demonstrations took place in Prague on the country’s state holiday. Close to two thousand people marched through the city centre to protest against the Czech Republic hosting a US radar base on its territory. The protest was organized by the No to Bases civic initiative which called for a referendum on the issue. Right wing extremists met on Palacky Square to protest against the actions of the police last weekend when they prevented neo-Nazis from marching through Prague’s Jewish quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews. The ultra-right protesters symbolically buried “freedom of speech” in a funeral casket and quietly dispersed. Trade unions likewise held a gathering in the centre of Prague. The police were out in force to maintain law and order.
Acting Education Minister Martin Bursik has revealed that a Czech operational programme aimed at drawing EU funds for support in the field of science in the country, will be approved by the European Commission by next March. That date has been set as the latest, with Mr Busik saying that the schedule had been agreed by Brussels. The operational programme will make the Czech Republic eligible for 70 billion crowns (the equivalent of roughly 3.8 billion US dollars) in EU subsidies. Delays in the programme’s implementation forced Mr Bursik’s fellow Green Party member Dana Kuchtova to step down as education minister in October. Mr Bursik, the minister for the environment, stepped in for the interim, before a suitable successor can be found.
The health ministry issued a warning over children’s toothpastes on Friday after it was found that several brands manufactured in China contained diethylenglycol, which can affect the kidneys or nervous system. The news was revealed by Prague’s chief hygiene officer Michal Vit. Experts found the substance in 60 gram tubes of Vecernicek (tuti-fruti), Ferda (apple), and Ferda (strawberry). The company importing the product will refund consumers who bought the items. Any of the products remaining on the shelves have been ordered to be removed immediately .
Czech police have decided to shelve their investigation into the so-called “theft of the century” – an unsolved case from 2002 in which an armoured security vehicle in Prague 6 was hit for 153 million crowns (the equivalent of around 8.3 million US dollars). Although the formal investigation will be complete, police will still operatively search for clues in the case. In the heist, three accomplices - armed with weapons including explosives - stopped a Securitas truck on Prague’s Evropska Street and were able to get into the vehicle. No one was hurt in the incident.
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