Former president Vácalv Havel has distanced himself from speculation that he could back the centre-right Civic Democrats in upcoming October elections. Havel said that he was not about to wear a political t-shirt and if he were to so it would be green. Havel sparked speculation following comments to the Lidové Noviny newspaper last week which criticising the Social Democrat led no-confidence vote which toppled the centre-right coalition as a ‘stupidity.’ He added that he sympathised with the Civic Democrats and expected voters would make the Social Democrats pay for what they had done.
The Czech Republic and South Korea signed an economic cooperation agreement during the visit by Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo on Tuesday. The agreement covers research and development with emphasis on nanotechnology, renewables and information technology. Outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said that the European Union and South Korea hope to seal a free trade agreement by the end of the Czech EU presidency in June. Mr Topolánek also announced that President Václav Klaus will head the EU side at an EU-South Korea summit in Seoul on May 23.
A planned speech by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke at Prague’s Charles University has been cancelled by university authorities, Czech media reported on Tuesday. The university engagement was one of three planned speaking engagement by the former leader of the US racist movement in Prague and Brno on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Outgoing Czech minister for human rights and minorities Michael Kocáb described the speaking tour at the invitation of local neo nazis as alarming. The visit comes at a time of heightened tension following a petrol-bomb attack on a Roma family in the north-east of the country on Saturday night which has left a toddler with 80 percent burns fighting for her life in hospital.
Czech wine makers enjoyed a record year for production in 2008. The 2008 production at 820,000 hectolitres, and possibly up to 840,000 hectolitres, is around double the previous year according to the Ministry of Agriculture. It said the increase was in part due to the expansion of domestic vineyards. Whereas 11,236 hectares were under cultivation in 2000, this has now climbed to 17,000 hectares thanks in a large part to state incentives. Czech wine production in 2007 was also hit by frosts which resulted in a lower crop.
Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek predicted on Tuesday that the country will enjoy a modest growth of 0.5 percent next year. That will follow a decrease of not more than 2.0 percent this year, he added. Even so, Mr Kalousek predicted lower levels of tax income and increased government spending could mean that this year’s budget deficit will exceed 180 billion crowns. He said he would strive to curb the deficit at under 150 billion this year and next. The government originally aimed for the deficit this year to be around 115 billion crowns.
The Czech delegation at the UN’s World Conference Against Racism walked out during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s speech on Monday, when the Iranian leader described Israel as ‘totally racist’. Afterwards, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it, and its ‘democratic partners, both from EU and non-EU states’ could not legitimize these ‘totally unacceptable anti-Israeli attacks’ by hearing Mr Ahmedinejad out. The Czech delegation subsequently announced that it would join the US and several other European states by boycotting the conference. The UN conference runs until April 24.
The Czech Office for the Protection of Personal Data announced on Tuesday that it would probe a leak of ‘sensitive’ data on politicians who attended the recent EU-US summit in Prague. The Czech EU presidency has admitted that a publicly accessible computer in a Prague hotel displayed information on EU officials taking part in the summit on April 5. The cause of the leak was ‘unintentional human error’, it said. A Finnish tourist stumbled across politicians’ passport numbers, flight details and medical information on a public access computer, the Finnish news agency STT reported on Friday. The office said that there was a serious suspicion that a breach of the law had occurred. The maximum fine for releasing confidential material is 10 million crowns, around 500,000 dollars.
In ice hockey, legendary Czech ’keeper Dominik Hašek announced a comeback to the sport on Tuesday. The 44 year old said at a news conference that he will team up with former extra league club Pardubice for the upcoming season. He added that one of the goals for the next season could be participation in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The hero of the Nagano Olympic Games in 1998 and twice winner of the Stanley Cup last played for Pardubice 15 years ago. The east Bohemian outfit was his first major club and he helped them it to win the championship in 1987 and 1989.
The state-owned air-carrier ČSA will not be bought by Russian airline Aeroflot, the outgoing cabinet decided on Monday. Of four potential bidders, the government has narrowed the competition down to two. Speaking on Monday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that only Unimex Group and Travel Service, who are launching a joint-bid with KLM-Air France, would be put forward for consideration, while Aeroflot and Odien were no longer in contention. The Finance Ministry refused to comment further on the criteria used to select the bidders. ČSA is expected to be privatized by this October; it is predicted that it will fetch around 4.5 billion crowns (215 million USD).
Some 43 percent of Czechs believe that the toppling of the government halfway through this country’s EU presidency damages the image of the Czech Republic abroad, a poll conducted by the Factum Invenio agency and published on Monday suggests. Thirty-six percent of those polled, however, think that the change of leadership in Prague makes no difference whatsoever to the way that the country is perceived. According to the survey, eight percent of Czechs actually think that the change of government will improve the Czech Republic’s image in Europe. The Czech Republic took over from France at the helm of the EU on January 1, it hands over to Sweden on July 1.
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“Einstein in Bohemia” – Part II: how alienation in ‘half-barbaric’ Prague led him to a new theory of gravity, eventual love of a free Czechoslovakia
“Einstein in Bohemia” – part 1: how a Prague sojourn sparked his theory of general relativity, journey of self-discovery