The Czech Republic is gearing up for the anniversary of the start of the
Velvet Revolution on Tuesday, when some 20 events in Prague alone will
commemorate the student demonstrations of November 1989. Some 1,000 police
officers are going to be deployed in the Czech capital. Events are mostly
being organized by civic organizations such as Opona, which has put
together a march that follows the original route of demonstrators, from
Albertov to Národní Třída, 20 years ago. At 6 pm, Narodní Třída
traffic will be shut down for speeches and a concert. Speakers at the
include Chinese journalist Kao Ju and Russian human rights activist Oleg
Orlov. The organizers expect some 10,000 people to attend.
In related news, Prime Minister Jan Fischer has indirectly responded to criticism that the current government did not prepare sufficiently to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution. Mr. Fischer explained that to put on an event like the large-scale celebration commemorating the fall of the Wall in Berlin last week, the previous government would have had to start preparations a year ago.
Police still don’t know what lead to the collapse of the railway tunnel under construction near the eastern town of Jablunkov on Sunday. The criminal police are now investigating whether a levee had been damaged during building work which could have led to the collapse. Some of the workers who were employed at the site said that the construction took place in a hasty manner. Vladislav Beneš of Subterra, the company in charge of the project, vehemently disputed such allegations. The tunnel was supposed to be built by 2011.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the Czech town of Ostrava is recreating the atmosphere of the era of totalitarianism. As part of a three day project titled “The Road to Freedom,” residents, under the watchful eyes of faux secret police officers, can listen to speeches by Gustav Husák, take a ride in a bus from the Communist era and discuss the former regime with historians. Several plays and film projections complete the project that was organized by the civic association Pant.
President Václav Klaus has hailed his predecessor in office Václav Havel as the central figure of the Velvet Revolution which toppled the communist regime. Sitting next to Mr. Havel at a concert to mark 20 years of freedom and democracy, Mr. Klaus had warm words for his ideological rival, saying that whatever differences they may have on internal and external issues, he perceives Václav Havel as the man who had made all this possible, the central figure of the Velvet Revolution. He said it was now up to the Czechs how they would use the freedom they had acquired.
A thirty-five year old mother remains in critical condition after
contracting the swine flu virus in the 29th week of pregnancy. Doctor in
Ustí nad Labem were forced to perform a Cesarean section on the pregnant
woman on Friday in the hope of saving her life. She is now in an induced
coma and breathing with the help of a ventilator. The baby girl is reported
to be free of the virus and is said to be doing as well as can be expected.
The authorities report close to 500 cases of swine flu, with a marked increase in the past ten days. Four schools have been closed down and many hospitals have closed their doors to visitors.
A railway tunnel under construction near the town of Jablunkov, in the eastern part of the country, collapsed in the early hours of Sunday, bringing rail transport between the Czech Republic and Slovakia to a standstill. Although the route was not being used the rail-track now in operation was too close for safety. The tunnel was empty at the time and experts are now assessing the cause of the accident.
Speaking on Czech Television on the occasion of the anniversary, Václav Havel said the Czech Republic would benefit from a simpler and clearer constitution, adopting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and greater transparency and ethics in Czech politics. Mr. Havel said this was a vision he hoped to see fulfilled in the next twenty years. He underlined the importance of a strong civic society based on personal morals and ethics, but said this would take a while after decades of being suppressed.
US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Ellen Tauscher is expected in Prague on Monday for talks focusing
predominantly on anti-missile defense. Ms Tauscher is scheduled to meet
with the Czech foreign minister, Jan Kohout, and the leaders of the two
strongest parties in the country, the Civic and Social Democrats.
After scrapping Bush-era missile defense plans for Central Europe, the Obama administration has expressed interest in building a missile defense system that would be part of NATO defense structures. According to diplomatic sources Washington has already submitted specific proposals under which the Czech Republic might join the emerging project, but no details have been released.
The minister for human rights, Michael Kocáb has said a court should look into the statutes and activities of the Communist Party in order to judge whether it is not acting in violation of the Constitution and possibly outline a framework for its future functioning. The minister said he was not happy about the fact that the party had relinquished little of its legacy – such as the teachings of Lenin and Marx – which he found unacceptable. Previous efforts on the part of a group of senators to get the Communist Party outlawed have failed. In reaction to the comments, Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip said he was convinced the party was sufficiently transformed.
US president Barack Obama, German Chacellor Angela Merkel, the Dalai Lama
and the former Soviet president Michail Gorbachov sent the Czech people
video-greetings screened during the concert, congratulating them on twenty
years of freedom and democracy. President Obama said the Velvet Revolution
was an inspiration to those who are still striving for freedom. Chancellor
Merkel thanked Czechs for having helped East German refugees on their
flight to freedom in 1989 and the former Soviet leader Michail Gorbachov
called Václav Havel a dear friend for whom he had great respect. The Dalai
Lama expressed the hope that Czechs and Slovaks would preserve their
Saturday’s events commemorating the Velvet Revolution were organized by the Dagmar and Václav Havel foundation. They included a panel debate with students and VIP guests such as the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, French philosopher Andre Glucksman, British writer Tom Stoppard and Polish historian and journalist Adam Michnik. The day culminated with a concert on Saturday night to which Mr. Havel invited guest performers close to his heart – Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Suzanne Vega and Renee Fleming. The show was titled “It’s finally happening” – the slogan that tens of thousands of Czechs chanted in the streets during the Velvet Revolution. President Klaus who was sitting in the first row had high praise for the event saying it was just right – emotionally charged but not opulent.
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