The law was a compromise with hunters and pro-hunting MPs on one side of the house, and land owners and environmentalists on the other. But after the vote in the Lower House was over, it was clearly the hunters who were celebrating victory. I spoke to Christian Democrat MP Libor Ambrozek, one of the law's fierce opponents, who told me there were two reasons why there was a strong hunting lobby in the Lower House:
"First, the hunters are extremely well-organised, with more than 100,000 rank and file members and a close link to left-wing parties dating back to Communism. The second reason is that hunting has recently become a popular hobby for the well-off, that's why they have good contacts with right-wing parties as well. So when you put these two things together, they created a powerful lobby we were unable to defeat." Under the new law - if it's passed by the Senate that is - hunters will have more advantages. Guards will be allowed to check the boots of cars to see there's no poached deer inside, armed hunters will be allowed to enter private property when seeking wounded animals, and they will also have the right to shoot any dog caught chasing deer more than 200 metres from any house or other inhabited building. Mr. Ambrozek said the roots of the law reach back to the times of Communism and so his party's MPs were trying to formulate the law to reflect the existing social reality.
"Unfortunately, the position of hunters as users or tenants of land is immensely strong, and the owner of that land is substantially limited in pursuing his rights. This concerns compensation, but he will even be barred from entering his own land at a time of nesting or when a hunt is underway. In some points, the law goes against the law on the protection of nature." Mr. Ambrozek himself is the Chairman of the Czech Nature Preservation Union and what concerns him is the fact that the list of wild animals also contains protected species, such as bears, otters and hawks, which may lure hunters to shoot them. But there is yet another problem:
"We've been discussing this issue with hunters for many years, and we've been trying - quite unsuccessfully so far - to persuade hunters that when these species are protected by European Union laws, they cannot be hunted here either. If in the Czech Republic these species remain on the list of wild animals, we might face sanctions from the EU. So far we have at least succeeded to include them on a special list, but unless shooting on them is prohibited, I'm afraid hunters will do it."
Hunters form their own closed world, and they are said to be unable to recognise the fact that conditions have changed since the years of Communism. In addition to a great number of decent hunters, who care for forests and the animals that live in them, there are many people who don't respect owners' rights, and who can use, say, a conflict with their neighbour, as a pretext for violating his rights.
MPs opposed to the new hunting law hope that it will be returned to the Lower House by the Senate for further discussion. On the other hand, a new law must come into force as soon as possible, as the 10 year-old rent of hunting grounds is nearing its end and if there's no law, there may be great danger for both wild animals and nature.
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