A very special ceremony took place on Prague's Charles Bridge over the weekend. The deputy mayor of Prague Jan Burgermeister inserted a casket containing a message to future generations into the ninth pillar of Charles Bridge. The casket contains basic information about the Czech capital, its history and its inhabitants in the year 2005. There is a map, a film about Prague on DVD, a copy of the Constitution, the Czech currency in coins and banknotes and other memorabilia. "I cannot help wondering who will find this, in how many centuries from now and what the world will be like then," Mr. Burgermeister told journalists. Many Prague churches, spires and pillars allegedly contain "messages to future generations".
President Klaus said in an interview for the daily Lidove Noviny that he would respect the outcome of the vote on the EU Constitution but that until then he reserved the right to criticize it. The President was reacting to criticism from Brussels and some Czech politicians with regard to his strongly negative stance to the EU Constitution. If the Czech Republic ratifies the EU Constitution then as President I would have to accept that, or else seriously consider leaving my post, but until then I have the same right to my opinion as any of the other ten million inhabitants of the Czech Republic, Mr. Klaus told the paper.
Over one hundred members of the ruling Social Democratic Party met in Prague on Saturday to establish a leftist faction within the party and agree on forms of cooperation. Among the founders of the leftist faction are Jan Kavan and Vladimir Lastuvka, two rebellious back-benchers who threatened to withhold their support for the coalition government of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek just two weeks ago. Mr. Kavan said the leftist faction did not aim to destabilize or break up the party, but rather to deepen party democracy and make sure that the Social Democrats remain true to their policy programme. No reforms at the expense of the poor, Mr. Kavan told the press.
Political analysts have welcomed the end of the drawn out crisis, but they are sceptical with regard to the government's ability to push through badly needed reforms of the health and pension system in the remaining 14 months left to regular parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister has said he is ready to tackle those challenges and will negotiate with the opposition parties in order to secure support for the planned reforms. The leader of the opposition right wing Civic Democratic Party Mirek Topolanek said on Friday that although his party had not supported this Cabinet it was prepared to hold talks on crucial reforms.
Several dozen people on Friday gathered at Lety, the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Romanies, to attend a commemorative ceremony for the 326 people who died there in the war years. Lety is a sensitive and controversial legacy for Czechs since the camp was staffed solely by Czech guards and was initially set up by the Czech puppet government early in the Nazi occupation. Adding insult to injury, the communist authorities later built a pig farm on the site of the former camp, which has not been removed to this day. The European Parliament recently approved a resolution urging the Czech government to have the farm relocated as quickly as possible.
The centre-left coalition government of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on Friday narrowly won a confidence vote in Parliament, ending a lengthy political crisis. All 101 deputies of the three party coalition supported the Cabinet in the 200 seat lower house, an outcome that was expected after the new Prime Minister secured the support of a few rebellious back-benchers. Both opposition parties voted against the old-new government. In his address to the house Mr. Paroubek said he aimed to bring stability to the Czech Republic. Outlining his Cabinet's priorities the Prime Minister highlighted tax, health and pension reforms as well as ratifying the EU Constitution. Mr. Paroubek, formerly local development minister, is the country's third prime minister in nine months.
The Czech National Bank governor Zdenek Tuma on Friday expressed surprise over the radical way in which the country's anti-monopoly office launched proceedings against a number of Czech banks whom it suspects of having created a cartel on fees. Tuma said he did not believe that to be the case, noting that the Czech National Bank board did not see any obvious symptoms of a cartel, but that he fully respected the independence of the anti-monopoly office. If the banks in question - Ceska Sporitelna, Komercni Banka and CSOB - are found guilty they could face a fine of up to 10 million crowns /420,000 US dollars/each.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed an amendment to the employment law prohibiting what is called the Schwarz System, where companies employ people with trade licenses to do work that regular staff members are capable of doing. The amendment is to help define illegal outsourcing more clearly. President Klaus also signed a bill into law on Thursday that provides compensation to victims of the 1968 Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia. Depending on how badly they were affected, victims or their surviving relatives will receive between 30,000 and 150,000 crowns (1,300-6,300 US dollars) from the state.
The Czech Anti-Monopoly Office has launched administrative proceedings against three of the country's biggest banks. Ceska Sporitelna, Komercni Banka, and CSOB are suspected of concluding a cartel agreement on bank charges. The three banks charge much higher fees than in most other EU member states. If the banks are proven guilty, they can face a fine of up to ten million Czech crowns (some 420,000 US dollars) or amounting to ten percent of profits recorded in 2004.