President Václav Klaus has cancelled a visit to Ukraine in protest over the imprisonment of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Austrian, Slovenian and German heads of state have also refused to participate in the upcoming summit of central European presidents, citing repressive treatment of the former leader. The presidents of Estonia and Latvia are reportedly also reconsidering their attendance. Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year sentence for signing contracts for the delivery of Russian gas that were allegedly not in the public interest. Western leaders have said the case was politically motivated. She has been on hunger strike since April 20.
The worsening of Ms Tymoshenko’s condition would mean a weakening of Ukraine’s position in Europe, says Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. Mr Schwarzenberg and his Slovak counterpart Miroslav Lajčák urged Ukraine to ensure that Tymoshenko receive proper medical care. Mr Lajčák noted that Tymoshenko herself said that she does not want her case to be an obstacle to Ukraine´s entry into Europe, and he said that it was important that Ukraine cut itself off from its undemocratic past. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, they said, will be closely monitoring the situation and are considering what steps to take next. Tymoshenko suffers from back pains and has recently complained of being beaten in prison. Ukrainian authorities and media outlets have cast doubt on her claims.
New legislation will allow more people to receive compensation for property lost in Carpathian Ruthenia after WWII. The law will take effect on May 1 and allows the descendants of Czech citizens to file requests until the end of 2013. The previous legislation eliminated between 200 and 600 applicants who were forced off their land between November 5, 1938, and March 18, 1939. Legitimate applicants will be due ten times the value of the property assessed in the late 1940s and 50s, up to two million crowns. Once the easternmost tip of Czechoslovakia and today part of Ukraine, Carpathian Ruthenia was occupied by Hungary in 1938 and annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of WWII.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek has allotted an additional 140 million crowns to social services. The preliminary measure, which must yet be approved by the Finance Ministry, was previously agreed upon with the Association of Health Care Providers, which has warned of large scale closings of facilities and threatened to demonstrate. Mr Drábek says the increase should be approved as it involves a transfer of funds within one budget chapter and was acquired through ministry savings.
The Ministry of Defence will pay 643 million crowns to NATO funds this year, 16 million more than last year. According to documents submitted to the government on Monday, the main amounts include 385 million crowns for the alliance’s military budget and 176 million for security investment programmes. Another 34 million will be invested in modernising the Čáslav airport, in Eastern Bohemia, in order to meet NATO standards.
There is no future in the idea of a unified Europe say most Czechs, according to a poll conducted in April by the CVVM agency. That position was held by 52% of respondents, while only a third said the opposite. Many were also opposed to the idea of strengthening the integration of European states, with 40% saying they would keep it at its current level and 23% saying they would like less integration. Confidence in the European Union and its institutions was suggested to be at 40%, the lowest point since 2003.
A Marian column that stood on Prague’s Old Town Square for some 270 years is to be re-erected this year, according to the daily Lidové noviny. Citing Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, the paper writes that the long reconstruction of the column is nearly complete and that its return to the historic square must yet be approved by the city council. The column was erected in 1650 to give thanks for the protection of Prague during the Thirty Years War. Locals however viewed it as a symbol of the Austrian, Catholic, domination of the country and it was torn down by a crowd in 1918. A fountain from the 16th century may also be rebuilt in the next two years as part of a restoration of Old Town Square.
Three new bells atop St Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle will be consecrated on Monday. The bells, bearing the names Jesus, Virgin Mary and St Dominic, will be blessed by Cardinal Dominik Duka before being hoisted to the tower later this week. Of the original set of seven bells, three were removed and melted down during the First and Second World Wars. The entire set will be rung for the first time on May 12. St Vitus Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the resting place of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
Monday evening marks the traditional celebration of the Burning of the Witches, or Walpurgis Night. Concerts and games for children and adults will be organized throughout the country and followed by bonfires. In Prague, festivities will be held in the public parks at Ladronka and Kavčí hora, and also at the Břevnovský klášter and Malostranské náměstí. The highlight of the spring event, which is celebrated under various names throughout Central and Northern Europe, is the burning of a witch’s effigy and is believed to be a remnant of a major pagan holy day.
The end of April has been the hottest in recorded history. Records fell on Saturday and Sunday at the Clementinum in Prague, which has kept record of temperatures since 1775. The unseasonably warm weather continued on Monday, with highs of 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) in places, and is not expected to let up for several days. The average temperature in late April is 10° to 11° C; the record high recorded at the Clementinum is 27.3° C in the year 1800. Meteorologists are expecting the start of May to bring rain and cooler temperatures of around 15 to 20° C.