Signatories of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto will mark its 35th anniversary next week with a series of cultural and commemorative events, including special performances of Vaclav Havel´s plays. Charter 77 Week, held from March 12-18, will offer the public exhibitions, seminars and debates with former dissidents. It is also intended to honour the memory of philosopher and Charter 77 spokesman Jan Patočka who became the first victim of the communist backlash against the manifesto. He was arrested and died of a stroke shortly after undergoing an 11-hour interrogation by the communist secret police.
A Swiss court has dismissed an appeal for the Czech Republic to be allowed to join the proceedings against former managers of the privatised Mostecká uhelná coal mining firm. The Czech state thus stands to lose billions of crowns that are now blocked in Switzerland. The Swiss started the investigation in June of 2005 on suspicion that large sums of money had been illegally siphoned from the company. Six Czechs and one Belgian citizen have been charged with money laundering and other financial crimes. The Czech Justice Ministry has said now seek to join the proceedings by filing a civil action.
The Czech Republic´s foreign trade ended in a record-high surplus of 29.6 billion crowns in January, 11.7 billion higher year on year and the highest figure since the establishment of the Czech Republic in 1993, the Czech Statistical Office announced on Thursday. According to preliminary data, exports increased by 11 percent and imports by 6.3 percent year on year. The surplus is fuelled by trade with EU member states which grew by 7.1 billion to 68.8 billion, while that with non-EU countries ended in a deficit of 39.2 billion, which is 4.6 billion crowns lower year on year.
Unemployment rose by 0.1% in February, according to new data released by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. In February, 541,685 were looking for work in the Czech Republic at an overall unemployment rate of 9.2%. The highest rates of unemployment were in Jeseník, at 17.9%, while Prague-east was the lowest, at 3.5%. Weak consumer demand continues to blight the Czech economy, while analysts fear that government austerity measures could increase unemployment levels to 9.5% .
The State Veterinary Administration has announced that samples from food known to contain Polish-sourced salt in the Moravian-Silesian region have thus far not shown any evidence of containing dangerous chemicals. The tests come in the wake of a major scandal in Poland, in which for years several companies were found to have been selling salt intended for industrial purposes to food producers. The Czech Republic has provisionally banned the import of salt from Poland with Czech Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl subsequently accusing Poland of providing insufficient information to Czech authorities seeking to assess whether Polish goods contaminated with industrial salt have made their way into the Czech food chain. The Moravian-Sliesian region tests took place in Olomouc with both food and pure salt samples tested. Both were found to be safe; tests on meat products are currently underway with the SVA continuing to press Polish authorities to provide more information over the precise nature of the industrial salt in question and which food companies may have purchased it.
The Germany daily Die Welt has accused Czech president Václav Klaus of seeking to break up the European Union. The conservative daily cited Klaus’ support of Turkish EU entry in its argument; Germany is presently opposed to Turkish entry. Specifically, the paper noted recent comments by close Klaus aid Jiří Payne, who said: “I think that he wants to break up the European Union,” adding that “There are groups of European sceptics in each country. They are expanding into a stream in the current crisis. Klaus will travel round Europe and see to it that this stream is strengthening even more,” according to comments reported by ČTK. The paper argues that Klaus’ pro-Turkish stance has nothing to do with advocating for Turkey, but is rather another cynical move designed to weaken and possibly break-up the European Union by exacerbating the EU’s current problems via the addition of a new member with a population of roughly 60 million people. In a recent interview with the daily Právo, Payne also noted that the sooner the “failed integration project” of the EU is ended, the better it will be for the economies of its members.
Police have arrested an Iranian citizen wanted internationally for attempted arms trafficking. Detectives from the organised crime division of the police took custody of Behrouz Dolatzadi in February on suspicion of attempting to purchase 500 M4 carbines in Prague for export to Iran, getting around the arms embargo. Czech Television reported Tuesday that the top secret operation to arrest Dolatzadi was carried out in concert with U.S. intelligence services, which issued the warrant. Dolatzadi arrived in the United States in 2011 as a representative of a Tehran clothing company and tried to buy the rifles there. He signed a contract for 3000 M4 rifles for Iran but the deal fell through. According to Czech Television, Dolatzadi then moved to the Czech Republic and signed a contract for M4 carbines worth 40,000 euros. Czech agents working undercover as arms manufacturers were in contact with him. He was arrested in Prague’s Clarion Hotel where he was staying.
Customs officials in the Czech city of Liberec have uncovered a huge haul of unlicensed tobacco following an anonymous tip-off. Around 16 tonnes of tobacco, with an estimated street value of 3.5 million crowns was found in a storage depot, reportedly owned by a twenty-five year-old Polish man lacking any documentation confirming that duties had been paid on the product in his possession. Upon arriving at the scene, police found 168 boxes containing either shredded or un-shredded rolling tobacco; some also contained only sawdust. Authorities are continuing to undertake scientific tests to determine exactly what they uncovered. Should authorities confirm that the man failed to pay duties, he will face a 22 million crown fine and could face up to eight years in prison, reports ČTK.
The Civic Democrat mayor of the Prague 2 district Jiří Paluska resigned Wednesday following accusations that he had abused his power while in office. Specifically, the mayor faced accusations that he personally benefitted from a questionable rental arrangement and subsequent reconstruction tender by the district, with Paluska’s son living in an apartment that had officially been designated to be reconstructed, partially at public expense. Transparency International filed a complaint against Prague 2 arguing that the scenario presented by the district – of reconstruction and rental of a property on Dittrichova road – never actually took place and also claimed to possess documentation proving that the mayor’s son was occupying part of the property in question. Deputy mayor Václav Vondrášek has now taken over Paluska’s post.
Czech artist Roman Týc, currently serving the second week of a month-long jail term, has been denied a pardon by the Czech president. Týc was imprisoned after refusing to pay a 60,000 crown fine levied by the authorities as punishment for the artist’s defacing red and green traffic light figures in 2007 to show them in situations such as drinking, urinating and being hanged. Numerous civic initiatives have sprung up in recent months supporting Týc’s cause, while the artist pinned his hopes on a presidential pardon. According to the president’s office, Klaus carefully weighed the case, but ultimately decided not to intervene. Meanwhile, Týc’s lawyer contacted the Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil last week, asking him to send the case to country’s Supreme Court, arguing that the entire prosecution of Týc for vandalism was unwarranted.