In the last major commemoration of the death of former president Václav Havel, a boat laden with funerary flowers and wreaths launched from Prague on Saturday to begin a three-day trek along the Vltava and Elbe rivers. The boat left a pier near Mr Havel’s family home at Rašinovo Nábřeží in central Prague and will reach Mělník on the same day, continuing on to Ústí nad Labem and finally Děčín. The wreaths and flowers will then be thrown into the river. Václav Havel died in his sleep on the morning of December 18th after a prolonged illness. He was 75 years old.
The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reports that Brussels will give the Czech Republic one month to resolve irregularities in EU-funded education projects before it cancels the funding. An EC audit earlier this week criticised the Czech Education Ministry for using the funding for exorbitant salaries, needlessly expensive computers, favouring certain contractors and making payments that have nothing to do with the funded projects. The audit writes that the ministry lacks any system of checks, and that what checks there are, are not conducted at regular intervals.
In other bad news, preliminary police reports show there has been a large rise in road fatalities during December. Compared with 37 fatalities in November, 53 people lost their lives in traffic-related accidents in December and 200 were injured. Police investigated nearly 7000 accidents during December, most of which were caused by improper driving and speeding. Accidents involving alcohol amounted to 418.
Intrepid German revellers are continuing to buy dangerous fireworks at Vietnamese markets on the Czech border, despite numerous warnings from officials. According to the German daily Frankensteinpost, the fireworks sold at the markets are often uncertified and contain extremely volatile gunpowder. The paper writes that a police examination showed that five of the larger illicit fireworks were enough to blow up the trunk of a Volkswagen Polo. The amount of licit Vietnamese gunpowder needed to blow up the trunk of a VW Polo is yet unknown.
Explosions could be heard across Prague and other Czech cities on Saturday evening, often accompanied by flashes of light and crackling noises. Large numbers of people took cover in dining and drinking establishments, from which many later emerged in poor physical condition, incapable of normal motor and verbal skills. Public singing, widely thought to have been banned in the Czech lands, broke out in a number of locations, firstly in Prague’s Žižkov area in the early afternoon and spreading quickly thereafter to the rest of the country. A certain “Sylvester” is believed to be responsible for the abnormalities.
Outside of the abovementioned, media reported that there was virtually no news whatsoever in the Czech Republic on Saturday. On-duty journalists around the country faced the least newsworthy day in recent memory by staring at walls for countless hours on Saturday, with some threatening to burn down parts of their offices just to cover the story. Others prepared templates for drunk-driving and fireworks accident stories to be used later in the evening. Mainstream media outlets have eluded the problem by reporting on the cold weather expected in January. The situation is expected to improve slightly over the course of the year.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš is under pressure to resign over irregularities in EU-funded projects. Brussels announced a day earlier that the Czech Education Ministry may see its EU funding suspended over irregularities in public procurement. Auditors from Brussels have advised suspending all further payments from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme until the matter is cleared up. EU funding at the ministry has been plagued by problems in recent years. On Wednesday the ministry’s fifth head of section in charge of EU funds, Robert Plaga, unexpectedly resigned after just eight working days in the post. Minister Dobeš has requested a meeting with the prime minister.
An EIA study has suggested that a planned ski resort at Hraničník in Šumava National Park would have a negative impact on the local environment. The study was commissioned by the region of South Bohemia which has gotten behind the project for the new hill. Four alternatives describing a planned chairlift, parking space, routes and ski runs have been tabled. But because the new ski hill and lift would require an extensive introduction of new infrastructure in what is a biosphere preservation area recognised by UNESCO, the EIA study suggests such a plan would be unsuitable unless it were proven to be markedly in the public interest. Among those who supported plans for a new ski hill at Hraničník was Czech President Václav Klaus, news site aktualne.cz said.
The financial daily Hospodářské noviny has reported that three former top managers at the state-run Road and Motorway Directorate – charged with corruption that cost the Czech Republic hundreds of millions of crowns – include Michal Hala as well as a former company lawyer. The daily cited anonymous sources, confirming that the men were in custody on the suspicion of property mismanagement and accepting bribes from two firms in return for cheap contracts in the lease of property (rest areas) along the D5 and D47 highways. One manager is believed to have received more than 15 million crowns; the two heads of the businesses involved have also been charged by the police. Michal Hala attracted broader attention two years ago when – on the occasion of his birthday – he threw a party for 300 guests reportedly costing 750,000 crowns.