Events have been held in the Czech Republic to mark the country’s day of the fight for freedom and democracy, which is a state holiday. On Saturday morning the Czech president, Václav Klaus, the prime minister, Petr Nečas, and other senior state officials took part in a ceremony at a Prague hall of residence where there is a memorial to student victims of Nazi persecution in 1939. A march commemorating those students sparked the beginning of the Velvet Revolution on November 17 1989 and people on Saturday also gathered and lit candles at a memorial at the spot where riot police attacked participants on Prague’s Národní St.
In an address, President Klaus said gatherings such as the one at the student dormitory were held to ensure that people did not forget the past. He said he was concerned that Czechs were now living in what he would characterise as an era of “forgetting and gestures”. Mr. Klaus said he would not describe contemporary society as an information society but rather as an “uninformed society” in which traditional values were being damaged and defiled, adding that gestures and words were being applauded, not actions and principled and consistent behavior. Later, at the memorial on Národní St., the president was met by supporters and opponents; members of the pro-Klaus D.O.S.T. group shouted long live Klaus, while a young man carrying a Czech flag declared that the president was a thief who had robbed and sold off the country.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said with regard to Saturday’s events linked to resistance in the past to Nazism and Communism that Czech people had not lost and would not lose their historical memory. He said the fact that freedom and democracy were not taken for granted in the Czech Republic was constantly being confirmed. Mr. Nečas also said that the success of the Communist Party in recent regional and Senate elections represented a certain “memento”, the Czech News Agency reported.
Thousands of people gathered on Prague’s Wenceslas Sq. for an anti-government demonstration held by trade unions and other groups on Saturday. Organisers said 20,000 to 25,000 people had turned out for the protest, though the police put the figure at around 10,000. Speaking under a “Stop the Government” banner, the chairman of the country’s confederation of trade unions, Jaroslav Zavadil, told the crowd that they did not deserve the current government of “corrupt” ministers. Mr. Zavadil said people were currently too afraid to launch a general strike, but said he hoped the nation would wake up a bit more. Other demonstrations were also held in the centre of the capital.
Hundreds of people protested in České Budějovice on Saturday against the participation of the Communist Party in the government of the region. Students in the South Bohemian city have been protesting this week in the wake of the appointment of the Communists’ Vítězslava Baborová as councillor for education by the regional governor, Jiří Zimola of the Social Democrats. Demonstrators carried banners with slogans such as “Red brothers, go back to your reservation.”
A number of Slovak rock bands are playing a concert at Prague’s Rock Café on Saturday night to commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the split of Czechoslovakia. The groups Polemic, Billy Barman and Živé kvety will perform at the downtown venue, which is located only metres away from the Velvet Revolution memorial on Národní St. A spokesperson for the organisers said the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg would appear, as would the former Slovak prime minister, Iveta Radičová, who now heads the Slovak Institute in Prague.
The Czech Republic are 2:1 up against Spain in the final of the Davis Cup in Spain. After Friday’s singles rubbers the two countries were tied at 1:1 but Radek Štěpánek and Tomáš Berdych on Saturday afternoon gave them what could be a crucial point with a 3-6 7-5 7-5 5-3 6-3 victory over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez in front of 13,000 fans at the sold-out O2 Arena. The final two singles rubbers will be played on Sunday. The Czech Republic’s women recently triumphed in the Fed Cup and a win for the men’s team in the Davis Cup would make it the first time ever that the country has held the two titles.
President Václav Klaus confirmed former senator Ludmila Müllerová, of TOP 09, as the new Labour and Social Affairs Minister. She replaces Jaromír Drábek, who resigned from his post at the end of October. Mr Drábek stepped down after corruption charges were brought against his former first deputy. At her appointing on Friday, Mr Klaus stressed that stability was needed at the ministry; the naming of a successor to Mr Drábek was originally delayed by regional and Senate elections, as well as an inner-government dispute over raising taxes.
In related news, it is not yet clear who will replace outgoing Transport Minister Pavel Dobeš. Dobeš’ party LIDEM, which pressured him this week to step down over a number of problems, including a faulty electronic vehicle registration system, nominated Robert Vacek in his stead. But Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced on Thursday night that he would not support the nomination and is expecting LIDEM leader Karolína Peake to submit another candidate from her party. Mr Nečas said that Mr Vacek did not have the proper qualifications. He followed up with a stronger statement on Friday morning saying that the former security chief for Vít Barta would never be in his government. Mrs Peake has said no other candidate is being considered and made clear LIDEM will review the situation – including the viability of remaining in the centre-right government – next week.
President Václav Klaus has cancelled a four-day visit to Israel scheduled to have begun on Sunday, spokesman Radim Ochvat told the Czech news agency on Thursday evening. No details were added. The president announced his visit to Israel back in August. With the trip, he reportedly wanted to reciprocate Israeli President Shimon Peres's visit to Prague two years ago. But this week Israel started retaliatory air and artillery operations in the territory of Gaza from where Palestinian militants had renewed missile attacks on Israel. The Czech ambassador to Israel Tomáš Pojar told ČTK that Prague and Tel Aviv had agreed on the postponement of the trip after mutual talks, taking into account the tense situation in the country.