The Czech Republic has reserved the right to reject tightened EU sanctions against Russia if they were to cause disproportionately high economic losses, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said after Saturday’s EU talks in Brussels. At the talks the Czech prime minister urged a change of EU strategy towards Russia, saying that the first round of sanctions had failed to stop the violence in Ukraine and expressing doubts that additional sanctions would work. The EC is to present a proposal for new sanctions against Russia within a week. The Czech cabinet will study the proposal and we will say which parts we agree with and which we cannot support, Mr. Sobotka told the ctk news agency. He noted that other countries, such as Austria, Hungary and Slovakia have expressed similar reservations to new sanctions.
The Czech prime minister said on Sunday there was no longer any doubt of a Russian invasion into Eastern Ukraine and expressed the view that the only way out of the crisis was the realization of Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s peace plan. In an interview for Czech Television Mr. Sobotka said there had been a palpable sense of disillusionment among EU leaders stemming from their futile efforts to influence Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Czech prime minister also warned of a potential humanitarian crisis in Ukraine with the offset of winter.
The prime minister has come under fire on the home front for withholding full support for new EU sanctions against Russia. Deputy-prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek, leader of the Christian Democrats, said “we cannot do to Ukraine what the Munich Agreement did to us” while opposition TOP 09 deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek said the prime minister’s stand was “short-sighted, alibistic and cowardly”. Czech MEPs have also criticized Mr. Sobotká’s cautious approach. MEP Luděk Niedermayer said that diplomacy alone would not suffice to make Russia observe international norms and pointed out that if everyone in the EU considered their economic interests first and foremost there would be no sanctions.
Education Minister Marcel Chládek has said he sees nothing wrong with Muslim girls wearing the hijab in class, although he would stop short of allowing a fully covered-face which might be seen as problematic for security reasons. He said the ministry was not going to issue any recommendation in the matter for the time being and it would be up to individual schools to decide what they would or would not allow. The comment comes in the midst of a heated public debate on whether students should be allowed to wear religious symbols in the classroom.
President Miloš Zeman has come under fire for attending Saturday’s election campaign launch of the Party of Citizen’s Rights which was originally named after him. The president, who is the party’s honorary chairman, came to give delegates his support and wish them success in the autumn Senate and local elections. Critics point out that as head of state Mr. Zeman should be above party politics.
People have contributed over five million crowns in aid of the families of the five Czech soldiers killed in Afghanistan in June, according to the organizers of the fund raiser. The money comes largely from thousands of small donors who bought stickers and T-shirts reading “I am proud of our soldiers”. Czech singers supported the cause with a charity concert at Prague’s Broadway Theatre.
The D1 highway, linking Prague and Brno, had to be closed to traffic for over an hour on Sunday after a caravan towed by a vehicle came lose and five passenger cars ploughed into it. No one was seriously hurt in the pile up. The accident is being investigated.