In his Christmas message to the nation, President Miloš Zeman praised the Czech coalition government for boosting economic growth and giving people hope for the future. Entrepreneurs are more ready to invest and consumers are more ready to spend, Mr. Zeman said, noting that trust in a better future was an important psychological factor in economic growth. The head of state moreover praised the government for its social spending policy, highlighting money spent to improve the lot of families with children and senior citizens and praising the cabinet’s decision to raise the minimal wage in order to motivate people to work. President Zeman said one of his main ambitions in office was to contribute to lowering unemployment since, apart from being an economic loss, it degraded human dignity and led to social exclusion. In this connection, Mr. Zeman highlighted the importance of his trade missions abroad, particularly that to China, which he said was already bearing fruit.
In reaction to mounting criticism of some of his words and actions, Mr. Zeman said he wanted to be the president of a sovereign country whose interests were not subject to outer pressure such as had been the case under communism. He stressed that he would not back down in the face of an angry crowd and reiterated his view that the group Pussy Riot were not real dissidents but a pornographic group with a vulgar name.
President Zeman’s Christmas message to the nation disappointed the vast majority of Czech politicians, according to a survey conducted by the CTK news agency. According to some critics the president’s ten-minute address delivered on TV Nova and carried by the nation’s public broadcasters, lacked vision and focussed only on events of the past year. Some also voiced concern that the president’s words would continue to divide rather than uniting the nation. The most critical comments came from the right wing opposition parties TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats.
The Czech Army and the Czech Catholic Charity are planning to establish a special fund to help the families of soldiers killed in action or those injured in the line of duty, the internet news site Novinky.cz reported on Friday. According to Chief of the General Staff Petr Pavel the joint project had been in the pipeline for some time but was hastened by the deaths of five Czech soldiers killed in Afghanistan in July of this year. The families of soldiers killed on foreign missions receive some compensation from the state, but it is a single contribution and General Pavel told Novinky.cz an individual approach was needed to consider the circumstances and needs of those touched by such a tragedy.
Brno Bishop Vojtech Cikrle is hosting a Christmas lunch for socially weaker and socially excluded groups of the population, among them seniors, homeless people and members of the Romany community. The event, which is being held on the premises of St. Jacobs Church in the city centre, has a ten-year-long tradition. Some 170 people have been invited to the event.
Crowds of people gathered on the banks of the Vltava River on Friday for the traditional Polar Bear Dive of the country’s hardy men and women. 290 swimmers took part this year, the youngest aged 13, the oldest 87. The temperature of the air was 0 degs C, with light snow falling, the temperature of the water was 6,4 degrees C. Participants could choose from three tracks 100m, 300m and 750m. The winner of the toughest race – the 750m track –was Lenka Šterbová from Pardubice. The first such Polar Bear Dive in the Vltava River took place in 1946 in much tougher conditions - a temperature of minus 25 degrees C.
Shopping malls around the country reopened on Friday after a short Christmas break launching their winter sales. Hundreds of items have been re-priced with cuts of 30 to 60 percent. According to surveys a third of Czechs regularly put off bigger purchases until the sales season, giving each other symbolic gifts for Christmas and twenty percent of respondents said they got money or vouchers as Christmas gifts. The winter sales are expected to last until mid-February.
A twenty-nine-year old Czech woman was seriously injured after falling from a steep slope in the Pinzgau mountain region in Austria, the APA news agency reported. The woman allegedly fell from a height of ten metres. She is reported to have suffered a head injury and multiple fractures.