The hero of the Velvet Revolution, former president Václav Havel is at the centre of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism. Among the VIP guests who attended a panel debate with students at Charles University were former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, French philosopher Andre Glucksman, British writer Tom Stoppard and Polish historian and journalist Adam Michnik. The celebrations will culminate with a concert on Saturday night to which Mr. Havel has invited world artists close to his heart – Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Susan Vega and Renee Fleming. The show is titled “It’s finally happening” – the slogan that tens of thousands of Czechs chanted in the streets during the Velvet Revolution.
In a speech to the assembly at Charles University, Mr. Havel warned against new forms of totalitarianism, which he said were more sophisticated than those of the 20th century and it was important for people to realize this and be on their guard. In this connection, the former Czech president criticized the state of affairs in present-day Russia. As a former dissident who received moral support from the West, Mr. Havel has frequently emphasized the Czech Republic’s duty to help others who still live in totalitarian regimes around the world.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer paid an official visit to the Vatican on Saturday, where he was received by Pope Benedict XVI and other leading Catholic Church dignitaries. The Czech prime minister gave the Pope a commemorative gold medal minted on occasion of the 20th anniversary of the canonisation of St Agnes of Bohemia. Mr. Fischer also laid flowers on the graves of the previous pope John Paul II and Czech Cardinal Josef Beran.
Relations between the Czech Republic and the Vatican are hampered by the fact that the Czech Republic has not yet ratified the Czech-Vatican treaty on bilateral relations. Both countries' representatives agreed on the text of the treaty, which also concerns the position of the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, in the late 1990s, but the Czech Chamber of Deputies failed to approve the document in 2003. The Vatican does not intend to change the text of the original treaty and still expects the Czech Republic to ratify it in its present form.
On Friday Prime Minister Jan Fischer personally took the signed Czech copy of the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty to Rome, formally concluding its ratification by all member states. The Czech Republic was the last country to ratify the treaty and place it in the depository of the Italian Foreign Ministry, where all EU documents are kept. The Lisbon treaty will take effect on December 1st opening the way to significant changes in the workings of the 27-member block. An EU summit, scheduled for next Thursday is to decide who will fill key posts in the new EU structure, such as the post of EU president and EU foreign minister.
Serving mass at St. Vitus’ Cathedral on Saturday, just days before the country’s freedom anniversary, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk said the Velvet Revolution had provided a fine opportunity to re-embrace spiritual values along with the country’s newfound freedom. He said Czechs had failed to take advantage of it, becoming excessively materialistic in the past twenty years. The Cardinal said that St. Agnes, who was canonized by Pope John Paul twenty years ago this week, could serve as a fine example to the public. A princess of royal blood, Agnes gave up her birthright and a life of luxury in order to live a life of piety and care for the needy.
US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher is expected in Prague on Monday for talks focusing predominantly on anti-missile defense. Ms Tauscher is scheduled to meet with the Czech foreign minister, Jan Kohout, and the leaders of the two strongest parties in the country, the Civic and Social Democrats.
After scrapping Bush-era missile defense plans for Central Europe, the Obama administration has expressed interest in building a missile defense system that would be part of NATO defense structures. According to diplomatic sources Washington has already submitted specific proposals under which the Czech Republic might join the emerging project, but no details have been released.
Two more hospitals have closed their doors to visitors and others are considering doing the same as the swine flu virus continues to spread across the country. Over 480 people in the Czech Republic have been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, of that 92 in the last week alone. Three people have died of related complication after getting the swine flu. The third death was reported from Ostrava on Saturday, where a middle-aged man succumbed to pneumonia after contracting the swine flu virus.
Four schools were closed down this week and the authorities registered the first case of health-workers getting infected from patients. The process of vaccinating people at risk has not yet begun and the Czech Doctors’ Chamber has criticized the government for the delay, warning that for many the vaccine may come too late.
President Václav Klaus has signed into law a bill which will reduce the salaries of state employees and constitutional officials by 4 percent in 2010. This includes all civic servants, MPs, senators, judges and state attorneys and should save the state close to 127 million crowns. The measure is only valid for a year and was approved in light of the economic crisis.
A truck carrying 24 tons of onions brought traffic to a standstill on the main road to Domašov near Brno on Saturday morning. The truck got into a spin and turned over, spilling tons of onions onto the road. The driver was unhurt but fire-fighters spent four hours picking onions off the road and unloading the rest of the cargo so that the truck could get towed away.
The coming days are expected to be partly cloudy to overcast with some showers and daytime highs reaching 15 degrees Celsius.