President Václav Klaus has hailed his predecessor in office Václav Havel as the central figure of the Velvet Revolution which toppled the communist regime. Sitting next to Mr. Havel at a concert to mark 20 years of freedom and democracy, Mr. Klaus had warm words for his ideological rival, saying that whatever differences they may have on internal and external issues, he perceives Václav Havel as the man who had made all this possible, the central figure of the Velvet Revolution. He said it was now up to the Czechs how they would use the freedom they had acquired.
US president Barack Obama, German Chacellor Angela Merkel, the Dalai Lama and the former Soviet president Michail Gorbachov sent the Czech people video-greetings screened during the concert, congratulating them on twenty years of freedom and democracy. President Obama said the Velvet Revolution was an inspiration to those who are still striving for freedom. Chancellor Merkel thanked Czechs for having helped East German refugees on their flight to freedom in 1989 and the former Soviet leader Michail Gorbachov called Václav Havel a dear friend for whom he had great respect. The Dalai Lama expressed the hope that Czechs and Slovaks would preserve their courageous spirit.
Saturday’s events commemorating the Velvet Revolution were organized by the Dagmar and Václav Havel foundation. They included a panel debate with students and VIP guests such as the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, French philosopher Andre Glucksman, British writer Tom Stoppard and Polish historian and journalist Adam Michnik. The day culminated with a concert on Saturday night to which Mr. Havel invited guest performers close to his heart – Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Suzanne Vega and Renee Fleming. The show was titled “It’s finally happening” – the slogan that tens of thousands of Czechs chanted in the streets during the Velvet Revolution. President Klaus who was sitting in the first row had high praise for the event saying it was just right – emotionally charged but not opulent.
Speaking on Czech Television on the occasion of the anniversary, Václav Havel said the Czech Republic would benefit from a simpler and clearer constitution, adopting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and greater transparency and ethics in Czech politics. Mr. Havel said this was a vision he hoped to see fulfilled in the next twenty years. He underlined the importance of a strong civic society based on personal morals and ethics, but said this would take a while after decades of being suppressed.
Events commemorating the November 17 student demonstration which sparked the Velvet Revolution will be largely in the hands of civic initiatives. The Office of the Government and the Office of the President have not planned any special events on the occasion, although President Klaus and Prime Minister Fischer will lay flowers and light candles on Národni street where communist police effected a brutal crack down on a student demonstration sparking a wave of public protests that led to the overthrow of the communist regime. Several thousand people are expected to take part in a procession which will follow in the footsteps of the 1989 student march. Among the guest speakers at the event will be Chinese journalist Kao Ju, jailed for writing about the brutal crack-down on human rights activists on Tiananmen Square in 1989 and Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov.
The minister for human rights, Michael Kocáb has said a court should look into the statutes and activities of the Communist Party in order to judge whether it is not acting in violation of the Constitution and possibly outline a framework for its future functioning. The minister said he was not happy about the fact that the party had relinquished little of its legacy – such as the teachings of Lenin and Marx – which he found unacceptable. Previous efforts on the part of a group of senators to get the Communist Party outlawed have failed. In reaction to the comments, Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip said he was convinced the party was sufficiently transformed.
A railway tunnel under construction near the town of Jablunkov, in the eastern part of the country, collapsed in the early hours of Sunday, bringing rail transport between the Czech Republic and Slovakia to a standstill. Although the route was not being used the rail-track now in operation was too close for safety. The tunnel was empty at the time and experts are now assessing the cause of the accident.
The Czech photographer Ladislav Sitenský, renowned for his World War II pictures of Czech and Slovak pilots in Britain, has died at the age of 90. Sitenský became the official photographer for the Czechoslovak air force in Britain in 1942, after fleeing from his Nazi-occupied homeland. He joined the British Royal Air Force's 312 fighter squadron, which was manned by his countrymen, capturing the pilots in action and at rest and producing a vivid and powerful account of the war.
After the war Sitenský turned down an offer to join the British Sunday Times newspaper as a photographer, returning home to Czechoslovakia instead. He made a living photographing landscapes, portraits and sport and was persecuted during communist rule. Sitenský produced more than half a million pictures and was decorated more than 10 times by Czechoslovakia, Britain and France.
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.
A thirty-five year old mother remains in critical condition after contracting the swine flu virus in the 29th week of pregnancy. Doctor in Ustí nad Labem were forced to perform a Cesarean section on the pregnant woman on Friday in the hope of saving her life. She is now in an induced coma and breathing with the help of a ventilator. The baby girl is reported to be free of the virus and is said to be doing as well as can be expected.
The authorities report close to 500 cases of swine flu, with a marked increase in the past ten days. Four schools have been closed down and many hospitals have closed their doors to visitors.
The coming days should be partly cloudy with some rain showers and day temperatures between 8 and 12 degrees Celsius.