The European Commission rejected on Thursday a call by the Czech Republic and five other post-communist countries for an EU-wide ban on denial of communist crimes. The commission said that opinion was too divided on the matter, and that the conditions to make a legislative proposal had not been met. Commenting on the commission's decision, Czech Foreing Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said on Thursday that sometimes 'such demonstrative steps' need to be taken to push things forward.
Earlier this month, the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, sent a joint appeal to the EU's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, arguing that the principle of justice should assure just treatment of the victims of every totalitarian regime, and the victims of communism were all too frequently forgotten.
President Václav Klaus on Thursday signed into law the state budget for 2011 with a deficit of 135 billion crowns, or nearly seven billion US dollars. That amounts to 4.6 percent of the country’s GDP. The budget gap is some 30 billion crowns lower than that of 2010 but is still the third biggest deficit in the country’s history. The Czech Parliament has approved a series of austerity measures aimed at lowering next year’s deficit, including cuts in social welfare, reduced support for building savings, limited subsidies to political parties and a higher income tax.
Air pollution in the north-east of the Czech Republic was reported to have worsened again on Thursday, far exceeding permitted levels. The main polluters in the region have been ordered to scale down production and public transport in Ostrava is free of charge. The authorities have advised children, elderly people, those with breathing difficulties and heart diseases to limit their stay outdoors. Ostrava city hall had earlier filed a lawsuit against the Czech state for not having taken sufficient measures to improve the situation in the region.
Environmental activists staged a rally outside the Czech Environment Ministry on Thursday to welcome the resignation of Minister Pavel Drobil, who stepped down earlier this week over a corruption scandal at the ministry. The activists said resigning from office was the best thing Mr. Drobil had done for the environment during his six-month stint at the ministry. They criticized the outgoing minister for his efforts to limit the amount of environmental legislation approved, curb the power of the environmental inspection and extend the life of the controversial Prunéřov coal power plant.
Prague’s Ruzyně international airport cancelled ten flights on Thursday due to bad weather conditions, a spokeswoman for the airport said. The airport cancelled flights to and from Paris, Vienna, Brussels and Leipzig. The situation has however improved since earlier this week when several dozen flights, particularly to and from the UK had to be cancelled.
President Václav Klaus awarded on Thursday a medal to former Czechoslovak prime minister Jan Stráský on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Mr Stráský, who served as the Czechoslovak federation’s last prime minister between 1992 and 1993, went on to become a minister in two successive governments headed by Mr. Klaus in the 1990s. After the ceremony at Prague Castle, Mr Stráský said he discussed the current political situation with President Klaus in connection with the recent corruption scandal at the Environment Ministry. Mr Stráský noted that there were still no clear and transparent rules for the financing of political parties in the Czech Republic.
An increasing number of Czech children would like to get cash as a Christmas present, according to a survey by the agency Millward Brown Czech Republic released on Thursday. Among girls below the age of 15, cash ranked as one three most popular choices of Christmas presents, along with cosmetics and clothes. The survey also showed that only 10-year-old and younger children would like to find toys under the Christmas tree.
The Jan Hus house in the Swiss city of Konstanz, where the medieval Czech religious reformer and philosopher was allegedly jailed before being sentenced to death at the stake for heresy in 1415, narrowly escaped fire that broke out in the street on Thursday morning, according to the Swiss news-website see-online.info. The fire destroyed two other historic houses and severely damaged several others. The Hus house now houses a small museum dedicated to the life and deeds of the Czech reformer.
Christmas masses in Prague’s Catholic churches on Friday will be celebrated in ten other languages besides Czech. These include English, German, French, Italian as well as Latin and Korean. On Christmas Eve, English-language masses will be held at St Thomas Church in Malá Strana, while on Christmas day, English-speaking visitors can attend a mass at the Church of Our Lady of Victory, also in Malá Strana.
Police in Prague arrested a 39-year-old foreign national on Wednesday night after they found 12 kilos of marihuana in his car, a police spokeswoman said. Officers stopped the man’s car for a regular check and found marihuana plants, dried marihuana leaves as well as electric fans and digital scales. The foreigner, who is already being prosecuted in another drug-related case, faces ten years in jail.
Olympic speed skating champion Martina Sáblíková has been voted Czech sports personality of 2010. The award was presented to the 23-year-old at a ceremony in Prague on Wednesday night. Sáblíková has won the title, awarded by Czech sports journalists, for the third time in total. Two gold medals and one bronze at the Vancouver Olympic games were decisive in her victory. The second place in the individual category was taken by cross country skier Lukáš Bauer. The best team award went to the Czech national ice hockey team that surprisingly took gold at this year’s world championships in Germany.
Forecasters are promising true Christmas weather for the next couple of days, with snow, fog and daytime highs around zero degrees Celsius. Freezing temperatures are expected to set in early next week and last until the end of the year.