Czech President Václav Klaus appointed Karolína Peake and Pavel Dobeš – both from the junior coalition party Public Affairs – to government on Friday, a day after the three coalition parties, which include the Civic Democrats and TOP 09, reached a deal on fiscal reforms and personnel changes. Karolína Peake is the new deputy prime minister in charge of legislation and fighting corruption, while Pavel Dobeš is the new transport minister. He follows in the stead of de facto Public Affairs party leader Vít Barta. In recent months the right-of-centre coalition had been badly shaken by allegations of corruption and discord between coalition members, with Public Affairs threatening to walk out. President Klaus on Friday said he was glad an agreement had at last been reached, calling the decision ‘reasonable’.
In related news, many pundits are of the view that the appendix to the government’s coalition agreement, which was formally concluded on Thursday following weeks and months of infighting, should help stabilise the situation for now. In addition to seeing the new ministers named, the agreement is expected to allow the coalition to refocus on its aim of cutting the budget deficit to three percent of GDP in 2013 and zero by 2016. Even ahead of Thursday’s decision, and despite tension between the coalition parties, the government has managed to push through recent fiscal and welfare reforms, including pushing back the retirement age and introducing a pension-based savings pillar.
The district court in Semily has confirmed the right of heiress to the Walderode noble family, Johanna Kammerlander, to local property confiscated by the Czech authorities after World War II. Former real estate belonging to the family in the Semily area includes the castle Hrubý Rohožec and surrounding property. During the war the property was owned by the family’s Karl des Fours Walderode who, as an ethnic German, was stripped of it in 1946. A year later he was given back Czechoslovak citizenship but not the confiscated assets. Mrs Kammerlander called Friday’s decision a ‘moral victory’ but estimated that years of legal battles still lay ahead.
The Czech foreign and defence ministers at a conference in Prague on Friday, recalled Ronald Reagan’s contribution to the collapse of communism in the former Soviet-bloc. The conference is being held on the anniversary of Mr Reagan’s birthday: the former US president, who died in 2004 at the age of 93, would have been 100 today. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg recalled Reagan’s courage against the Soviet Union. On Friday, the former US secretary of state under George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, also spoke. On the occasion of the anniversary, a Prague street has been renamed after the 40th US president who famously called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”.
In related news, the former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Prague on Friday spoke of the importance of potential Russian cooperation in missile defence, stressing that states such as Iran and North Korea remained a threat. In her view, countries needed to be given a choice of whether or not to join the defence umbrella and stressed that the plans, if they went ahead, should not be viewed as a strategic division of the world as was the case during the Cold War. Missile defence – concretely an early warning radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland – was a key priority for the Bush administration but the plans for both bases were scrapped by Mr Bush’s successor Barack Obama. Following the decision, plans for an early-warning system in Prague were then discussed but are now no longer on the table. Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra suggested the system was outmoded but said that the Czech Republic would still welcome a spot in the new project.
A Vienna district court recognised an appeal by Prague on Friday, scrapping the seizure of three Czech artworks being held as collateral in a legal dispute between the Czech state and the blood plasma company Diag Human. The news was revealed by Czech Health Ministry spokesman Vlastimil Sršeň on Friday. The court ruled that the two paintings and one sculpture seized where cultural property and as such except from the move. In late May, the court had recognised the firm’s compensation claim worth an estimated 10 billion crowns owed by the Czech state for thwarting its planned trade. The Czech Republic appealed the verdict. The artworks, no longer subject to confiscation, are by painters Emil Filla and Vincenc Beneš; the sculpture is a work by Otto Gutfreund. Before they were seized the works were on loan for an exhibition in Vienna.
Police detectives are investigating a possible double-murder near Ostrava in the east of the country, after the burned remains of two people were found in a destroyed automobile. According to a spokeswoman, the fire in the vehicle had not been caused by a traffic accident. The police are operating under the assumption the blaze was used to try and mask the original crime.
The prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival kicks off on Friday. In its 46th year, the festival will once again draw countless celebrities and visitors to the famous spa town in western Bohemia. Among this year’s respected guests are the British actress Judi Dench, who will be awarded the festival’s crystal globe, as well as American actor John Turtorro. President Klaus is expected to attend the opening ceremony on Friday. Some 200 films, many of them by first-time directors, will be shown at this year’s festival, which runs until July 9.
Thirty-nine-year old star Czech hockey player Jaromír Jágr will return to the NHL in the 2011/2012 season after signing with the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. The winger, who won two Stanley Cups during his NHL career but played the last three seasons in the KHL, had received offers from the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. But both teams withdrew their offers on Friday after failing to hear from the player; the Penguins' management said it had never intended to get into a bidding war over the winger. Other clubs that expressed an interest in the player, who most recently shined at the World Championships in Slovakia, reportedly included Montreal (home to the player’s agent and former Habs player Petr Svoboda). According to sources, Philadelphia signed a one-year contract with Jágr worth 3.3 million US dollars.
Czech tennis player Petra Kvitová has expressed confidence ahead of her final against Russian player Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon on Saturday. Following success in the semi-final she told reporters that she felt she had a chance to win. Kvitová on Thursday advanced sensationally over Belarusian opponent Victoria Azarenka to book a spot in the Grand Slam final – her first. Her opponent, Maria Sharapova, won Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of just 17 and has a total of three Grand Slam titles. Observers like legendary player Martina Navratilová have said Saturday’s outcome will depend largely on who produces the bigger serve. If Kvitová is successful she will become the first left-hander since Navratilová to win at Wimbledon. The last Czech player to clinch the title was Jana Novotná in 1998.
A worsening of conditions is expected into the weekend: cloudiness and a chance of showers. Daytime temperatures should reach highs of around 17 degrees Celsius.