Prague - In his annual New Year's speech, the Czech president Václav Klaus tried to disperse popular fears. He suggested the coming year to become "a year of our activity in both private and public spheres, in personal life and political work." He added that there are now optimal conditions for such a challenge: "Today, we may very well be living in the best period of our history."
This optimistic note contrasted with the president's past - rather alerting - discourses, aimed at issues such as inflation, proliferating bureaucratic power, or the European reform treaty.
Family values, rising prices
This year, however, he only reminded that the Czech Republic's entrance into the Schengen border-free zone brings some risks "that are not to be ignored".
He also discussed rising prices of energy and food products, allegedly outcomes of restrictions imposed upon the energy market and increasing share of land being used for renewable sources of energy instead of crop cultivation.
In another part of his speech, the president said that the state cannot substitute family in its role of looking after elders and upbringing children.
"Monologue with the people"
According to Jiří Paroubek, the chief of the opposition Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), the speech was "extraordinarily hollow" and the president seemed only to be able to "hold a monologue".
"It was as if Klaus was afraid to publicly declare his stances because of the upcoming presidential elections," said Paroubek.
Václav Klaus is the chairman emeritus of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the right-wing arch-rival of ČSSD and a senior member of the ruling coalition. He co-founded the party in the early 1990s.
Welcoming the year 2008, Klaus didn't forget to remind the people of the historic significance of the number eight in the modern Czech history. The major ground-breaking moments - be they happy or unfortunate (usually the latter) - of the Czech modern history took place in years ending with this number.
Firstly, the very Czechoslovakia arose from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. Klaus stressed the significance of this year as "the moment of emergence of a free and democratic society" and called himself loyal to the legacy of its first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
In turbulent interwar period the young state managed to preserve its original form, territorial integrity and democratic character for mere two decades.
In 1938 the infamous politics of appeasement climaxed in the Munich Agreement with France and Britain sanctifying the Nazi Germany's intent to annex the Czech frontier regions inhabited by the German minority (Hungarian and Polish claims were fulfilled as well).
However, the Nazi territorial appetite soon proved to be virtually insatiable - next year, Germany occupied the emasculated republic and the Second World War exploded only a few months later.
The devastating conflict ended with the Central and Eastern Europe under the Soviet influence. In Czechoslovakia itself the communists forcibly took power in 1948.
The fourth (in)famous eight was of the year 1968, when the so-called Prague Spring reform period of "socialism with a human face" was violently stopped by an armed intervention of five Warsaw Pact members led by the Soviet Union.
The communist regime in Czechoslovakia was toppled by a bloodless Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the state was peacefully divided into Czech and Slovak republics in 1993 - exceptions that proved the rule of "significant eights".