Last Week in (and out of) Focus II

Pavel Vondra
29. 10. 2007 0:35
See the digest of noteworthy events from the last week
Foto: Ondřej Besperát

LAST WEEK, the Czech government announced it is seeking a strategic investor for the railway cargo transportation, hitherto operated by the state. Which is why a subsidiary firm of the Czech Railways company (ČD) has been created under the name of ČD Cargo. It is to start operating on the field of cargo transportation in January 2008.


People in the Czech Republic clearly want to have a say in whether Prague should organize the Olympic Games in 2016 or not. At least that is what majority of those asked in a recent public opinion survey said. The survey was paid for by a grouping of independent small town mayors who oppose the idea of Prague becoming an Olympic city in 2016, fearing it would drain all the money for national infrastructure projects from the state budget.


As far as the institutional care for children is concerned, the social system in the Czech Republic goes against the interests of the kids and their families. This harsh assessment sums up an analysis undertaken by a group of experts from the Ministry of Interior. One of its key findings showed the average time spent by each child in local youth homes is 14-and-a-half years, meaning most of the kids taken away from their parents by the state are to spend their childhood entirely in the institutional care, never returning home.

Russians are coming!(?)

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was criticized by the opposition last week for allegedly helping to facilitate return of the Russian troops on the Czech soil. It is of course a highly charged issue given the recent history which saw Russian soldiers maintaining their presence here for more than twenty years after the infamous 1968 invasion.

Oh yes, and did I tell you about the Russians? (Robert Gates)
Oh yes, and did I tell you about the Russians? (Robert Gates) | Foto: Ondřej Besperát

The possibility of Russian military coming back first came to light during the recent visit of the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Prague. The head of Pentagon came here for another round of talks about the proposal to put a US radar in Brdy region west of Prague as part of the American anti-missile defense shield.

Gates mentioned at the press conference after meeting Topolánek that an offer has been made to Russia to come and check the facility on a regular basis to allay any mistrust they might feel towards the project. Topolánek later explained it would not grant Russia a permanent military presence in the Czech Republic, but a right to send its inspectors.


Czech parliament also decided last week that the Czech voters will not get a chance to influence the outcome of the radar talks via a referendum on the matter. Government argued it is not up to the public to decide issues of national security and it secured a victory in the Chamber of Deputies where a motion of leftist parties to call a plebiscite on the issue was easily defeated on Friday. Only 76 MPs supported the draft law on the referendum with 57 against, when at least 120 votes were needed for it to be sent to the upper chamber.

Truce in the war over Prague blob

A similarly heated debate over the proposed new building of the National Library, which was to be constructed in Letná Park, finally cooled down last week after Prague Mayor Pavel Bém announced a joint expert team would be tasked with finding the best spot for the futuristic design of Czech-born, London-based world-renowned architect Jan Kaplický.

Look, I know this great place near the border which you might want to see... (Jan Kaplický and Pavel Bém)
Look, I know this great place near the border which you might want to see... (Jan Kaplický and Pavel Bém) | Foto: Ludvík Hradilek

The possibility of the octopus-like building, much in the style of other organic shaped designs of the so-called blob architecture (or blobitecture) Kaplický is famous for, towering over Prague, not far from Prague Castle, is not ruled out yet. In any case, the building should be accessible by public transport and well within the wider city center, which were the conditions set by the National Library and apparently agreed to also by the architect and the Mayor.


Milan Kundera, most definitely the greatest Czech-born literary celebrity of today's world, was given a State Prize for Culture last week. The author, known for his dislike of the media's attention, typically excused himself from the ceremony in Prague, choosing to stay in the preferred seclusion of his home in Paris instead, although this time it was officially on the health grounds.

As a substitution for the much desired presence of the 78-year-old author of the Unbearable Lightness of Being, a five-minute audio-message he made especially for the evening was sent to Prague. Perhaps, the life is really elsewhere, as another famous novel of his claims in its title.

No Kristallnacht commemoration in Prague

Fears of a potential showdown between young Czech Neo-Nazis and members of Prague Jewish community (plus their supporters among the alarmed public) on November 10 in Prague's old Jewish Town were diffused last week when the City Hall found an error in the application of the extreme right-wing group to hold what was supposedly to be a march against the Czech military presence in Iraq.

After all the hoopla, it looks like November 10 will pass as peacefully in Prague as any other Shabbath day should
After all the hoopla, it looks like November 10 will pass as peacefully in Prague as any other Shabbath day should | Foto: Aktuálně.cz

The organizers from the Young National Democrats (MND) group who wanted to march through the Jewish Town exactly 69 years after the massive pogroms of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, had swept through Hitler´s Germany in a gloomy prelude to the Holocaust, were allegedly non-registered as an entity at the time they first announced their intention to hold the rally. Which is enough for the authorities to deny them the opportunity.

Before the announcement was made by the City Hall, the world reknown Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Czech president Václav Klaus to prevent the Neo-Nazi march. Klaus in turn called on all responsible authorities  "not to allow this politically and morally unacceptable action to happen as it would dishonor the memory of the victims of Nazi crimes and cannot be tolerated under the pretext of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly".

Who is to fight the organized crime now?

The special police unit tasked with fighting the organized crime in the Czech Republic is on the verge of collapsing after its leadership announced the intention to quit last week. As Aktuálně.cz found it is not only colonel Jiří Kubice and his three deputies but also many junior officers of the unit who are seriously thinking of leaving which is casting doubts over the operability of the whole special task-force.

The news will be no doubt a source of immense joy for the high echelons of the opposition Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), whose leader Jiří Paroubek repeatedly blamed colonel Kubice for the party's defeat in last year's parliamentary elections. The colonel's secret report, which claimed there had been attempts by politicians to influence many politically sensitive cases including the so-called Bio-fuel case implicating several members of ČSSD, was leaked only days before the elections, leading Mr. Paroubek to believe it had been orchestrated by the then opposition, now ruling, Civic Democratic Party (ODS).


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