Yew tree - the tree of the year 2005

He's no diplomat but he has survived nine foreign ministers: meet the Czech Foreign Ministry's 50 year old mascot Pepik. Corruption is a serious problem, but it's giving Czechs a lot of laughs. And, an earthquake rattles window panes in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

He is going on fifty, his name is Pepik and he spent the last 30 years at the Czech Foreign Ministry. But unlike most of the diplomats there he is brutally outspoken and never minces his words. Enter his office and you are likely to hear "What are you staring at you cow?" Pepik is a parrot and has been the Foreign Ministry's mascot ever since some high placed official brought him back from Congo at the start of the 1970s. His presence at the ministry for the past 35 years was a well kept secret, but an article in the country's most popular tabloid Blesk changed all that. Due to his lack of manners Pepik is rarely brought out to meet visitors, but his place at the ministry is unchallenged. He has survived nine ministers in office and the outlooks are he'll survive many more. His repertoire is broad - he imitates car alarms, modem sounds, telephone melodies and uses a wide variety of phrases and insults to suit different occasions. Among them are "C'm ere darling", "Shut your trap""You scum" and "We're in trouble mate! The condom burst!". On his best behaviour he boasts a feat that none of the diplomats around him can match - he gives a great rendition of the American anthem.

Yew tree - the tree of the year 2005
A giant yew tree has won the Tree of the Year competition for 2005. This particular yew tree grows by Pernstejn Castle and, like the castle itself, it is said to be a thousand years old. Legend has it that the fate of the yew tree is linked to that of the castle - if the yew tree dies the same fate would surely befall the stone castle. The locals certainly believe it and claim that the tree gave warning of approaching disaster earlier this year. One of its huge branches broke off in the spring and within a few days of this incident a part of Pernstejn Castle was badly damaged by fire. Whether or not the legend had anything to do with it, the old yew was voted tree of the year by 6, 700 people, beating 12 finalists and an overall 100 trees in the running. The winning tree gets a plaque and all round care and pampering by professionals. In this case anything that is good for the tree is also likely to benefit Pernstejn Castle.

Illustative photo
Six lion cubs have been born in less than a week at the Czech circus Humberto, currently on tour in southwest Slovakia, the circus owner reported. The first batch of triplets were born on October 11th, and the second batch came just a day later. They will join two cubs recently acquired by the circus, which already had two adult lions and a dozen lionesses. With a total of 22 lions and many other exotic animals the circus is quite an exception in Europe. Right now the lion cubs are enjoying life, but in five to six months they will have to go into training for their future role in the circus. Bohumil Navratil, the son of the owner, who trains circus animals, says lions learn through respect, not fear, but their training must start early on. Circus Humberto has toured the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Romania and Bulgaria.

A recent report by Transparency International suggests that the Czech Republic has a serious problem fighting corruption. At 4.3 its Perception Corruption Index is the third worst in the EU and has not shown any signs of improvement in recent years. Although Czechs are naturally not very happy about this state of affairs, they are getting a lot of laughs from a notorious bribing scandal involving former officials from the Czech football federation. The transcripts of a number of private phone conversations between the officials involved became the basis for a theatre performance called "Ivan, my friend, can you talk?" and has proved such a success with the public that the actors are now touring the country with it. "We didn't have to do a great deal of work on this ourselves" - one of the actors says - "the original dialogues were so dumb, vulgar and in many ways revealing, that all we have to do is reproduce them. Even before we set about it people were quoting them and cracking jokes".

Daniel Craig as James Bond
Part of the next James Bond film "Casino Royale" is to be shot here in the Czech Republic. Shooting is scheduled to start in January and the actors and crew will also be filming in the Bahamas, Italy and Britain. The Czech capital and its surroundings as well as the spa town of Karlovy Vary, in western Bohemia, will serve as a backdrop for the screen adaptation of Ian Fleming's first novel with newly selected Daniel Craig in the star role of the legendary British secret agent. Casino Royale should be released worldwide on November 17th next year. Prague has become a major centre for movie production over the last decade, a recent big movie shot here was Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist.

People in the eastern part of the Czech Republic experienced a small earthquake on Tuesday - a most unusual occurrence in this part of the world. The earthquake measured just 3,4 points on the Richter scale but the locals said they felt the tremors quite strongly. "I was just having a cup of coffee after lunch when I felt the table shake" one woman said. "The window panes were rattling and I could hear the kitchen utensils rattling in the cupboard -it was like a train was passing real close by". Even if seismologists had not confirmed that a quake actually happened some of the locals had evidence of their own - fine cracks had appeared on some of the walls. An earthquake - even a very small one - is always a hot topic of debate in this part of the world. For the most part people just compare their impressions and talk about what they were doing when it hit. No building has ever been damaged by an earthquake in the Czech Republic. The biggest quakes monitored on Czech territory happened in the 20th century - in 1901 and 1957 - and they measured 4,7 and 4,0 on the Richter scale.