The Havels

This week's topics: Dean's last day at Radio Prague. Dagmar Havlova court case. Czech who spied for the Nazis. Czech Astronomy Society. Constitutional Court. Synagogues in Prague. Listeners quoted: Dino Bedone, Hans Siebert, Peter Barnet, Sanjit Gao, Rivka Rubenstein

With me in the studio today is Dean Vuletic... for a special reason...

Yes, this is my last week at Radio Prague. I am off to Australia to visit my family and friends next week, and in September I'll be returning to university in the United States to continue my studies in East European history. But I hope to be back in Prague - and also at radio Prague - some time next year during my summer break. For now, though, I'd like to thank all of our listeners for tuning in and for sending e-mails and letters. And thank you to my wonderful colleagues, who I have enjoyed working with immensely.

Well, you'll certainly be missed by each and every one of us! And before we move on to listeners' questions, let us remind you that we no longer accept entries for this year's competition - the deadline was this week-end on June 15.

We received quite a few impressive answers so it won't be easy to pick a winner this year. But let's continue with the programme...

Dino Bedone listens to us in the Netherlands, and he writes:

"I read on the net that the former First Lady Dagmar Havlova has to go to prison or pay a large sum of money in connection with Prague's Lucerna Palace. It was not really covered in your news. Why does such a large story not get broadcast? Since my Czech is very poor I didn't understand what Mrs Havlova did wrong. Can you explain it to us?"

Well Mr Bedone, the Dagmar Havlova you read about is not the wife of former Czech president Vaclav Havel, but she is his sister-in-law. A few years back, she bought part of the Lucerna Palace. The company she bought it from went bankrupt and is now to be dissolved or sold off through a public tender. When the person in charge of the sell-off contacted her to get information on the sale of Lucerna Palace, Mrs Havlova didn't react.

She was taken to court for failing to provide the necessary information and was given a fine of one million Czech crowns, or a nine-month prison sentence. However, the case is not closed as Mrs Havlova has appealed the verdict.

Hans Siebert from Frankfurt, Germany,asks:

"From the BBC website, I gather that a Czech spy defected to Germany during WWII. Is that true? Have you heard about that?"

Yes we have. The man in question was called Augustin Preucil. He was a Czech national who spied for the Nazis within the RAF. We actually reported on it in Wednesday's programme. For further information, visit our website.

And now on to a question from one of our long-time listeners. Peter Barnet, from the United Kingdom, who has been tuning in to Radio Prague for over ten years now:

"You mentioned the Czech Astronomy Society in your programme today. Who are they exactly? Are they linked to the Academy of Science? Could you also give us more information on the Constitutional Court? Thank you."

The Czech Astronomical Society is a voluntary association of professional and amateur astronomers and people interested in astronomy and related sciences in the Czech Republic. It was founded on December 8, 1917, in Prague.

As for the Constitutional Court, Chapter Four of the Czech Constitution makes provision for the establishment of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic. The Court is to have fifteen Justices, all of whom are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. When the first fifteen Justices were appointed, the Senate hadn't been established yet, so the Chamber of Deputies approved them instead. The Court administration is directed by the Chairperson and two Vice-Chairpersons. Each Justice has their own staff made up of legal assistants and a secretary. The Justices are appointed for a ten-year term of office, and there is no restriction on their reappointment.

With their ten-year mandate expiring in the middle of next month, President Vaclav Klaus has already begun nominating new candidates. He has announced the names of six of them so far, and is yet to fill eight more posts.

In order to qualify for the post, one has to have a character beyond reproach, be eligible for election to the Senate (which means have reached the age of 40 and be eligible to vote), have a university education in law, and have been active for at least ten years in the legal profession. While holding office, a Justice may not be a member of a political party. In addition, a Justice is restricted from holding any other compensated position or engaging in any other profit-making activity, with the exception of managing their own assets and engaging in scholarly, teaching, literary or artistic activities.

Justices assume their office upon taking an oath of office administered by the President, in which they pledge upon their honour and conscience that they will protect the inviolability of natural human rights and the rights of citizens, adhere to constitutional acts, and make decisions according to their best convictions, independently and impartially.

Justices can be prosecuted for felonies only with the Senate's approval. They may be arrested only if caught in the act of committing a felony or immediately afterwards. Justices can refuse to testify in matters about which they learned while conducting their judicial duties. They can be removed from office in a very limited number of cases: resignation, loss of eligibility for the Senate, final conviction for an intentional criminal offence, or a decision by the Court's Plenum to terminate their office due to a disciplinary infraction.

Sanjit Gao, Mumbai, India

"I have noticed on your news service that the weather in the Czech Republic is very hot right now. How do people cope with the heat? Where do they go to cool off, when you don't have a sea?"

Well, Sanjit, it is very hot in the Czech Republic right now! In recent weeks temperatures have been around the 30 degree mark everyday. Some people, of course, enjoy the hot, sunny weather, especially after our cold, grey winters. But others - particularly the elderly - find it more difficult to function in the hot weather.

But in times like this, we do wish we had a sea. A lot of Czechs spend the summer holidays somewhere on the Mediterranean, and you may recall from some of our reports that the coasts of Croatia, Greece and Spain are popular destinations for Czech tourists. For those who are searching for some aquatic relief here, cities and towns in the Czech Republic tend to have there own indoor and outdoor pool complexes. Some people also like to swim in reservoirs, or in lakes and rivers, but not all of them are clean and safe enough to swim in.

Rivka Rubenstein listens to us in Israel and asks:

"I have never visited your country but I am fascinated by your big city Prague. I know that it has a famous old Jewish quarter. Can you tell me how many synagogues are still there?"

In Prague's Old Town you can find the monuments of one of the most famous Jewish quarters in Europe. They are in the neighbourhood called Josefov, which is where the Jewish Quarter existed from around the fourteenth century until 1781.

Six synagogues exist in Josefov today: the oldest is the Old-New Synagogue, which is today also the oldest synagogue in Europe, constructed in 1280. Then there are the High Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue, Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue and Spanish Synagogue. You can visit all of these synagogues if you come to Prague, although the Pinkas Synagogue is currently closed, as it is still being repaired after being damaged in last year's floods.

Most of the synagogues now serve as museums, but services are still held in the Old-New Synagogue and the High Synagogue. In addition, there is another synagogue in Prague in which services are held - that's the Jerusalem Synagogue, which is situated in Prague's New Town.

And that is where we'll end today's Mailbox. Just a quick reminder of our contact information. You can e-mail us at [email protected], or send us a letter to Radio Prague, English section, 120 99 Prague 2, Czech Republic.