In this edition of Mailbox: Lower House bill on Edvard Benes, the Czech Republic's borders, Parliament and parliamentary parties, discontinuation of the Ice Hockey Ticket Exchange. Listeners quoted: Bradford Cookson, Paolo Sanchez, Manesh Kubchandani.

Bradford Cookson lives somewhere in New York State, USA, and has sent us the following e-mail:

"Could you please explain what bill your parliament passed regarding your former president Edvard Benes? I heard only part of your news and would like to know more."

The bill that was passed by the lower house of parliament has only one line that says "Edvard Benes contributed to the state". It was submitted by one Communist and two Social Democrat MPs in order to reject criticism of Mr Benes' passive stance at the time of the 1938 Munich agreement, which let Hitler enter Czechoslovakia, and the Communist take-over in 1948. Edvard Benes was president of Czechoslovakia from 1935-1948. However, in the years from 1940-1945, he held his post in exile in London. The bill was passed to praise his efforts in the building of the state.

Some of you who have been to the building housing the Czech lower house may have noticed the few words at the entrance praising Czechoslovakia's first president. Those are the words in the 1930 law that praise Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. In fact he is the only Czechoslovak or Czech president to enjoy official words of praise in the form of a law. The bill concerning Edvard Benes is yet to be approved by the Senate and signed by current President Vaclav Klaus.

Moving on to some facts and figures. Paolo Sanchez comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and asks:

"How many regions does the Czech Republic have? How many borders and crossings does the Czech Republic have? What is your country's area and what country is your biggest import and export partner?"

There are 13 regions and 20 main border crossings into the Czech Republic. Its border countries are Poland (658km), Germany (646km), Austria (362km), and Slovakia (215km). The country has a total area of 78,866 km2, of which 77,276 km2 is land and 1,590 km2 is water. Our biggest import and export partner is our neighbour Germany as some 40% of imports and exports cross our borders.

And staying with facts - Manesh Kubchandani from somewhere in India would like to know:

"How many people are in your parliament? Why do you often say the ruling four-party coalition government but only name three parties?"

The Czech Parliament consists of the Lower House (Chamber of Deputies) and the Upper House (Senate), so it's a bicameral parliament. There are 81 Senators, one-third of which are elected every two years by popular vote. The lower house has 200 deputies who are also elected by popular vote and serve four-year terms.

There are only three parties in the ruling coalition, or the coalition government. These are the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Freedom Union (US) and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). If we ever said that there was a fourth party in the coalition, we probably meant the Democratic Union, which is now part of the Freedom Union.

But to confuse you even more, you may have confused the coalition government with the Four-Party Coalition, which no longer exists but was formed some four years ago to act as an opposition to the other major parties. It was made up of the Freedom Union, the Democratic Union, the Christian Democrats and the Civic Democratic Alliance.

And finally, the remaining parties in parliament are the opposition parties, which are the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM).


February question:

"What Janacek opera celebrates the 100th anniversary of its world premiere this year?"

Your answers should get to us by February 29.

March question:

"How many anniversaries will the Year of Czech Music be celebrating in the month of March? Nine, eleven, or thirteen?"

Send your answers to the Radio Prague English Section, 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic or by e-mail to [email protected]. They should get to us by March 31.