News

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Czechs mark 18 years of freedom and democracy

November 17th is a state holiday in the Czech Republic, marking the country’s return to freedom and democracy. Eighteen year ago this day an attack by riot police against demonstrating students on Prague’s Narodni Trida sparked mass protests that led to the fall of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. Leading politicians, cultural figures and members of the public visited memorials to the victims of communism on Wenceslas Square, Narodni Trida and other sites in the Czech Republic to lay flowers and light candles in memory of those who fought against oppression.

The commemorative ceremonies are also linked to an earlier anniversary – a student march in 1939 held in protest against the Nazi occupation that was brutally suppressed. The protest served as a pretext for more reprisals against Czech intellectuals. The Nazis raided a university campus on the night of November 17, nine students were executed without a trial and 1200 were deported to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. All Czech universities were then closed.

President Klaus on lessons of the past

In a speech at the university campus that was the scene of the Nazi brutalities, President Vaclav Klaus said that the two anniversaries – one relating to Nazi, the other to Communist oppression - were closely intertwined and we should forget neither of them. He said it was important to recognize what had led the country from one form of oppression into another and noted that many Czech intellectuals had naively embraced leftist utopian visions and that after having been disappointed by the Western allies Czechs had blindly sought security guarantees from the East.

Prime minister says democracy still fragile

Meanwhile, in his own address to the nation, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said that 18 years was a relatively short time in a country’s history and that the Czech Republic’s democracy was still young and fragile. He said it was particularly important for the young generation to learn the lessons of the past. Some of the excesses we have recently witnessed suggest that the fight for freedom and democracy has not yet been fully won, the prime minister noted.

Protests in Prague

A number of protests and demonstrations took place in Prague on the country’s state holiday. Close to two thousand people marched through the city centre to protest against the Czech Republic hosting a US radar base on its territory. The protest was organized by the No to Bases civic initiative which called for a referendum on the issue. Right wing extremists met on Palacky Square to protest against the actions of the police last weekend when they prevented neo-Nazis from marching through Prague’s Jewish quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against Jews. The ultra-right protesters symbolically buried “freedom of speech” in a funeral casket and quietly dispersed. Trade unions likewise held a gathering in the centre of Prague. The police were out in force to maintain law and order.

Czechs not fully satisfied with country’s development

An opinion survey conducted by the STEM agency indicates that only 51 percent of Czechs are fully satisfied with the country’s post-1989 development. Respondents said they greatly appreciated having freedom of speech, democratic elections and the right to travel, but expressed strong criticism with regard to corruption, law and order and poor morals. Many complained that the elderly and the sick were neglected by the state.

Teachers threatening to go on strike

Teachers have threatened to go on strike on December 4th if the government fails to increase the education sector’s expenditures for 2008. The proposed budget reckons with a 1,5 percent increase in teachers’ salaries which will barely cover inflation. Trade unions say that more money is needed for teaching aids, sports facilities and maintenance.

Social Democrat leader re-marries

Opposition leader Jiri Paroubek tied the knot for a second time at Hotel Esplanade in Marianske Lazne on Saturday. He married Slovak-born Petra Kovacova with whom he cooperated closely in the past few years and developed a close relationship. Mr. Paroubek divorced his wife of thirty years two months ago. The wedding was a private affair for close friends and family.

Accident – four injured

A driver lost control of his car and ploughed into four people waiting at a tram stop in Prague early on Saturday. Four people were injured, two of them seriously. The police are investigating the cause of the accident.

Weather

The next few days are expected to be partly cloudy with scattered snow showers and day temperatures between 2 and minus 2 degrees Celsius.