News Politicians slam Okamura for populist statement
Politicians across the board have denounced last week’s statement by Dawn party leader Tomio Okamura that the hundreds of Romanies who died in the Lety concentration camp were not Holocaust victims as shameful and populist. Mr. Okamura said in an interview for Parlamentnilisty.cz that the term concentration camp was highly misleading since Lety was a camp for people who avoided work and the Romanies who died in it died of old age or illnesses they developed as a result of their migratory lifestyle. The minister for human rights, Jiri Dienstbier, said Mr. Okamura should apologize and retire from politics, while TOP 09 deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek described his words as “disgraceful, bordering on the criminal”. Mr. Okamura’s statement has evoked outrage across the political spectrum, and has also elicited criticism from the head of state. It is being linked to the autumn Senate and local elections with Mr. Okamura attempting to attract votes at any cost.
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The bishop of the Plzeň Diocese, František Radkovský, has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, the diocese said in a press release on Thursday. Radkovský turns 75 on Saturday, and according to Catholic law, all bishops are required to resign after reaching that age. Bishop Radkovský has been the head of the Plzeň Diocese since its creation in 1993. He said he would like to continue serving in one of the parishes if his successor agrees. The diocese however noted the process of selecting the new bishop might take years.
Over 70 families of ethnic Czechs in Ukraine have asked President Miloš Zeman for assistance with repatriation to the Czech Republic, the news agency ČTK reported. In total, some 250 people from western and eastern Ukraine as well as from Crimea would like to move to the country where their ancestors came from over a century ago. Ukrainian Czechs have approached the Czech authorities with similar requests in the past but the Foreign Ministry said they could use existing channels to repatriate. However, President Zeman last month backed their petitions. He will address their latest plea next week, a spokesman for the president said.
The authorities in Panama have extradited a 49-year-old Czech man who was evading a prison term for fraud, the Czech Justice Ministry said on Thursday. It’s the first case of a Czech citizen being extradited by that country. The man was arrested in Panama last year; as the country has no extradition agreement with the Czech Republic, the authorities approved the Czech extradition request on the basis of “mutuality agreement”, the Justice Ministry said. The man had been sentenced to several years in prison for fraud with used cars.
The European Commission has expressed concern about the politicizing of hospital audits in the Czech Republic, the commission spokeswoman Shirin Wheeler told Czech Radio on Thursday. The commission ordered a probe into how 35 hospitals handled EU funds; the audits were carried out by the Czech Finance Ministry in June and July. But they have been criticized by several hospital directors as well as Health Minister Svatopluk who complained about their alleged arbitrariness and lack of transparency. The audits have also become sensitive due to local and Senate elections which are held in the Czech Republic next week. However, Ms Wheeler said the EC was upset by the politicization of the issue which could put the independence of the auditing body at risk.
Fourteen Czechs have been included in a list of 100 innovation leaders from central and Eastern Europe, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported. The list, entitled 100 New Europe Challengers, was compiled by the Polish magazine Res Publica along with the UK paper Financial Times, Google and the Visegrad International Fund, and is to be presented at an event in the Polish town of Sopot on Thursday. Among the Czechs included in the list is Jan Řežáb, the founder of Socialbakers, a firm providing social media network statistics, the founders of the anti-virus company Avast Pavel Baudiš and Eduard Kučera, and Říčany mayor Vladimír Kořen who launched electronic auctions of electricity and gas for the town’s inhabitants.
The Czech military has begun rotating its troops in Afghanistan, with 45 soldiers having left Prague for the Bagram air base on Thursday morning, a spokeswoman for the army’s general staff said. In total, 150 troops will be rotated before the end of the month. For over half of the troops, the mission will be their first deployment in Afghanistan. There are around 300 Czech soldiers serving in that country as part of NATO’s ISAF mission; the army is planning to completely withdraw from Afghanistan by 2016. In July, five Czech troops were killed in an attack near the Bagram base.
A new documentary film entitled Life According to Václav Havel is to premiere in Czech cinemas on November 20, a spokeswoman for the project said. The film, directed by Andrea Sedláčková, is co-produced by Czech Television and the Franco-German TV channel ARTE. The movie aims to present the Czech playwright and dissident turned president as an “intellectual rebel and a ladies’ man", the filmmakers said. It also focuses on Havel’s childhood, military service and the beginning of his theatre career.
The Czech Republic supports Macedonia’s bid to join the EU and NATO, Prime Minister Boshulav Sobotka said after a meeting with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski in Prague on Thursday. The country’s accession to the EU and NATO has been opposed by Greece over disputes concerning the name of the country; Mr Sobotka expressed regret that Greece’s attitude has so far prevented Macedonia from joining the European Union. For his part, the Macedonian prime minister appreciated Czech support for his country’s bid and said Macedonia was ready to become an EU member state.
The Czech Republic’s candidate for European commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Věra Jourová, fielded questions in her three hour confirmation hearing at the European Parliament on Wednesday. While her answers and approach were seen as largely successful by the Czech press, the influential European Voice suggested that the candidate was not entirely convincing. Ms Jourova herself said she had expected the grilling to be “tougher”. On Wednesday, the nominee was asked about ties to influential billionaire-turned politician Andrej Babiš as well as key questions about the commissioner portfolio. At times, her answers were deemed by European Voice to be too general or lacking in commitment to concrete steps. A decision about her nomination will reportedly be taken next week.
Belarusian political activist Ales Belyatsky has told the Czech News Agency that he believed that his winning the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013 contributed to his release from prison three months ago. But the dissident added that the foremost importance of the prize was that the message sent to the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Both, to stop persecuting activists and as signal to Belarusian society that Europe was on its side. Mr Belyatsky said the Czech Republic is still considered a critic of Lukashenko´s government and the Belarusian opposition and nongovernmental organisations felt support. Mr Belyatsky is taking part in a conference organised by the Václav Havel Library in Prague in honour of the fresh laureate of the Havel prize, Azeri human rights activist Anar Mammadli, currently in prison for his work.