News Václav Havel given rare honour by US House of Representatives
The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution recognising former Czech president Václav Havel’s contribution to the fight against communism, to the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, and entry of the Czech Republic into NATO. The resolution will also result in a bust of Havel joining those of a select few foreign and US leaders in the Congress building. Only three foreign statesmen have previously received such recognition. Havel was already awarded the US’ highest civil award, the medal for freedom, in 2003.
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A statue of the Madonna and Child sent to Norway for safekeeping during the communist period is set to be returned to Plzeň’s Cathedral of St. Bartholomew on Wednesday. A priest there asked visiting Norwegian woman named Gerd Qvam to take the sculpture – a copy of a piece made in the 14th century – back to her country at the end of the 1950s for fear that it might be destroyed or confiscated. It is being returned with the help of the Norwegian Embassy in Prague and Norway’s Barrat Due Institute of Music.
A cultural space named the Velvet Centre is set to open in Prague’s Malá Strana district on Wednesday ahead of 25th anniversary celebrations of the Velvet Revolution, which brought communism to an end in Czechoslovakia. The centre on Cíhelná St., a short distance from Charles Bridge, will host workshops, lectures and debates centred on the revolution, which began on November 17 1989.
The new US ambassador to Prague, Andrew Schapiro, says the Czech Republic should continue to increase its defence spending. After presenting his credentials to Czech President Miloš Zeman at Prague Castle, Mr. Schapiro said the Czechs were increasing their military spending to 1.4 percent of GDP; however, the NATO target is 2 percent and the US would like to see more progress in this direction. The American envoy said he and Mr. Zeman had also discusses the economy and energy, adding that he regarded the latter area as one in which the US could provide help to the Czech Republic.
The police’s anti-corruption unit carried out around 40 raids on public offices around the Czech Republic on Tuesday. The searches were in connection with European subsidies and contracts for IT systems, the Czech News Agency reported. The town halls in Olomouc, Přerov and Zlín were raided, as were the regional government offices in Zlín and Olomouc. Police also intervened at the offices of a company in Olomouc owned by the brother of Social Democrat senator Martin Tesařík.
A major new road tunnel in Prague is set to go into trial operation on December 2, a city official said on Tuesday. The Blanka tunnel was originally meant to open in 2011 but the date was repeatedly put back. The project to build the country’s longest tunnel has been surrounded by controversy and is set to cost the tax payer almost CZK 37 billion crowns, CZK 6 billion more than originally stated.
The Czech cyclist Leopold König will be a member of Britain’s Team Sky from next season. König, who is 26, finished seventh in this year’s Tour de France – his first – with the second-division team NetApp-Endura. He has signed a two-year contract with Team Sky, which features among other riders Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.
The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, says the European Union should consider easing sanctions against Russia if a truce in Eastern Ukraine remains in place and if Russian gas supplies to Ukraine are resumed before the winter. Speaking on Tuesday, Mr. Sobotka said if the truce between Ukraine and Russia continued there would be no reason for the EU to tighten sanctions or to introduce new ones. The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, recently described sanctions against Russia as unnecessary and counterproductive.
An exhibition on the Fluxus art movement is set to get underway at the Czech National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace modern art venue on Wednesday. Fluxus, which originated in New York, brought together artists, composers and designers. The network’s best-known member was John Cage while Czech artist Milan Knížák was also an exponent. The exhibition offers an interactive presentation of the movement’s history via materials related to Fluxus festivals held in Europe between 1962 and 1977.
Businessman Ivo Rittig and other persons charged with asset-stripping the firm Oleo Chemical took a total of CZK 20 million out of the company, two newspapers reported on Tuesday, quoting the formal indictment. Mr. Rittig and nine others arrested on Friday are also suspected of money laundering and tax evasion. Mr. Rittig was previously accused of creaming off a percentage of the cost of tickets for the Prague public transport system via another company that has been linked to the Oleo Chemical case. Based in Moncaco, Mr. Rittig is said to have influence over some politicians and was reported to have contact with Jana Nagyová, whose arrest while she was prime minister Petr Nečas’s chief of staff helped bring down his government in 2013.
Events are being held at the German Embassy in Prague to mark the 25th anniversary of the transit of thousands of East German refugees through what was then the diplomatic mission of West Germany. Among those taking part is then West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who on September 30 1989 told thousands of refugees camped in the embassy’s grounds that they could travel to his country. The current German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is also taking part in the anniversary celebrations, as are around 150 of those who fled to the West at the time.