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Vol 2, No 17
2 May 2000
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News from the Czech Republic News from the Czech Republic
All the important news
since 21 April 2000

Markus Bonorianto

Miners at the north Bohemian coal mine of Kohinoor ended their three-week underground sit-in strike (which had begun on 31 March) on Friday 21 April after signing an agreement with representatives of Mostecká uhelná společnost (MUS), the mine's owner. The agreement came just half an hour before MUS's set deadline was due to expire. All 47 miners backed down from their previous demands after facing a threat of immediate dismissal by the management and insisted only on social guarantees that would enable them to cope with the consequences of job losses and the mine's possible closure. They had previously demanded a change of management and the immediate sale of the mine to SHD-Peel, which had pledged to keep the mine in operation without job cuts. The Kohinoor mine has suffered losses of billions of crowns and has been under threat of closure for some time.

Hartmut Koschyk, a CDU/CSU spokesman for Sudeten Germans, many of whom were expelled from Czechoslovakia soon after the Second World War under the so-called Beneš Decrees, said on Saturday that both the Czech Republic and Poland should "show goodwill" and allow the Germans expelled from the former Czechoslovakia and Poland, and their descendants, to purchase land in their old homeland and work there. As one of the conditions for European Union (EU) membership, claimed Koschyk, both governments should halt their opposition to foreigners' right of settlement. He also added that these countries should not fall behind the positive development showed by increasing co-operation between the expellees and inhabitants of both Poland and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, Czech Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleš Pospíšil said last Tuesday that Prague would not allow the expelled Sudeten Germans to buy land on Czech territory. Once the country enters the EU, Sudeten Germans, as any other European citizen, will be able to study, work and do business in the Czech Republic. He said, however, Czech negotiators would try to postpone the deadline for land and property purchase during the undefined post-accession transition period.

International organised crime currently operating in the Czech Republic is mainly linked to Russian-speaking groups. The current trend is for Russian-speaking gangs to switch their illegal activities to ordinary and legal businesses using capital gained from various criminal acts abroad, a representative of the Czech counter-intelligence service said. This type of organised crime, he added, is characterised by an attempt to gain decisive influence in strategic branches of the economy and an effort to corrupt the country's administration and thus influence the decision-making process. Political parties were said to also fall inside this circle's interests.

Meanwhile, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the spa cities in west Bohemia are centres from which illegal money moves to the former Soviet Union. Mayor of Karlový Vary (Carlsbad) Josef Pavel said that the city now has thousands of Russian citizens readily spending their money. The Russian-language local daily, Karlovarskie Novosti estimated the number of newly rich Russians at 15,000. It also reported that 90 per cent of Czechs believed that these people were connected with the mafia and former KGB.

According to a poll conducted by the STEM polling agency, almost two-thirds of Czechs support further development of nuclear energy. 67 per cent of respondents to the poll, conducted to commemorate the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, believe that the soon-to-be-opened Temelín nuclear power plant in south Bohemia will be much safer than the doomed Ukrainian plant. 73 per cent said that Temelín was comparable to other nuclear plants in the world. The Temelín plant had been the focus of debate and controversy for several years. Environmentalists and the anti-nuclear Austrian government have repeatedly expressed their concerns. Activists from Czech environmental group Hnutí DUHA have called on the government to hold a national referendum on the issue, but Prime Minister Miloš Zeman has rejected the idea.

Britain saw another steep increase in the number of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic. The number of Czech applications in March rose to 230 (whereby, in the case of families one application is filed not individual ones for each member), up from 170 in January and 175 applications in February. Applicants claimed to be the victims of widespread racial discrimination in the Czech Republic, but Czech authorities said economic reasons were behind this migration. Relations between the Czech Republic and Great Britain have turned sour on account of these mass movements. As a last resort, London again threatened to impose visa requirements on Prague. A British Home Office statement said that the position of the UK government remained unchanged and everything was still open to debate.

President Václav Havel appointed Petr Lachnit as the new Regional Development Minister, replacing Jaromír Císař, and Jaromír Schling as the new Minister of Transport, in place of Antonín Peltrám, on Wednesday. Prime Minister Miloš Zeman said that Lachnit was expected to renew housing construction, especially the renovation of tenement flats. Schling, on the other hand, was expected to complete the transformation of the Czech State Railway, as well as the privatisation of telecommunications companies. The changes finally completed the cabinet re-shuffle planned in January as a part of a power-sharing agreement between the governing Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democratic Party.

The Czech Republic signed three Council of Europe conventions on the handing over of convicts and rights of the child, including the legal position of children born out of wedlock and measures to strengthen children's rights in custody disputes.

A poll conducted in March by polling agency Ultex Market Research (UMR) showed that 66 per cent of Czechs would like the death penalty to be enforced. This showed an increase of five per cent from February.

According to the French weekly L'Express, Czechs are Europe's biggest consumers of beer, with an annual average of 156.1 litres. Germans came second with "only" 130.6 litres, followed by Belgians with 99.2 litres.

Finally, Czech-born tennis star Martina Navratilová will be returning to the Wimbledon tournament in June in an attempt to gain her 20th title, more than five years after deciding to retire from professional tennis. The 43-year-old will team up with Mariaan de Swardt from South Africa in women's doubles. Billie Jean King currently holds the record of 20 Wimbledon titles.

Markus Bonorianto, 28 April 2000

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