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Vol 2, No 19
15 May 2000
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Czech News Review News from the Czech Republic
All the important news
since 5 May 2000

Markus Bonorianto

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has personally requested that Czech President Václav Havel clarify his position on Chechnya, the Czech charge d'affaires to Russia, František Masopust, said on Friday. It was the latest move after controversial statements by President Havel were printed in Czech dailies on 29 April. However, Masopust added, print media is not the right forum to clear up the issues between the two sovereign countries.

In another development, Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman stated that he considered Chechnya to be part of the Russian Federation but added that he would prefer Russia conduct police rather than military actions in order to combat terrorism. Such actions should also focus on the real terrorists rather than innocent civilians. Meanwhile, after attending a commemorative ceremony for victims of the war in Chechnya, President Havel said that he had not intended to cast doubt on Russian integrity. The President stated that if the violation of human rights in the region continued, the Council of Europe should suspend Russia's membership. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetský said in a TV debate that the Czech Republic would support Russia's expulsion from the Council.

The Czech Republic, however, has decided not to vote for the suspension of Russian membership in the Council of Europe. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleš Pospíšil said on Thursday that this stance was not an attempt to avoid sharply criticising the Russian side. He rejected the statement made by Pavel Rychetský and said criticism should not take the form of expulsion. He also reiterated the statement made by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan late in April that currently Russia is not a threat, but isolating it would, on the other hand, make it a threat.

The visiting chairman of the association of European Social Democrats (PES), Rudolf Scharping, said that close co-operation between the Czech Republic and Germany is important for EU enlargement. Speaking at a press briefing, after taking part in a round table on EU enlargement organised by PES in Prague on Friday, Scharping also stated that the Czech Republic has a good chance of becoming an EU member in the near future. The Czech Republic, alongside Germany, would play a crucial role in uniting Europe, he added.

Rudolf Scharping, who is also the German defence minister, met with his Czech counterpart, Vladimír Vetchý, on Friday. They discussed the latest developments in the Balkans, European security and identity as well as further co-operation between the two ministries. The two statesmen also discussed the harmonisation of Czech and EU legislation and incentives that would attract investors to the Czech Republic.

At their meeting in Prague on Saturday, members of the International European Movement's Federal Council agreed that federalisation would be the best form of European integration. They referred to the cultural and religious diversity that Europe has to preserve within its integration process. However, without reforming EU institutions, it would be impossible both to admit new member states and preserve the European common currency, the euro, which has fallen to its lowest value since its introduction over a year ago.

President Havel, Chairperson of the Senate Libuše Benešova and other state representatives laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Vítkov Hill in Prague on Monday in remembrance of the 55th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany. Later in the day, at Prague castle, President Havel promoted 16 WWII veterans to the brigadier rank. He also heard 150 new members of the Castle Guard take the oath of allegiance to the country and named new generals. Celebrations were also held in other cities and villages throughout the country.

More than half (53.5 per cent) of the respondents in an April poll said that President Havel should resign. In the same survey, conducted by polling agency Sofres-Factum, it was found that 27.6 per cent of the 53.5 per cent who believe Havel should resign base their opinions on the President's ill health, while 25.9 per cent said that he should step down in any case. However overall, 35.1 per cent of those polled believe Havel should complete his term in office if his health allowed and only 4.4 per cent want to see him hold the position at any cost. President Havel has had several operations in the past, some of which were critical. His health has surely impeded him from fulfilling many of his duties as the head of the country. Before heading for Berlin, Havel reacted to the results with a smile, commenting that he had been pleased and touched at the people's concern over his health.

President Havel made a state visit to Germany on Tuesday, at the invitation of German President Johannes Rau. Before the visit, Havel said to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that relations between the two neighbours had reached a new high in the past ten years. Germany has made big investments in the Czech Republic, and both countries have been successfully co-operating in many fields. Germany, according to Havel, has actively been supporting the Czech bid to join the EU, and both countries were now members of NATO. However, controversies remain. Millions of Sudeten Germans expelled from their homes after the Second World War have threatened to block the Czech Republic's EU membership bid, if they are not allowed to purchase land and property in their former homeland.

President Havel received the Civic Award in Berlin, on the first day of his visit to Germany. The Civic Award Foundation in Bad Harzburg grants the award to people who have made exceptional contributions to the development of civil rights, the unification of Europe and the strengthening of peace and co-operation on the continent. The award was presented by the chairman of the foundation, Rainer W Conrad, who said that President Havel has been a tireless fighter for civil rights, tolerance and understanding between nations. Former German President Richard von Weizsacker also attended the ceremony.

President Havel and German President Johannes Rau awarded the highest honors from both countries to each other on Wednesday. After talks in the presidential office in Berlin, President Rau presented the Federal Cross of Merit to Havel. The Czech head-of-state then bestowed upon his counterpart the Order of the White Lion. The German President said that the award had been granted to Havel mainly for his contribution in reconciling the Czechs and the Germans and encouraging friendly relations between the two nations.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder confirmed his country's commitment to support the Czech Republic in joining the EU, without any pre-condition related to the two countries' past. Schröder, after a meeting with President Havel said that it would be "incorrect" to set conditions for entry into EU. The Chancellor described the relations between the neighbours as "excellent."

According to an April IVVM poll, one-third of Czechs support the introduction of a law on registered partnership for homosexual couples. Issued on Tuesday, the poll showed that 38 per cent of those polled were against, and 30 per cent were neutral.

Inflation decreased by 0.4 per cent in April, 3.4 per cent year-on-year. The monthly Consumer Price Index fell by 0.1 per cent, after stagnation in March. The decrease in inflation was, according to the Czech Statistical Office, caused by lower food, tobacco, beverage, travel and leisure prices. The unemployment rate also showed positive development, as it fell by 0.5 per cent month-on-month to 9 per cent. A slight economic recovery and increased seasonal jobs in agriculture and construction contributed to the positive figures.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted a GDP growth of between 1.5 and 2 per cent this year. Incomplete economic restructuring of the banking and industrial sectors were still the biggest constraints to further growth in the Czech economy. The IMF called on the government to further reform the structure of the state budget, in order to improve the outlook of the medium-term fiscal year. The IMF also reminded the Czech Republic that keeping the Central Bank independent is crucial to maintaining good economic performance.

The government decided not to withdraw its reconnaissance units serving in the KFOR and SFOR missions both in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Defence Minister Vladimír Vetchý said after a cabinet meeting on Thursday. NATO has asked member countries to prolong or even add to the number of the soldiers, following recent developments, mainly in Kosovo.

Former minister without portfolio Jaroslav Bašta is likely to be appointed the new ambassador to Russia, according to sources from both the President's Office and the Foreign Ministry. The post has been vacant since February, following the withdrawal of Luboš Dobrovský.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is set to establish an office in Prague within the next two months, Czech Television reported, citing a statement made by FBI boss Louis Freeh, after his meeting with Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross on Thursday. Freeh explained that the FBI plans to have one agent and an administrative force in Prague. The body would work closely with the Czech police to fight against organised crimes and provide training. One of the main topics of discussion during Freeh's visit was security at the upcoming joint IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Prague in September. The FBI currently has 43 branch offices around the globe, not including those in the US.

Markus Bonorianto, 12 May 2000

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