News in Brief: January’s Headlines in the Czech Republic

Brno, Feb 7 (BD) – A round-up of Czech news headlines from January. Title image: Casadei Graphics.

Černošice Municipality Rules Against Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Conflict of Interest Suit

On January 23, the Town Council of Černošice, the Prague suburb where Babis is officially registered as a resident, ruled against him in a complaint brought by campaign group Transparency International, accusing him of conflict of interest in his dual roles as Prime Minister and de facto owner of the Agrofert Group. Babis formally appealed the ruling on February 4 (Prague Monitor, February 6, “Babiš formally appeals conflict of interest ruling”). This followed reports earlier in the month that EU auditors were about to begin an investigation into Agrofert’s financial affairs (Prague Monitor, January 9, “EU auditors expected in Prague shortly”).

Read more at The Guardian (“Local council’s guilty verdict turns up heat on Czech PM Babiš”)

Czechs Mark 50 Years Since the Death of Jan Palach

January 16 saw the 50th anniversary of student Jan Palach’s suicide by self-immolation in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, in protest at the occupation by Warsaw Pact troops. Palach became known as the “conscience of the nation”. A number of commemorative events and announcements accompanied the anniversary, including a silent march of several thousand people through Prague (Prague Monitor, January 17, “Country remembers Jan Palach on his 50th death anniversary”), and other events in various locations around Prague and around the country (Prague TV, January 14, “Jan Palach to be remembered”). The National Museum announced that a permanent memorial would be opened in August in Palach’s family home in Všetaty, Central Bohemia (Radio Prague, January 9, “Home of Jan Palach to become permanent memorial”), and Prague City Hall intends to buy the hospital building on Legerova where he died, to create a “museum of totalitarianism” (Radio Prague, January 7, “Prague hopes to turn ex-hospital where Jan Palach died into ‘museum of totalitarianism’”).

Read more about Jan Palach at Radio Prague (“Czech martyr Jan Palach’s enduring legacy, 50 years after his self-immolation”) or Deutsche Welle (“Czech dissident Jan Palach inspired action 50 years ago in Prague”).

Government Partners Divided Over Proposals to Provide Free School Meals to 170,000 Primary School Pupils

Education Minister Robert Plaga (ANO) has proposed the provision of free school meals to 170,000 children from lower-income families. Coalition partner CSSD had already made a separate proposal to supply all primary school and kindergarten children with free school meals, regardless of their family income (Prague Monitor, January 4, “Plaga proposes free meals for 170,000 children”), though this was provisionally rejected at a cabinet meeting on January 7 (Prague Monitor, January 9, “Social Democrats unhappy with their proposals being rejected”). Discussions continue in the cabinet following protests from CSSD at the rejection of their proposal (Prague Monitor, January 10, “Cabinet discusses free meals and subsistence minimum again”).

President Linked with Separate Accusations of Attempting to Influence Judiciary

Weekly magazine Respekt published a story accusing Vratislav Mynář, President Zeman’s Chancellor, of attempting to influence judicial proceedings by seeking information about current cases and advising judges on rulings. In response, Mynář stated that he was simply passing on the president’s views, but the allegations were met by widespread condemnation from legal experts (Radio Prague, January 10, “President’s Chancellor under fire for alleged attempts to influence judiciary”).

In a separate case, Justice Minister Jan Kněžínek told Parliament that President Zeman may have committed a crime when he allegedly suggested that he would appoint Josef Baxa as the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court in exchange for certain judicial decisions (Prague Monitor, January 25, “Justice Minister says that Zeman could have committed a crime”).

Czech Parliament Approves Special Fast-Tracked Law Protecting British Residents in the Event of No-Deal Brexit

The Czech Government announced a law protecting the residency status and certain other rights of the 8,000 British residents of the Czech Republic, in the event that talks between British and EU negotiators were to collapse. The government stated that any such measures were dependent on the British Government offering reciprocal protections to the 40,000 Czech citizens living in Britain (Prague Monitor, January 8, “Cabinet approves special law for Britons if Brexit talks collapse”). The law would create a special status for British citizens living in the Czech Republic, focusing on practical issues such as right to remain, marriages, access to the labour market, acquisition of Czech citizenship, public health insurance, existing supplementary pension and building savings, as well as the status of colleges, students and academics, direct taxes, and recognition of professional qualifications (Prague TV, January 8, “Czech government approves plan for British expats”). It was fast-tracked through the Czech parliament and approved before the end of January (Prague Monitor, January 24, “Chamber passes special hard Brexit bill”).

Nick Archer, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic, described the legislation as “the most generous of proposals made so far by any other EU member state to protect the rights of British nationals” (Radio Prague, January 17, “Czech officials push ahead with bill to protect rights of British nationals in even of no-deal Brexit”).

Populist Media Personality Soukup Announces New Anti-Establishment Political Movement

Jaromír Soukup, owner and frequent presenter of TV Barrandov, has announced the creation of a new anti-establishment political movement, LIST Jaromíra Soukupa. The new movement is expected to increase competition in the crowded field of Czech populist movements (Radio Prague, January 18, “Populist media boss forms new political movement”).

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