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A round-up of the Czech Republic’s main headlines from November. Photo: November 17, 2018, in Brno. // Credit: Casadei Graphics.

Czech Government Survives No-confidence Vote

Brno, Dec 5 (BD) – The news in the Czech Republic in November was dominated by allegations about Prime Minister Andrej Babis, related to the ongoing investigation by the European Union into irregularities in his businesses that received EU subsidies. The most recent developments in the saga were sparked by an interview given to Seznam Zpravy by his son, Andrej Babis Jr., on November 12, in which he alleged that his father had arranged for him to be transported to Crimea so he could not be called as a witness in the police investigation. In response, Babis told journalists that both his son and daughter were unreliable witnesses due to mental health conditions (Radio Praha, November 23, “Czech Government survives no-confidence vote”).

Following the allegations, opposition parties called a vote of no-confidence in Babis’s government for November 23, but ANO’s coalition partners in the Social Democrats decided to abstain, and the Communist Party, whose votes support the minority government, maintained their support, making the passing of the bill unlikely (Prague Monitor, November 23, “Opposition doesn’t have votes to oust Babis”). After a heated seven-hour debate, the motion received 92 votes for and 90 against with 18 abstentions, short of the 101 votes needed to defeat the government (Radio Praha, November 23).

The failure of the no-confidence vote was met with protests in Prague and other cities, (Radio Free Europe, November 24, “Czechs Protest After Babis Government Survives No-Confidence Vote”) but opinion polling from the end of the month indicates that support in the country for ANO rose in November despite the scandal (Prague Monitor, December 3, “ANO grows stronger in November despite scandal”).

The affair made international news, and was featured in the New York Times and others.

The Nation Marks the Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution

Amid political tension related to the Prime Minister’s scandals, commemorative events were held across the country to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, an occasion traditionally associated with freedom and democracy. This year the date coincided with many demonstrations and marches about the present political situation (Radio Praha, November 17, “Freedom and democracy anniversary marked by political discontent”).

Czech Republic Backs Out of UN Treaty on Migration

On November 14, the Czech Cabinet voted to withdraw from the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a United Nations pact that was agreed last year by all 193 UN countries except the United States. The governments of Hungary, Austria, and Bulgaria also came to the same decision (Reuters, November 14, “Czechs join other EU states rejecting UN migration pact”).

New City Governments Take Office across the Czech Republic

As well as new Mayor Marketa Vankova in Brno, November saw new city administrations taking office across the country, including Prague’s first Pirate Mayor, Zdenek Hrib (Prague.tv, November 15, “Pirate Zdenek Hrib officially Prague’s new mayor”). Among the plans of Prague’s new administration is a proposal for stricter regulation of AirBnB (Prague TV, November 5, “New Administration Wants to Limit AirBnB”).

Jaroslav Kubera Elected New Chair of the Senate

Jaroslav Kubera (ODS) was elected chair of the Senate, defeating Vaclav Hampl (independent) in the final round in a secret ballot. The four vice-chairs will be outgoing chairman Milan Stech (CSSD), Jiri Oberfalzer (ODS), Jiri Ruzicka (STAN) and Miluse Horska (KDU-CSL) (Prague Monitor, November 15, “Kubera is new Senate chief”).

Czech Parliament Debates Same-sex Marriage Bill

On November 14, the Czech Parliament debated same-sex marriage for the first time. Under discussion were a bill to grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, supported by 46 MPs as well as Prime Minister Babis and the government, and a counter-measure by the Christian Democrats supported by 37 MPs. Apart from the Pirate Party in favour and the Christian Democrats opposed, all other parties were split on the issue. No vote was held, but a further debate and possible vote are scheduled for some time in December. Campaign group Jsme Fer [“We are fair”], who campaigned for the vote, claim that 67% of Czechs are in favour of the proposed change (expats.cz, November 15, “Czech MPs hold historic debate on same sex marriage”).

Jaromir Nohavica Accepts Pushkin Award from Vladimir Putin

On November 4, Jaromir Nohavica, one of the Czech Republic’s most famous and loved musical artists, was awarded the Pushkin Award, an award given by the Russian state for contributions to the arts, humanities and culture. Specifically, Nohavica was awarded for furthering relations between the Czech Republic and Russia and is only the third Czech to receive it. (Prague Monitor, November 5, “Putin honours Czech singer Nohavica”) Nohavica’s acceptance of the award received considerable criticism in the Czech Republic and neighboring Poland (Radio Praha, November 5, “Czech folk artist’s award from Vladimir Putin sparks controversy”).

The Natural Environment Features in the News

Environmental issues also made the news in the Czech Republic this month, with the release of an annual government report on the condition of the Czech environment, which warned of substantial threats to Czech forests in particular, due to climate change (Radio Prague, November 20, “Government report highlights alarming state of Czech forests”). This was followed by a public warning from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute about the long-term dangers of water shortage in the country, an issue that remains at the front of many people’s minds following the severe droughts of the summer (Radio Praha, November 22, “Czechs don’t take water for granted anymore”).

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