Protests, poisonings, scandals
Year started with ethnic tension in north Bohemian community
Posted: January 2, 2013
Demonstrators flocked from across the country to fill Wenceslas Square April 21. The trade union-organized protest drew 100,000-plus, the largest in at least 15 years, to demonstrate against Prime Minister Petr Nečas' right-leaning government. Other organized groups backing the protest include those representing the disabled, senior citizens and tenant and patient associations.
A look back at the protests, poisonings and political scandals that made the headlines:
Ethnic tension between Roma and white communities continued to plague towns in low-employment regions of the country. The death of 22-year-old Ladislav Tatár, a Roma man shot to death near his home in Tanvald Jan. 1 after attempting to rob a white man at knife point, stoked fears of extremist violence and retribution in this tight-knit north Bohemian community.
Notably, 2012 did not see regional animosities escalate into violent mass riots as in previous years, due in part to public-funded outreach programs supporting community policing, as well as a higher presence of Roma in local police forces.
A deadly cold snap paralyzed much of Central and Eastern Europe at the start of February, claiming dozens of lives nationwide and hundreds more throughout the region. Whereas west-to-east air currents from the Atlantic Ocean normally give Europe a relatively mild climate as compared with its latitude, a dip in the jet stream saw a high-pressure system prevail and move in from Siberia, bringing with it Arctic temperatures. Meteorologists measured a temperature of -39.4 degrees Celsius in Kvilda, south Bohemia, Feb. 6, marking the coldest temperature of the season but trailing the record of -42.2 degrees Celsius set in 1929.
Twenty-five of the 27 European Union member states signed a fiscal responsibility compact at a Brussels summit March 2. The Czech Republic and the United Kingdom are the only countries that refused to sign on to the treaty, which imposes automatic sanctions on nations running high budget deficits. Prime Minister Petr Nečas, whose Civic Democratic party (ODS) has links to Euroskeptic President Václav Klaus, said the treaty does not adequately address penalties for nations whose budget deficits soar past 60 percent of their GDP. The Czech Republic projects a budget deficit of 5 percent for 2013.
Praguers recalling the corruption and back-room dealings of the city's former government witnessed yet another grotesquery when lobbyist Roman Janoušek ran over a woman with his Porsche while driving intoxicated on a local thoroughfare. A close adviser of former Mayor Pavel Bém, Janoušek now faces drunk driving and aggravated assault charges, with a maximum sentence of 13 years. Subsequently, local media published anonymous wiretap transcriptions detailing Janoušek's shadowy dealings with key players in local and national politics.
The scandal-fraught Public Affairs (VV) party left the tripartite coalition government April 18, five days after several of its deputies, including de facto leader Vít Bárta, were convicted of bribery. A team of seven MPs, led by Deputy PM Karolína Peake, created the offshoot party LIDEM and subsequently signed a new coalition agreement with PM Petr Nečas. The remaining members of VV are now in opposition.
Some 100,000 protesters gathered on Wenceslas Square April 21 to air their grievances against the deteriorating situation within the coalition government, unpopular austerity measures and mushrooming reports of political corruption. Sporadic protests highlighting a spectrum of political persuasions and generations continued throughout the year, but have so far failed to crystallize into a coherent social movement.
An injured 15-year-old Ukrainian boy in the town of Břeclav, south Moravia, catalyzed a mass demonstration there April 22 when he claimed three men of Roma ethnicity had beaten him after he refused to give them cigarettes. He later admitted the allegation was a lie, but the conflict rekindled fears of inter-community violence after similar events in north Bohemia.
The arrest of Central Bohemian Governor and long-time Social Democratic (ČSSD) party firebrand David Rath provided a benchmark in law enforcement's efforts to prosecute high-level politicians for corruption. Rath was detained May 14 carrying a wine box that contained 7 million Kč, according to police. He and seven others were accused of mismanaging EU funds and accepting bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts.
The Czech Republic came under the spotlight of the international music community after the June 27 arrest of Randy Blythe, front man of American heavy-metal group Lamb of God. Blythe was arrested in Prague and charged with manslaughter after the group landed there to play at the Hard Rock café the following day. Blythe is accused of pushing a fan off the stage at a gig in 2010. The 19-year-old, named only as Daniel N., died in the hospital 14 days later.
Lenka Bradáčová was officially appointed Prague high state attorney July 31, ending months of uncertainty over the future of a posting that oversees the prosecution of some of the country's most high-profile corruption cases. Bradáčová replaced the disgraced prosecutor Vlastimil Rampula, whose reluctance to duly prosecute key cases earned him the nickname "the sweeper." Bradáčová's appointment has been hailed as a landmark in the effort to increase the independence of the judiciary and investigate top public figures linked to graft.
More than 10,000 supporters from across the Continent turned out on a warm afternoon Aug. 18 to celebrate the second Prague Pride at the end of a week filled with discussions and parties to celebrate the city's diversity and promote tolerance and inclusiveness. The city also commemorated the decade that had passed since the disastrous floods of August 2002 with a free photo exhibition at the Czech Photo Gallery.
At least 30 people nationwide fell victim to the so-called methanol affair, which saw the contamination of locally produced alcohol with deadly methanol. The ensuing panic compelled the Health Ministry to issue a ban Sept. 14 on the sale and consumption of all potables containing more than 20 percent alcohol, and the European Commission issued a temporary embargo on Czech-made spirits. Later reports indicated that at least some of the methanol had been smuggled into the country. For each day of the prohibition, the country suffered an estimated 2.5 percent loss, or about 200 million Kc, in overall daily retail revenue.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) marked a record victory in the Oct. 12-13 regional election, receiving 20.44 percent of all votes in the regions, the party placed second just behind the Social Democratic Party, and were the only party that marked an improvement in the number of mandates. In the Ústí nad Labem region, the party won the most seats in the regional assembly, giving it the first chance since 1989 to dictate its own political terms.
After months of political turbulence, PM Petr Nečas' center-right government rode out a vote of confidence by the skin of its teeth Nov. 7, while also making progress on several key reforms against the odds. Nečas managed to pass a controversial hike to the value-added tax rate, to which the government tacked its future viability. Nečas then used his narrow parliamentary advantage to push through an equally unpopular bill on church restitution, an effort to compensate churches for losses suffered during communism which has been eluding the country's political leaders since 1990.
The future of the 2013 presidential election was thrown in turmoil in late November following the disqualification of three candidates. After handing the necessary 50,000 citizen signatures, Jana Bobošíková, Tomio Okamura and Vladimír Dlouhý were excluded from the race due to a controversial Interior Ministry estimate of erroneous data found in their petitions. All three filed legal complaints, opening the way for a scenario in which the future of the election would depend on the deliberation of the Constitutional Court. Those fears subsided after a Dec. 13 Supreme Administrative Court ruling on the disqualified candidates' complaints. Bobošíková, a former MEP, has returned to the race, joining artist Vladimír Franz, ČSSD candidate Jiří Dienstbier, MEP Zuzana Roithová, Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, and frontrunners Miloš Zeman and Jan Fischer - both former prime ministers.
Markéta Hulpachová can be reached at