Czech republic

I always judge a hotel by its club sandwich

As a child I was fascinated by the exotic names of certain cities: Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles sounded so glamorous to me, and I was determined to visit them (which I eventually did). But never in my childhood musings did the country of Czechoslovakia join this roll-call of dream destinations. However, since a few friends returned from filming in the renamed Czech Republic and extolled the virtues of Prague, it started to interest me. So, I was delighted when producer Mark Rozzano offered me the role of Francesca Carlyle in his murder mystery Murder Between Friends. ‘Brad and George have made movies there,’ he said, ‘and the

Do all MI6 men wear such quirky cufflinks?

‘You’re late. About four years too late.’ The lady in the car-hire office gave a casual shrug and turned her gaze towards the perpetual traffic jam in the street outside. Mercedes squeezing past BMWs squeezing past customised 4×4 Jeeps. There’s plenty of wealth in Albania if you go to the right places. Or the wrong ones. ‘It’s all mafia money,’ she went on. ‘This is where they come to spend their money in the summer. It wasn’t like this a few years ago. Now the prices here have gone crazy.’ Put it down to poor research but this wasn’t what we were expecting. The phrase ‘Albanian Riviera’ had a rather

Can the Czech Republic challenge Europe’s vaccine orthodoxy?

The Omicron wave has left European counties standing at a crossroads this year. Despite the relative mildness of Omicron compared to previous variants, several countries have stormed ahead with harsher measures to protect their populations from the virus. In Austria, for example, a vaccine mandate will come into effect on Tuesday, and until last week the unvaccinated had been confined to their homes for over two months. Germany is considering following Austria’s lead and introducing a vaccine mandate too. But other countries are starting to see this less deadly wave as an opportunity to restore normality to society, and are now backing away from some of their more extreme Covid

Meet Tomio Okamura, the Czech Republic’s answer to Nigel Farage

For a brief period during last month’s Czech election campaign it seemed like the country was heading toward a Czexit referendum. Prime Minister Andrej Babis was desperately looking for a coalition partner and the Eurosceptic Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party had insisted on a referendum as part of any deal. In the end, the Czech PM couldn’t scrape together a majority, meaning a pro-EU coalition will take over this month. But it was still nothing short of remarkable for the country to come so close to holding a referendum on its EU membership. The leader of the SPD, Tomio Okamura, was the key figure behind this push for an

The missing president and the Czech Republic’s sordid power struggle

Czech President Miloš Zeman has never been one to do things by halves. His mastery in the art of consuming inordinate quantities of alcohol is the stuff of legend, while his formidable smoking once led another senior politician to complain that he felt like a piece of smoked meat in the president’s presence. Two years ago, at the age of 75, Zeman took the prudent step of cutting down to only two packets of cigarettes a day – leading some to hope that his health might improve. Yet it’s now feared the colourful president’s lifestyle may finally be catching up with him. Zeman was rushed to a central Prague hospital

Czexit could be closer than we think

Is Czexit closer than we think? Ahead of the Czech general elections in October, the rise of an anti-EU party as a potential kingmaker is making a referendum on EU membership a distinct possibility. ‘No to EU dictates,’ ‘Freedom to think, speak and breathe,‘ ‘Lockdown is not a solution,’ read election posters plastered around Prague by the Czech Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party. This hard-line anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-lockdown and vaccine-sceptic movement – which is currently polling at around 12 per cent – may hold the key to power for the ruling ANO party after a hotly contested election campaign. The Czech electoral landscape has turned on its head since

Euro 2020: England shouldn’t get too excited

Ingerlund: 1 (Sterling) Czechia: 0 —
Croatia: 3 (people with name ending in ‘itch’)
Scotland 1 (Jimmy) A little better, solely because of changes in the team largely enforced upon old Horseface. Jack Grealish started because the hitherto largely ineffective Phil Foden is carrying a booking. Arsenal’s starlet Bukayo Saka was in the team largely because Mason Mount was in quarantine for having hugged a Scotsman (Never do it. Like handling a hedgehog, you never know what you might catch). These two players transformed England and between them created the game’s only goal, for Raheem Sterling. In that first 45 minutes, England looked quite competent, but then sat back on their lead

Euros 2021: Scotland have exposed the pointlessness of ‘taking the knee’

Scotland 0 Czech Republic 2 (Schick as a parrot, 42,52) Have you ever visited Carlsbad, now known as Karlovy Vary? I’d always had a faint hankering to live there, being hugely enamoured of what we once called eastern Europe, but I’m told it’s full of the most ghastly Russians these days. Maybe Slovakia is a better bet, somewhere near the Tatras. A Hungarian diplomat once asked me: ‘What do you call a Pole who speaks Hungarian?’ The answer – a Slovak. I like the fact they all hate each other, too. You should hear some Austrians when they talk about Slovaks. The mask slips and they begin to echo an

Why isn’t the West standing up for the Czech Republic?

The discovery by Czech intelligence services that a bombing of an ammunitions and weapons depot in 2014 that killed two people was carried out by the same Russian agents responsible for Sergei Skripal’s poisoning in 2018 is the latest act in the ongoing drama between the Kremlin and the West – one that has been intensified by the Czech President’s inability to blame Russia for the attack, and the lack of allied support for the Czech Republic. The two men who bombed the ammunition site used the same aliases as they used to enter the UK and travel to Salisbury almost four years later – ostensibly to visit the city’s

Two spies, an explosion, and the new Czech rift with Russia

‘Putin is a murderer,’ read the signs carried by protestors outside the Russian Embassy in Prague on Sunday. On Saturday night, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš stunned the Czech Republic by stating that evidence now links Russian GRU secret agents to a massive explosion which killed two people at an arms depot near the Moravian village of Vrbětice in 2014. Czech Minister of the Interior and acting Foreign Minister Jan Hamáček gave 18 diplomats known to be linked to Russian foreign intelligence 48 hours to leave the country, and compared the situation to the Salisbury poisoning in 2018. The Salisbury parallel was underlined by the announcement of a manhunt for Alexandr

Europe’s human rights judges are right not to ban compulsory vaccines

If you think public health authorities in England are overbearing, spare a thought for the Czechs. Parents who fail to have children vaccinated face being fined or having their offspring excluded from nurseries. Now, in a landmark ruling, the European Court of Human Rights, has backed that policy. But even critics aghast at the thought of compulsory vaccinations should welcome the court’s verdict. Why? Because human rights judges should not be butting in here. The Czech law bends over backwards to accommodate welfare concerns: vaccinations are free; there are exceptions for good medical reasons; and any vaccine-generated injury is automatically compensated. Yet it was still an obvious target for human rights challenge on

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is causing political chaos in Central Europe

A joke is doing the rounds in the Czech Republic that the world’s highest Covid mortality rate can, in actual fact, be found in the Czech Ministry of Health. Yesterday, the Czech health minister Jan Blatný was dismissed, the nation’s third ‘Covid Health Minister’ since the pandemic began. Both his predecessors were sacked by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in the autumn of 2020. Rumours of Blatný’s departure had been in the wind for weeks. But his fall from favour seems to have little to do with the Czech Republic’s inability to contain the spread of Covid-19, and far more to do with the ongoing controversy over whether the country will join

The growing alliance between Central Europe and Israel

In 2018, the Czech President Miloš Zeman promised in a speech on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel to do everything in his power to move the Czech embassy to Jerusalem. Last week, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš finally opened an official diplomatic office in the Holy City. With Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu claiming that Israel has ‘no greater friend in the Eastern hemisphere’ than the Czech Republic, the move has underlined Central Europe’s divergence from the EU when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The official Czech Embassy still remains in Tel Aviv – but the nation has gone against EU policy by becoming the bloc’s second

Covid is tearing the Czech Republic apart

The Covid-19 situation is rapidly deteriorating in the Czech Republic, with new efforts to stop the spread of the virus descending into bitter rows and a climate of cynicism and fear. In a government press conference held late on Friday night, harsher measures were announced to tackle the alarming spread of the ‘British variant’ of coronavirus in the Czech Republic. These restrictions included the closure of more shops and services, the closing of primary schools and nurseries, the reintroduction of mandatory face mask wearing outside, and a ban on movement between municipalities. Cases and deaths have risen to new heights in recent weeks, leaving Czech hospitals on the verge of

The remarkable rise of the Czech Pirate party

A new party is riding high in the Czech Republic, with the wind of change in its sails. Polls now suggest that the Czech Pirate Party, in coalition with a collection of mayors and independents, could win the largest share of the vote in the Czech Republic’s October elections. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a party that at first sounds like the Czech answer to the monster raving loony party. But the Pirate Party has become a force to be reckoned with in Czech politics. Formed in 2009 as one of many Pirate Parties around the world who came to international prominence following a police raid on the download site

Germany’s border controls risk an EU rupture

On Sunday, Germany halted most travel for those moving between the country and its neighbouring Czech Republic and Austria. After the South African variant was found in Austria and the British variant was detected in the Czech Republic, Germany designated these regions as ‘virus mutation areas’ and announced the measures on its east and southern borders on Thursday. Initially, the German government wanted to avoid any new border controls after briefly bringing in restrictions last year. However, the fear of aggressive variants and their threat to the end of lockdown in mid-March has exceeded any concerns over the negative fallout from border controls.  It seems these border closures might not be Germany’s

Central Europe’s vaccine scepticism problem

Countries around the world are in a race against time to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. But there is one particular region which appears to have a growing problem with vaccine scepticism: Central and Eastern Europe. As a British expat living in the Czech Republic, I have noticed the lack of eagerness with which many Czechs discuss the vaccine rollout. This may in part be due to the country’s floundering and much-criticised vaccination programme. But it is noticeable that anti-vaccine sentiment is more common – and gets much more attention – here than in the UK. Ex-President Václav Klaus recently told a large anti-lockdown rally in Prague that vaccines are