“We are with you, be with us,” Zelensky said in a speech to the Czech Parliament

In an address to the Czech Parliament, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for his nation to be granted EU candidate status as well as a seventh EU package of sanctions against Russia. During the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he regularly reiterated the iconic words “we are with you, be with us.” The need for additional European funding comes just weeks before Czechia takes up the presidency of the EU Council.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky opted to paraphrase the iconic sentence “we are with you, be with us” twice in his address to both chambers of the Czech Parliament, remarks made by one of the presenters on Czechoslovak Radio during the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968.

Thanking the Czech Republic for its “generous” support of Ukraine thus far, both in terms of aid and in taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict, Zelensky said that Russia’s aggression will not stop with Ukraine. He said that a defeat of his country would only lead to the Kremlin’s influence spreading across the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe.

“The ‘fateful eights’, as they are known in Czech history, 1938, 1948, and 1968 serve as a reminder to everyone who would still want to make peace with this aggressor at the detriment of preserving European values and weakening Europe itself.”

President Zelensky, speaking just weeks before the Czech Republic’s next six-month presidency of the European Council, asked Prague for help in convincing EU leaders to agree to the seventh package of sanctions against Russia. He also requested assistance in obtaining EU candidate status for Ukraine.

Addressing a Parliament of wannabe Churchills, Volodymyr Zelensky embodied  the real thing
Volodymyr Zelensky speech: Ukrainian President vows to fight Russians in ‘forests, fields and on shores’ as he channels Winston Churchill

“Russia’s chief ideological weapon, namely the assertion that Europe is unable to unite, needs to be knocked out of its hands. Granting Ukraine EU candidate status would prove that the European community is real and that its values do work and are not just empty words in a few documents.”

Ukraine’s leader also spoke in connection to the Czech Republic’s plans to play an active role in ensuring that the EU helps rebuild Ukraine after the war.

“I believe that the Czech Republic will be one of the leaders in contributing to the economic and infrastructural rebuilding of Ukraine. It will also be a good opportunity for Europe to show its technological, institutional, and creative strength. Furthermore, we need to ensure that Ukraine’s national recovery plan and Europe’s recovery plan are fully synchronized. I also ask you to take part in rebuilding Ukraine on a national level as well, for example by assuming patronage over one of the regions or cities that have been impacted by Russia’s aggression.”

President Zelensky’s speech was preceded by speeches from the speakers of both chambers of the Czech Parliament, as well as Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who stated that Russia has been systematically undermining Ukraine for years and that the Kremlin’s invasion of the country has already claimed the lives of two Czechs (an independent aid worker and a volunteer in Ukraine’s armed forces).

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the Czech Republic has been a significant supplier of military and humanitarian help in relation to its size. This assistance has come not only from the state but also from the general population, whose donations have broken prior records.

Close to 400,000 Ukrainian refugees have received support in Czechia since the conflict started, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský.

Czech foreign minister unveils priorities for EU presidency

Czech foreign minister unveils priorities for EU presidency

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsk detailed his ministry’s priorities for the Czech Republic’s impending EU Presidency. He emphasized the importance of continuing to assist Ukraine, strengthening the EU’s military and security mechanisms, and promoting democratic institutions and the rule of law.

The Czech foreign minister stated that his country is prepared to take on the challenge of leading the EU Council during a volatile moment produced by Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as to respond to the needs posed by the increased security threat. He stated that the country’s primary policy priority would be to assist Ukraine in any manner possible in defending itself against the savage onslaught.

“The Czech Republic will continue to support Ukraine militarily and with material aid and we will continue to strongly back the country’s integrity. Within our presidency role, we will push for Ukraine to receive EU candidate status, address problems linked to the displacement of millions of Ukrainians, and prepare for the country’s post-war reconstruction.”

Minister Lipavsk stated that many of the country’s aims as EU President are tied to enhancing EU security, whether it is energy security, strengthening the country’s defense infrastructure, or cybersecurity at a time when Russia is increasingly fighting a hybrid war against the Western world. He stated that Prague believes that the EU’s eastward enlargement will increase Europe’s stability and security.

“As regards our geographic priorities – in addition to securing candidate status for Ukraine we feel that it is important to continue preparing the ground for the EU’s expansion to the Western Balkans – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made that all the more topical, and also for Moldova and Georgia, which would get it conditionally.”

Office of Czech Government

Although the Czech Republic recognizes the necessity to follow the usual procedure in granting EU membership to new applicants and not take any shortcuts, it believes it is critical to encourage democratic processes in these countries by providing people hope about EU membership chances.

The Indo-Pacific and Sahel areas will be equally significant, according to the Czech foreign minister, with the goal of promoting regional stability, growth, and technical collaboration.

Another major focus of the Czech Presidency will be to promote civil society, democracy, and a free press both inside and beyond the EU.

“The Czech Republic wants to draw on the legacy of Václav Havel in promoting democracy, rule of law, and human rights. This will include support for democratic institutions, civil society, and free media, including, for example, support for independent Russian and Belarusian media.”

Last but not least, the Czech foreign minister emphasized that in order to achieve these aims and counter the Russian threat, Europe must strengthen the transatlantic connection and increase EU-US collaboration in energy security, economic cooperation, and defense.

Czechia is drafting its own version of the US Magnitsky Act

Czechia may soon have its own version of the 2012 US Magnitsky Act, which would allow the country to impose national sanctions on individuals and legal entities who are not on the EU sanctions list for egregious violations of international law. The government may, for example, deny them admission into the nation or seize their assets.

Denis Katsyv is a Russian businessman who is being investigated in the United States for large-scale money laundering. According to American authorities, he carried out his illicit activities through phony firms and Czech banks. His name is not on the EU’s list of sanctioned Russian people, but the Czech government may soon be able to impose national penalties against him under the Czech Magnitsky Act.

The government-proposed bill passed its first reading in the lower chamber on Wednesday and is now being examined by the Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs and constitutional law committees.

On Wednesday, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky defended the need for such legislation in the lower house:

“This is a perfectly legitimate legal tool which will give the authorities the possibility to respond to such cases quickly –not just to point them out, but to take unilateral action against such people and companies.”

Denis Katsyv is not an outlier. Only a few Russian entrepreneurs engaged in this country are on the EU sanctions list. Despite this, figures show that over 12,000 Russian-owned firms operate on Czech soil, many of which are not physically present and instead conduct financial operations from third countries.

Czechia will be able to “impose sanctions against individuals in the interest of national security, protection of fundamental human rights, and combating terrorism” under the proposed bill. The measure should also lay the groundwork for the Czech Republic’s initiative to include firms on the EU sanctions list.

The government had hoped to pass such legislation by the end of next year, but Russian intervention in Ukraine has highlighted the urgency of action. However, due to the international situation, its effort to have the law adopted in a fast-track mechanism was blocked by the opposing parties.

“We are ready to support this bill, but we want to have a part in it. We want to table our own proposals and help make it better.”

Alena Schillerová, deputy chair of the opposition ANO party, emphasized that the veto was not a political protest.

Similar legislation is already in place in France, the Netherlands, Latvia, and Estonia, and its passage in these countries appears to be a question of time.

Former Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš to face trial on fraud charges 

Allegations involve a farm that received subsidies after its ownership was transferred to Babiš-owned Agrofert

Former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babi will stand trial after being indicted in a European Union subsidy fraud case.

The Czech parliament had earlier voted to remove Babi’s immunity, prompting the public prosecutor in Prague to charge the populist billionaire.

Babi is suspected of misusing €2 million in EU funds allocated for small and medium-sized businesses to fund one of his own businesses. Czech police have long demanded that Babi be charged.

The former Prime Minister has always disputed the charges, calling them “politically motivated” and “absurd. In the past or in politics, I’ve never done anything criminal,” Babis said. “I’ll prove it in court.”

The case has now been transferred to Prague’s Municipal Court, according to prosecutors. According to a statement, another defendant has been charged in the fraud case.

One of the suspects, according to a representative for the Prague prosecutor’s office, “committed the crime of subsidy fraud and harmed the financial interests of the European Union.” The other suspect was a co-conspirator.

The charges center on the Stork’s Nest farm, which was passed down to Babi’s family from a food industry empire he founded, which included roughly 250 enterprises. Later, after receiving EU subsidies, the farm was repurchased by the corporation Agrofert.

Last year, as part of the Pandora papers, the Guardian revealed the convoluted offshore structure that Babiš had used in 2009 to finance the purchase of a £13m mansion in the south of France.

The original source of those particular funds was unknown, however, as is why Babiš chose such a complicated structure to finance a purchase he could have made directly.

The arrangements did not offer Babiš any obvious tax benefit, experts said. One Czech tax expert said: “[It] looks like a complicated structure to hide ownership of the companies or property.”

Babiš’ ANO political movement lost the election. A coalition of five parties formed a new government, and ANO ended up in opposition.

Babi’s immunity from prosecution in the case, which dates back to 2007, has been lifted twice by Czech lawmakers. Babiš led the Czech government for just one term in office between 2017 and 2021, before losing last year’s parliamentary election.

The 67-year-old could still stand in the country’s next presidential elections, scheduled for January 2023.

For Keir Starmer, the Holocaust Memorial is Merely a Selfie Background

German Jewish leaders have launched a blistering attack on Sir Keir Starmer, demanding that he apologise after he “erased the Holocaust” and “scored cheap political points” on his recent visit to Berlin.

The Labour leader sparked controversy after he appeared in a party political video filmed with the backdrop of the German capital’s Holocaust memorial while listing Labour’s achievements.

He was criticised for using the site for his own purposes while failing to mention the Shoah, something that is particularly frowned upon in the country.

Now he finds himself under renewed pressure as German Jewish figures launch a powerful broadside against the Labour leader.

Nicholas Potter from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which fights antisemitism in Germany, told the JC: “Starmer should apologise and listen to the criticism that people in the Jewish community are making if Labour wants to make good on his promise to follow on from the Corbyn years in a positive way.

“Appropriating a memorial for the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah as a backdrop for an election campaign video is tasteless enough. That the video fails to even mention the horrors of National Socialism is a serious misstep from a party that, given its recent history, simply needs to do better when it comes to fighting antisemitism and regaining the trust of the Jewish community.

“Starmer is posing in front of the memory of Europe’s murdered Jewry in order to score cheap political points, while failing to address not just the murderous legacy of fascism, but also the very alarming resurgence of antisemitism across Europe.”

Sigmount Königsberg, the Commissioner for Antisemitism for the Berlin Jewish Community, added: “UK Labour eliminated the Shoah. Keir Starmer made the Holocaust Memorial just a meaningless backdrop. It added to the sense that Jews are only extras in the memorial theatre in Germany.”

And Volker Beck of Tikvah, an organisation that combats Jew-hate, said: “Kier Starmer needs self-reflection. It’s not just in Germany where you are supposed to respect these places.

“It’s noticeable that someone from the British Labour Party goes to the memorial and doesn’t pay appropriate respect.

“He also wrote an empty statement in the Holocaust book, which was made into a statement about global social injustice.

“He knows why they were killed. Antisemitism is not just a fight for social justice and a good world. Where is the remembrance of the victimhood of six million murdered European Jews?

“What many don’t recognise is that for the Nazis and fascists, antisemitism was defining. They didn’t agree on anything completely, other than that. Hate for Jews was what they had in common.

“Starmer doesn’t understand antisemitism if he thinks it’s just another form of prejudice like homophobia. If you don’t understand that, you are helpless in the fight against it.”

In the video, Starmer and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy are seen walking through the memorial to the victims of the Nazi genocide in choreographed shots immediately after referencing the war in Ukraine.

Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish former Labour MP, veteran anti-racism campaigner and now chief executive of Index on Censorship came to Starmer’s defence, tweeting: “Keir Starmer has a proud record in fighting antisemitism. He visited the Holocaust memorial and spoke about it at the time.

“This attack is not only wrong, but completely disingenuous and deeply unfair. And attempts to politicise something that simply shouldn’t be.”

STAN Calls on Racist Mayor to Drop Out of Race

The “Mayors and Independents” (STAN) movement in the Czech Republic has called on the Mayor of Poděbrady, Jaroslav Červinka to withdraw as a candidate in the local elections this September because of racist remarks he recently made. During a local assembly meeting, Červinka indicated his support for the idea that Romani people should be shot dead.  

“We have adopted a resolution calling on Mr Červinka to withdraw his candidacy,” Marek Michl, chair of the Nymburk district cell of the STAN movement, told news server iDNES.cz. According to a statement yesterday by the national chair of STAN, Vít Rakušan, published by news server Romea.cz, he too will advocate for the mayor of Poděbrady to withdraw his candidacy.    

“Our party is based on subsidiarity. I am waiting for the local cell to call on the mayor to withdraw from the candidate list and as chair, in accordance with our procedures and statutes, I will also be advocating for that result,” Rakušan posted yesterday in response to an open letter from Jaroslav Miko, founder of the civil society initiative Czechs Are Helping (Češi pomáhají) and a member of the Czechoslovak Romani Union (Československá romská unie).

Just like the RomanoNet umbrella organization of pro-Romani and Romani NGOs, Miko called for Červinka to be removed as a candidate. RomanoNet is also filing a criminal report against the mayor over his remarks. 

Both non-Romani and Romani people also began signing an online petition with that same aim launched by the Romani activist Jan Houška. Renáta Erzsébet Németh, who is an assistant to Rakušan in the Chamber of Deputies, where he is a legislator in addition to serving as First Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, said in a debate on Twitter that the board of the STAN movement will also address the issue of Červinka’s membership in the movement.   

The leadership of the movement had previously just distanced itself from the mayors’ remarks, saying that the matter was closed and that Červinka’s fate would be decided by the electorate. However, crushing criticism of that decision has been voiced, and not just by Romani people.

Červinka told a story during a local assembly meeting in late June about an accident that allegedly happened in 2001, claiming police had not wanted to deal with the incident at the time because it had allegedly been caused by dogs who were allegedly owned by a Romani man. “I may be one of just a few mayors, or the only mayor, to have been officially reprimanded long ago by the head of the district office for being a racist. I decidedly do not support inadaptables and that reprimand back then was pretty much just a big joke, because I did what I did in front of a member of the Police of the Czech Republic when a traffic accident was being dealt with that had been caused by dogs owned by one of our Romani fellow-citizens. I showed up, identified the owner, and the police backed away, saying they did not want to address it because a Romani man was involved, and I then said my memorable sentence that it would be better to shoot them. The cop told me that they should not be shot, that the dogs could not help themselves, and I said I didn’t mean it was the dogs who should be shot. That was a Friday afternoon. On Monday I was at the police station making a statement about my tendencies to racism and wanting to shoot our fellow-citizens, but that’s not absolutely how it was, it was that I wanted it solved, I don’t want to have to put up with such things. Clutter, dirt,” the mayor said during the local assembly meeting. 

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Klára Laurenčíková Šimáčková called the mayor’s remarks unacceptable. Ivan Bartoš, chair of the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic who is also Deputy Prime Minister for Digitisation and Minister of Regional Development, tweeted that the STAN movement should remove the mayor from the candidate list “like garbage” and added a pictogram of a Nazi swastika being thrown into a trash can.   

The mayor reminisced about the episode while responding to local citizens’ complaints about what they described as their poor coexistence with a family of Romani origin. In an interview for Deník N, he apologized and later published an apology to Facebook.

Second Covid-19 Boosters Approved to Protect Vulnerable Population

A second booster vaccine against COVID-19, effectively a fourth jab, is being made available to all adults in the Czech Republic from Monday.

During an announcement on Monday in Prague, the Health Ministry said the booster can be obtained from doctors or hospitals without pre-registering, under conditions only that the third jab was administered at least four months earlier.

Anyone seen as being at risk, and those older than 60 are being urgently advised to avail themselves of the additional jab, Health Minister Vlastimil Valek said. He stressed that having the vaccination was entirely voluntary.

Two EU agencies, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency, last week urged member states to take this step.

Infections have recently been rising in the Czech Republic, with the seven-day incidence reaching 101 per 100,000 on Monday.

Restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic were lifted in May.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said recently that new measures were currently seen as unnecessary, as hospitals were not currently threatened with overload.

Since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago, 40,355 people have died from or with the virus, in a population of more than 10.5 million.

Zeman To Appoint Fiala Prime Minister On Sunday

President Milos Zeman should appoint ODS chairman Petr Fiala prime minister on Sunday, even though the president is infected with coronavirus. Prague Castle is still preparing the ceremony, the director of the presidential office Vratislav Mynář wants to consult with Zeman after his return from the Central Military Hospital (ÚVN) to the chateau in Lány. Chief Hygienist Pavla Svrčinová stated that everyone infected with coronavirus must remain in isolation for 14 days.

The president was transferred to ÚVN on Thursday after the infection proved. Zeman, according to the hospital, has no symptoms of covid-19, has received monoclonal antibodies that protect the infected from the severe course of the disease. The president should be transferred from the hospital to Lány on Saturday at 16:00, said the resigned prime minister Andrej Babiš (YES). Zeman was originally scheduled to appoint Fiala prime minister this afternoon, and was released from the ÚVN after more than 40 days on Thursday morning. However, he canceled today’s program due to renewed hospitalization.

Mynář spoke to Svrčinová today, he told ČTK. She told him that the infected person must remain in solitary confinement for 14 days, and that the president could not get an exception, and would consider it a bad signal to the public. According to the Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch (for YES), Fiala cannot be appointed in personal contact with Zeman. “The opinion of the ministry cannot be different. The methodology is valid and we cannot say that only for someone and not for someone,” he told reporters. He added that there is a general risk of criminal liability for intentional breaches of isolation.

Prague Castle announced today that the appointment of Fiala as Prime Minister will take place on Sunday at 11:00 at the castle in Lány in compliance with the valid hygienic-epidemiological measures. Fiala told reporters at the press conference that she did not know what the ceremony would look like. It should be specified during today and Saturday, after consulting the Castle with Svrčinová, he added.

The coalition of Spolu (ODS, TOP 09 and KDU-ČSL) and Pirates with STAN is ready to take over the government on December 16, said Fiala. According to him, any move in mid-December would be bad news. Zeman has so far planned to meet all the candidates for ministers gradually over the course of two weeks after the appointment of Fiala as prime minister.

Mynář stated that immediately after finding a possible infection in one worker in Lány, 24 employees of the Office of the President of the Republic were tested, all with a negative result. Today they were on PCR tests, their results are not yet available, he added.

According to ÚVN, Zeman is also vaccinated with the third booster dose of covid-19 vaccine. The data of the Ministry of Health show that after the third dose of the vaccine, 672 people became infected in the Czech Republic, half of them over the age of 65. 87 of them got to the hospitals, 17 needed intensive care. Almost 737,000 people have already undergone revaccination. According to the Czech Vaccine Society, protection rises again to 90 percent after a booster dose.

New COVID Variant Prompts Global Travel Restrictions

Several countries in Asia and Europe today restricted entry to their territory due to a new coronavirus variant, which was announced by the Republic of South Africa (South Africa) on Thursday. The version marked B.1.1.529 carries an extraordinary number of mutations, and could thus be more aggressive than previous variants. In Belgium, meanwhile, the first case of this mutation in Europe has been confirmed. Israel also announced the new variant today. Apart from South Africa, only Botswana and Hong Kong have been detected to date. The World Health Organization has included the new option B.1.1.529 as worrying. The WHO announced this after consultation with experts and assigned it the Greek letter omikron, previously the letter “n” appeared in the media.

Flights from South Africa and several other countries in southern Africa were completely suspended by the Netherlands and France. Italy has banned people who have been to South Africa and six other African countries for the past 14 days from entering Italian territory. Croatia has announced that it will tighten rules for passengers from several South African countries. It will either ban travel completely or order a 14-day quarantine with mandatory testing for newcomers from selected countries. Britain suspended flights from South Africa and some neighboring countries on Thursday.

From Saturday, third-country nationals who have spent more than 12 hours in eight African countries in the last 14 days – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia – will not be able to enter the Czech Republic. All Czechs returning from these countries will have to go into isolation for at least ten days after their return. They will have to submit a negative PCR test before entering the Czech Republic. Upon their return, they must undergo a test within 24 hours and others no earlier than the 10th, and no later than the 14th day after their return.

With effect from Saturday, Germany will consider the Republic of South Africa to be a coronavirus mutation area, making it impossible to travel between Germany and the affected areas. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s head of office, Helge Braun, soon expects a ban on flights to South Africa. The European Commission (EC) is also proposing such a move, as its boss Ursula von der Leyen announced on Twitter today.

Singapore then decided not to allow people who had recently visited South Africa and five other countries to enter the country due to a new coronavirus mutation. Japan will tighten border controls on passengers from South Africa and five other African countries.

Due to a new variant of coronavirus, Israel has issued a travel ban that applies to most African countries, with the exception of those in the north of the continent. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said his country is on the verge of declaring a state of emergency. The Israeli Ministry of Health has announced that it has uncovered the first case of a new mutation in Israel. Infection with this variant was demonstrated in an Israeli who returned from Malawi. The other two people suspected of being infected with this variant are quarantined.

Europe also has the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection B.1.1.529. Today she was found in Belgium , at a patient at a teaching hospital in Leuven. The infected is a young woman who recently visited Egypt and Turkey. According to the media, it seems to have no connection to the Republic of South Africa, which records a more significant spread of a potentially dangerous variant.

Germany reported the highest increase in the number of infected since the beginning of the pandemic. There were 76,414 infected people in the past day. German Health Minister Jens Spahn called for the cancellation of all major events, and Chancellor Merkel called for a reduction in contacts due to the rapid spread of the virus. The German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has announced that it will re-elect its president at a digital convention on January 22 due to the plague.

In Slovakia, the daily increase in new infections fell below 10,000; on Thursday, laboratories in this five-million-strong country found 9,331 new infections with a lower number of completed tests. Slovak Minister of Finance Igor Matovič proposed that the state motivate seniors to be vaccinated against covid-19 with vouchers worth 500 euros (CZK 12,750) for the use of various services.

In Russia, there were 34,690 coronavirus infections and 1,235 covid-19 deaths in the past day. The overall trend of recent days is slightly declining.

Several police officers were injured in the night riots on the French island of Martinique, where people are protesting against coronavirus restrictions. Journalists from several media outlets also became the target of attacks and shootings. Police detained ten people in connection with the violence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that in Africa, only 27 percent of health workers in Africa have completed the 19-covid vaccination.