Outgoing Czech European commissioner and former prime minister Vladimír Špidla has been elected to the governing body of the Party of European Socialists. The election was held at a conference of some 1,000 party delegates which is currently taking place in Prague’s Výstaviště trade fair. On Monday, the party chairman and former Danish PM, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, was re-elected by a strong majority. The Party of European Socialists is an umbrella association of 28 centre-left parties in the European Parliament, represented by the Social Democratic Party in the Czech Republic. It is currently the second strongest group in the European Parliament after the Christian Democrats.
Hundreds of teachers went out into the rainy streets of Prague Tuesday to protest wage cuts planned for in the 2010 budget. As per the proposed budget, state employees’ salaries are to be cut by 4%, entailing a total 3.1-billion-crown cut for education. The teachers’ unions organising the demonstration say they have received promises from the Social Democratic and Communist Parties; the results of their petitioning however will only be apparent when Parliament votes on the budget on Wednesday. The government and the Civic Democratic Party are strongly opposed to any further changes to the proposed budget.
The Prague City Council has appointed natural scientist Miroslav Bobek to head the Prague Zoo. Mr Bobek is currently the editor-in-chief of Czech Radio’s sciences-oriented station Leonardo. As of January 1, 2010, Mr Bobek will be taking up the position from the institution’s director of 12 years, Petr Fejk, who brought the position of Prague Zoo director to the forefront of popular attention, and is now running the Bohemian National Hall in New York City.
The writer Milan Kundera has been awarded the title of honorary citizen in the city of Brno, where he was born. The 50 members of the city council voted unanimously that the title, which is awarded every four years, should go to both the renowned novelist and to the late cardiologist Jan Navratil, who was the first to perform open heart surgery in Czechoslovakia. Brno mayor Roman Onderka said he would be bringing the award to France, as Mr Kundera’s health would not allow him to travel to Brno. Milan Kundera, whose works include “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and “The Joke” among many others, was born in Brno in 1929 and has lived in France since he emigrated there in 1975.
Interest in the Czech Republic in taking on new employees for the coming quarter is at a historic low, according to a poll conducted by the Manpower Labour Market Index. While trends are improving worldwide generally, with 25 of 35 countries showing increased interest in employing, the poll suggests growing pessimism among Czech employers. Nine percent of Czech employers plan layoffs for the first quarter of 2010, a rise of two points since late summer. 87% of employers however foresee no change to their employment numbers. The poll was conducted among 71,000 employers in 35 countries and territories.
23-year-old student Jan Škampa on Monday won the European Poker Tour in Prague, overcoming 585 competitors and winning a total of 17.5 million crowns. This is the first time for a Czech to win the competition that lasted four days. Škampa, who studies economics, told journalists that he is still waiting for the news to sink in and that he does not yet know what he will do with the money.
The region of Central Bohemia has purchased a rare piece of medieval art emanating from the region for a price of 510,000 pounds (17 million crowns). The work, a 15th century miniature depicting silver mining in the Central Bohemian town of Kutná Hora, was auctioned at Sotheby’s for a starting price of 3 million crowns, and the region paid nearly double the price the auction house had originally expected. The governor of Central Bohemia, Social Democrat David Rath, who participated in the bidding, said the final price was roughly the maximum the region had been able to spend.
Unemployment levels in the Czech Republic dropped again for the month of November after brief signs of improvement in the preceding month. As reported by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, 8.6% of the population was without work as of the end of last month, which is an increase of roughly 10,000 individuals compared with October, and a year-on-year increase of 188,610 individuals.
Prague transportation unions are threatening strike once again after taking offence at a Christmas party invitation distributed by the transit authority’s consulting firm, BNV Consulting. The unions are demanding that the transit authority terminate cooperation with BNV by the end of the year and end all of the company’s outsourcing projects. The point of contention is a derisive comic strip shown on the invitations, in which a sacked employee thanks a consultant for still being invited to the party. The threat of a transit strike in Prague was recently averted after the city agreed to the unions’ demand for increased operational funds in November; the unions however have continued to push for other conditions to be met.
On Sunday, TV Nova reported that Prime Minister Jan Fischer had undergone special security training. Members of the Czech police security service division instructed Mr. Fischer, who is the first Czech prime minister to receive such training, in tactics of how to react in the case of a violent attack. The prime minister’s family has been under police protection since spring of this year, after police received information that members of the right wing extremist group White Justice were planning an attack on Mr. Fischer’s son. According to Mr. Fischer, there have been two occasions of serious threats against his family.