The US Embassy in Prague has honoured Šimon Pánek, a Velvet Revolution
student leader and founder of People in Need, one of the largest
humanitarian aid NGOs in the region.
Pánek was presented with the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Prize on International Human Rights Day. The distinction, named after the American-born wife of the first Czechoslovak president, is awarded to personalities for their work in that area.
People in Need (Člověk v tísni) is an internationally recognized Czech humanitarian organisation active in the fields of humanitarian aid, development and education.
Pánek founded the NGO in 1988 by organising a collection to aid victims of a devastating earthquake in Armenia.
Recently, Russia’s Ministry of Justice declared the Czech NGO “undesirable”, effectively banning it from operating in that country.
Over six thousand children in the Czech Republic are currently threatened with a distraint order over unpaid debts, while tens of thousands of young people have debts that they have carried over from their childhood. A new amendment to the Civil Code, set to be debated in the lower house on Monday, aims to prevent minors from falling into debt in the future.
The humanitarian group People in Need has launched an internet application
called Doložkomat (“clauseomat”) which allows borrowers to assess
seizure orders against them.
The application determines whether a clause is valid or illegal due to a non-transparent arbitration clause. If a seizure order is deemed illegal, it generates a petition for halting it.
Daniel Hůle of People in Need said the app could help stop as many as 100,000 illegal seizures. He said about 90 percent of the market for loans with illegal arbitration clauses is represented by four companies: Essox, Home Credit, Cetelem and Komerční banka.
Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was sentenced to twenty years in jail in a political trial after protesting against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has been on a hunger strike in a Russian prison for over three months now. Amidst growing international concern for his health, the Czech NGO People in Need has launched a campaign calling for his release. I asked Zuzana Gruberová of People in Need to tell me more.
A storm is brewing in the Czech government over financial support to NGOs. The prime minister’s ANO party wants to cut state support for NGOs by 3 billion crowns, while its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, are vehemently against the plan. The debate is now focused on which NGOs should have their state support slashed.
Czech hydrogeologist Jiří Šíma is a leading expert in the field of water management. Since the mid-1980s, he has been involved in various water management and environmental projects in Africa, mainly in Ethiopia. He created a series of hydrogeological maps documenting the country’s water resources and has been cooperating on various projects with the Czech Development Agency and the NGO People in Need.
Former student leader in 1989 and longtime head of the NGO People in Need,
Šimon Pánek, gave a somber speech before some 400 attendees at the 23rd
Prague Student Summit on Friday in which he said the the world was growing
increasingly dangerous, that democracy was weakening and globalization
between tyrants was becoming more and more the norm.
He expressed the view that the dominance of European and American influence was waning after 200 years making way for a multipolar world and suggested that authoritarian leaders and dictators were the ones taking advantage.
As an example, he pointed to many meetings between leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, asking students what they thought they talked about.
Mr Pánek was equally grim in his description of political developments on the domestic scene, referencing J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings: "Mordor's power is growing" he said in describing the balance of power in the Czech Republic and the power bloc of the current president and the prime minister in resignation, which, in his view, was "nothing to cheer about".
The NGO head, who spoke after the US ambassador to Prague Stephen B. King and first round presidential candidate Marek Hilšer, said Czechia did not need as many new diplomats and experts as there were students at the summit but rather people who "fought for basic ideals, solidarity, were honorable and defended human rights".
The NGO People in Need is active in more than 30 countries the world over, giving immediate aid in humanitarian crises, helping communities threatened by malnutrition, helping the poor to find a livelihood, fighting violence against women and helping give children an education. One of its successful fundraising projects is Give a Real Gift which motivates thousands of people to think of those less fortunate not only during the Christmas season. I spoke with Jan Svitalek of People in Need and began by asking him to explain the NGO’s Real Gift
It is now twenty-five years since the founding of the Czech charity People in Need, or Člověk v tísni, which operates in several dozen countries around the world providing humanitarian relief, supporting development projects, and educational and human rights programs. In a special program marking the anniversary I am joined in the studio by Jan Mrkvička, who is the head of the NGO’s development and humanitarian relief section.