The head of the Czech Doctors’ Union has threatened strike action if doctors’ pay is not raised. Martin Engel told journalists on Monday that if the government did not move towards raising hospital workers’ wages, then the union would discuss staging a national strike, to be held during the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Mr Engel said that Czech hospitals were currently suffering a ‘personnel crisis’ and that staff shortages were putting patients at risk. The union head said that he thought pay-raises were the only feasible solution to the shortage. The health minister, Tomáš Julínek, said recently that he is considering pay-rises for hospital workers, but on the basis of merit alone. Mr Engel wants to see blanket increases in healthcare professionals’ pay.
Best-selling author Milan Kundera has vociferously denied claims that he collaborated with the Communist secret police in the early 1950s. The outspoken critic of communism stands accused of having informed upon Miroslav Dvořáček, leading to the latter’s torture and imprisonment. On Monday, the world-famous author called the claims - made by the magazine Respekt - completely untruthful. Mr Kundera said that he knew nothing of the man he is accused of snitching upon. Police files appear to contradict Mr Kundera’s plea of innocence. The author said that the incriminating documents were ‘a mystery’ to him. Following his arrest, Western agent Miroslav Dvořáček was tortured, and narrowly escaped the death penalty, being sentenced to 22 years of hard labour instead.
Communist prosecutor Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, who was sentenced this year to six years in jail for her role in a notorious Stalinist show trial, has asked for her sentence to be postponed. Ms Brozova-Polednova was to start serving her sentence in a Plzen jail by the end of October. But on Monday, a Prague court spokesperson said that the 86-year-old had put in a request to have her prison sentence put off for six months. Ms Brožová-Polednová was sentenced to six years in prison this September for being an accomplice to the murder of Milada Horáková. Ms Horáková was a democratic politician charged with treason by the communists and executed. The last surviving prosecutor in the case, Ms Brožová-Polednová was found guilty of judicial murder by a judge who said it was unlikely she would spend a day of her sentence in prison. But a further court insisted on her prison sentence and head of state Vaclav Klaus refused her presidential pardon.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that he thinks the current economic crisis will affect the Czech Republic only indirectly. Speaking at a meeting of financial analysts on Monday, Mr Topolánek said that the Czech cabinet and the central bank had ‘sufficient tools’ to maintain trust and stability in the financial sector. The prime minister suggested that the current financial crisis would delay the Czech Republic’s entry into the eurozone, but did not speculate how long the delay would last.
A verdict ordering the Czech state to hand back a Baroque chateau to its pre-war owners has been upheld by a Prague court this Monday. The state confiscated the Koloděje chateau in 1948, but earlier this year was ordered to hand it back to the Kumpera family, who were deemed its rightful owners. The chateau has been used by the Czech state since the 1950s for ceremonial events and meetings, but in January, a court ruled that it had been unfairly confiscated. On Monday this ruling was upheld. Vítězslav Kumpera, who will now inherit the chateau, is locked in further legal battles with Koloděje Town Hall over the property.
Deputy PM Alexandr Vondra has said that the time is not yet right for the EU to resume partnership talks with Russia. Mr Vondra made the statement in a speech to foreign ministers from around the EU in Luxemburg on Monday. The EU suspended strategic partnership talks with Moscow in September, when Russia invaded the breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After Monday’s meeting, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that he shared Mr Vondra’s opinion, and that negotiations with Russia should not be rushed into. Mr Schwarzenberg said that the status of Georgians displaced by the conflict first had to be discussed.
Two thirds of Czechs believe that their savings are safe in spite of the current economic crisis, suggests a poll conducted by the SC&C agency for Mladá fronta Dnes. Analyst Markéta Šichtařová told the paper that Czechs invest less in shares than American savers, and put their money into property instead. She called this strategy sound in the current climate. One half of those polled said that they didn’t think it was necessary to react to the crisis in any particular way, but instead just wait until it blew over. A quarter of respondents said that they didn’t know what they could do to change the current situation.
Deputy PM for Europe Alexandr Vondra has said that the Czech government has adapted its plans for the country’s EU presidency in light of the current global financial crisis. The Czechs take over from the French at the helm of the EU on January 1 next year. Mr Vondra told reporters on Monday that the country’s EU motto would remain the same – ‘Europe without Borders’ - but that the presidency’s focus would shift away from EU enlargement and towards resolving the financial crisis. Mr Vondra told journalists that the Czechs had to be ‘ready for anything’, and suggested that during the Czech presidency, the regulation of banks and other financial institutions would be discussed.
President Václav Klaus said on Monday that he would not fly an EU flag over Prague Castle during the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Mr Klaus refused to fly the flag over the presidential office when the country joined the EU in 2004, explaining his move by saying that the Czech Republic ‘was no EU province’. The president has long been known for his euro-scepticism and vocal opposition to key EU policies. The European Union flag currently flies over the seat of government, and will remain there indefinitely, deputy PM Alexandr Vondra said.
The Prague Stock Exchange started the week well, jumping on Monday by 7.19 percent. The leading PX Index rose to 952 points, after slumping below the 900-point mark last Friday. Shares in developer Orco rose by 18.5 percent and stock in US media group CME gained 17.7 percent. Dealers were expecting new demand after the EU and US central banks took further steps to curb the financial crisis. On Friday, the PX Index closed at a four-year low of 888.5 points after a record 14.94 percent decline.
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