In related news, the president of the Council of Higher Education Institutions Jakub Fischer said on Thursday that universities received less state funding then primary schools: For each secondary school student, the state pays 35,000 Czech crowns per year, while the amount it contributes to higher education amounted to 30,000 annually per student. He added that while the state’s expenses for elementary schools grew by 8 percent over the past three years, the average state contributions to university educations had decreased by three billion crowns, or 12 percent, over the same time period. Mr. Fischer warned of a drop in education standards should cuts to university budgets continue.
The tripartite – government officials, trade unions and employer organizations – on Thursday agreed to introduce a new set of early retirement regulations for all professions. The new early retirement rules take effect next year and are linked to a planned gradual increase in the retirement age to 67 years. Employers were pushing for early retirement schemes to be restricted to people who work in risky or physically demanding professions; however, trade unions and the government opposed this idea. As part of an overhaul in the current pension system, employers will be contributing funds to employees’ early retirement pensions. The tripartite on Thursday also discussed the possible introduction of work contracts with reduced hours, inspired by the German Kurzarbeit, and merging the Prague State Opera with the National Theater.
Despite milder conditions in most regions, snow drifts are still complicating rail traffic in the Czech Republic. A two-meter wall of snow is blocking a railroad connection between the towns of Chomutov and Vejprty in the north of the country. Railroad personnel are removing the snow manually since snow removal equipment is not suitable for the task. The route will be blocked through the weekend.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has announced that his party, coalition member TOP 09, would be pushing for a Czech signature of the EU’s fiscal compact. Mr. Schwarzenberg said that he would try to convince Prime Minister Petr Nečas to change his stand on the issue even after the upcoming EU summit, where the compact is expected to be signed by 25 of the union’s 27 members. According to the Czech news agency ČTK, sources close to the Czech prime minister are expecting that Mr. Nečas will stick to his previous refusal to join the fiscal compact, aimed at establishing tighter fiscal discipline across the EU, at the March 1 summit in Brussels. Ahead of the summit, the Czech government will be discussing the issue. The Czech Republic and the EU were the only two members of the EU to not sign the compact.
Vlastimil Rampula is to take up his post at the head of the High State Attorney’s Office in Prague on Wednesday after the Prague municipal Court ruled his dismissal invalid. Rampula was sacked in July of last year at the instigation of the Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman on suspicion that he was holding up key corruption investigations. The Prague court ruled that his dismissal was not sufficiently justified. The provisional head of the High State Attorney’s Office Stanislav Mecl is to return to his post at the Supreme State Attorney’s Office in Brno.
Students in Prague have started their week of protests against a planned university reform proposed by the Ministry of Education. On Thursday, student protesters held a happening in front of the government’s Lichtenštejn Palace, in which they weighed money and education with an oversize scale to symbolically illustrate their concern that under the new reform, education would take a backseat to the vested financial interests of politicians. The protest, in which some 50 people participated, was titled “We value education”. According to Jan Gruber, a member of the “Week of Protests” student initiative, the proposed government reforms, which include the implementation of controversial high school fees, threaten the autonomy of universities in favor of political and economic elites. This, he argues, will lead to falling standards of education for all. The protesters are seeking that the reform proposals from Education Minister Josef Dobeš are significantly reworked.
The European Commission on Thursday issued a new economic forecast for the Czech Republic. The fresh forecast is significantly worse than the previous one; the Czech economy is expected to stagnate in 2012. In November, the EC had forecast a growth of 0.7 percent of GDP. In addition, the EC said that data from this January indicate that Czech consumers have curbed their spending in the first month of this year, most likely due to the unstable economy as well as redundancies across the labor market. Commenting on the growth forecast, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said on Thursday that the worsened outlook did not come as a surprise since it was basically identical with the Czech finance ministry’s January growth forecast of 0.2 percent for 2012. The EC also adjusted its forecast for the EU and the eurozone; for both, it also expects the economy to stagnate.
Czech tennis player Radek Štěpánek has reached the second round at the Memphis International tennis event. The 33-year old Czech beat the American Bobby Reynolds 6:3 and 6:2. Štěpánek, who ranks 28th in the international ATP list, will be facing the American Ryan Sweeting in the second round. The winner of the event receives an award of 1.15 million US dollars.
A data leak earlier this month that exposed private information relating to roughly 30,000 members of the Civic Democratic (ODS) party may not have peen perpetrated by the hacking group Anonymous after all. This, according to a several police experts working on the case cited by the daily Právo - and despite the fact that Anonymous have claimed responsibility for the hacking. Rather, according to these investigators, the leak may have come from someone working within the political party. Jan Kočí, the Civic Democrats' chief managing officer, has denied these allegations, while the Czech police have made no official comment.
The Czech artist Roman Týc, who is set to begin a one-month prison term
for defacing public property on Friday, according to information from the
police attacked a Prague police officer on Wednesday night. He was charged
with attacking a person in authority; if found guilty, he may face a
sentence of up to four years. Ahead of the start of his controversial
sentence, numerous groups supporting his cause are preparing to protest
incarceration. An unusual satirical petition for sending the imprisoned
artist a cake filled with a device, which he can use to escape prison, has
been launched on the internet. According to Petr Vídeňský, one of the
activists behind the petition, the aim is to pressure the Czech president
to pardon Týc.
Roman Týc, whose real name is David Hons, was dealt the one-month sentence for a 2007 art project, for which defaced fifty traffic lights in Prague by amending the standard red and green figures to show them in situations such as drinking, urinating and being hanged.
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Bertha von Suttner – Prague-born peace campaigner whose ideas on cooperation and disarmament continue to have lasting effect
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Czechia now ahead of Spain in GDP per capita, but still below EU average
Rare Terezín concentration camp artefacts found in attic of private home
Czechs observe day of mourning for pop idol Karel Gott
Thousands pay tribute to deceased national pop icon Karel Gott