The Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, on Tuesday afternoon cancelled the higher taxation of employee benefits, giving in to the demands of transport union leaders that had threatened to go on a nation-wide strike to take place on Thursday. Earlier on Tuesday, Parliament deputies and union leaders discussed a possible amendment to the act on value added tax that would cancel higher taxation of employee benefits. The talks broke up after Civic Democrat deputies, who have a majority in the Senate, confirmed their opposition to the proposed change and said they would block any proposals which would increase the country’s already steep budget deficit. But the prime minister decided to push through a cancellation of the higher taxation, stating he wanted to make sure the country would not be in upheaval before the upcoming general elections in May. It is still possible, however, that the amendment will not pass before the Senate and the union leaders have not yet cancelled Thursday’s nationwide transport strike.
On an official visit to Brussels, Czech Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek harshly criticized the German authorities for harassing Czech drivers with excessive road checks. Increased controls of Czech cars happen most often in neighboring Bavaria, where traffic police are said to specifically pick on Czech drivers and make them undergo lengthy and thorough check-ups. The Czech Interior Ministry recently received eight complaints from Czech drivers, adding to a total of over 100 complaints since 2008. Mr. Topolánek labeled the behavior of the German police as harassment and added that it was in violation of Schengen law to pick on drivers of a certain nationality. The Czech politician demanded an apology from both the Bavarian and German governments and said the controls should immediately cease.
The Czech Republic may participate in a project to modernize Russian Mi-17 helicopters for the Bulgarian and Hungarian armies. Deputy Minister of Defense Jan Fulík told the Czech news agency ČTK about the project at a conference on upgrading military technology that started in Prague on Tuesday. The aim of the conference is to demonstrate that the Czech Republic is not only able to modernize the Russian-made helicopters for other NATO members, but that the country could in the future provide maintenance, repairs and upgrades for all NATO member states. Three Czechs helicopters that were recently sent to Afghanistan feature a unique new protection system. The Czech Republic is willing to offer this technology to other NATO members. The country is also the site of the only company licensed to provide general repair of Mi-17 helicopters.
On Tuesday President Vaclav Klaus opened an exhibition dedicated to one of the co-founders of Czechoslovakia and the country’s first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The exhibition, which marks the 160th anniversary of Masaryk’s birth aims to portray him not just as a great statesman and philosopher, but also to touch upon the human side of the country’s most respected politician ever. On exhibit are photographs, art works and furniture from Masaryk’s home. Prague Castle’s Masaryk library which is usually closed to the public will be open on the weekend.
The executive council of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes is to meet on Tuesday afternoon to discuss controversy surrounding the election of its new director. The council had chosen historian Jiří Pernes to take up the post in mid-February after the former director Pavel Záček had been voted out of office for poor management. After his election, it emerged that Mr. Pernes took evening classes at a Marxist-Leninist institute of higher learning and that the StB, the Czech communist-era secret police, had considered him a potential candidate for collaboration. The news evoked a storm of controversy and the Social Democrats have accused the former director Pavel Záček of using the institute to glean information that could damage his successor.
Prague City Hall has announced that 950 million Czech crowns from EU funds are to go to projects that will improve and develop Prague public transportation. Projects for the construction of new tram lines, wheelchair accessibility in public transport or new bike lanes can be submitted to the city’s EU funds department. The Prague Transport Authority is also eligible for funds. Tram lines especially are in bad need of modernization and the EU funds will help facilitate Prague public transport, Milan Richter, Prague deputy mayor, told journalists. Decisions on which projects will receive funding will be announced this fall.
The German discount grocery chain Lidl saw record sales of 906 million Czech crowns in the fiscal year of 2008/2009, bringing the company’s market share up by 12 percent. Lidl had seen losses of 52.5 million crowns the year before. The chain of grocery stores started operating in the Czech Republic in 2003 and to date, there are 210 locations of the store in the Czech Republic. Nine new outlets opened last year. Lidl is part of the German retail group Schwarz that also owns the hypermarket chain Kaufland.
The director of Colours of Ostrava, a music festival that takes place in Moravia in July, announced the event’s headliners on Tuesday. Amongst them is the Irish group The Cranberries as well as rock icon Iggy Pop, who will perform on the festival’s closing night on Sunday. After a hiatus, The Cranberries are currently on a successful reunion tour. The opening act of the festival will be the Roma band The Gypsy Queens and Kings, who will perform on June 15.
According to data published by the Czech Credit Bureau, 929 Czech companies and individuals filed bankruptcy in the first two months of 2010 alone, an increase of over 120 percent as compared to last year. February saw the highest number of bankruptcies in a single month, with nearly 500 companies and individuals filing bankruptcy. The increase is especially pronounced as far as personal bankruptcies are concerned, with a growth in numbers by 229 percent.
Police in the Moravian town of Zlín have detained a gang of teenagers and men who forged Czech bank notes. Among them were two boys under the age of fifteen who used their parents’ home printer to produce the forged notes. Despite the fact that the two minors committed a serious crime, they will not be persecuted, due to their age. The two other members of the group, aged 32 and 55, face prison sentences of up to eight years.