Miloslav Vlček of the Social Democrats has resigned as chairman of the
lower house of Parliament and given up his deputy’s post over his
involvement in controversial subsidies and loans. He will not run in
May’s general elections and plans to leave politics altogether. Mr.
Vlček came under intense pressure to resign from his posts after it
emerged that he had persuaded deputies to approve a controversial subsidy
for a close friend and had breached the law by repaying a one million
loan to a friend in cash, a practice outlawed in order to prevent
Deputy chair of the lower house Miroslava Němcová of the Civic Democrats is expected to replace Miloslav Vlček as the head of the lower house.
A convoy of American war jeeps drove through Prague on Friday at the start of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII and the liberation of western Bohemia from the Nazis by the US 3rd army. The largest Czech city General Patton’s men freed in 1945 was Plzen - about 80 kilometres south-west of Prague – where the biggest celebrations with US war veterans are due to take place over the weekend. During the communist years the authorities only credited the Russian army with the country’s liberation from Nazi rule, downplaying the US role in the process.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout on Friday presented the Gratias Agit award to individuals and organizations for promoting the good name of the Czech Republic. This year’s laureates include Nataša Al Radi Cimbálová, a Czech pianist living in Iraq, Czech studies teacher and translator Donka Rousová from Macedonia, Alfred Bauer, a philanthropist from the United States, the former Vatican envoy to Prague, Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, and two French lyceums with Czech studies programmes.
Czech environmentalists have announced the winners of the Oil Guzzler and Green Pearl awards for the most environmentally damaging action and statement of the year. This year's Oil Guzzler prize went to Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Tošovský for his efforts to expand coal mining in north Bohemia. The minister has been pushing for the limits imposed on coal mining in the region in the 1990s to be increased. This would lead to the destruction of several villages that are located on large brown coal deposits. The Green Pearl Award for the most ludicrous and damaging statement went to the governor of the Usti region Pavel Kouda of the Social Democrats. He told the media he wanted to expand coal mining in the region in order to improve the local culture.
The policy programmes of the two main rivals in May’s general elections, the Civic and Social Democrats, would lead to approximately the same public finance deficit, according to an analysis by the business daily Hospodarské noviny. The paper says that while the Social Democrats would achieve that result by generous social handouts, the Civic Democrats would be hampered by their promise not to raise taxes. Both would lower public spending by between 15 and 16 billion crowns. Two smaller newly-established parties, the right-wing TOP O9 and centrist Public Affairs Party would both do better, cutting the deficit by 50 and 19 billion crowns respectively.
President Vaclav Klaus on Friday named 68 new professors in a special ceremony at Prague’s Charles University. On the occasion Education Minister Miroslava Kopicová pointed out that Czech universities were undergoing a confidence crisis triggered by the plagiarism and fast-track-degrees scandal at Plzen’s law faculty. She said that certain disciplines had been damaged by a brain drain to the private sector with school graduates unwilling to commit to academic careers which paid less than they would make elsewhere.
Czech household debt climbed to 993 billion crowns in March of this year, up by 87 billion against February, the Czech National Bank reported on Friday. Meanwhile, the debts of businesses decreased by 7.2 billion on the month and 88 billion on the year to 900 billion crowns. Financial experts say the figures reflect the current state of the economy and unemployment rate. An increasing number of Czechs are proving incapable of re-paying their household debts and banks are now more cautious in granting loans.
Clothing manufacturer Prostějov, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, has laid off 600 workers. The firm, which is 1,6 billion crowns in debt, will now run on 900 employees. The one-time clothing giant, which produced the best quality wear during the communist years, has been hit by a sudden fall in demand which has seen it operate at 30 percent of its capacity. In the first three months of this year it posted a loss of 104 million crowns.
A survey conducted by the polling agency STEM suggests that 63 percent of Czechs are worried about losing their job as a result of the economic crisis. The vast majority of them said they would be willing to work for less if it would help them keep their job, or take a requalification course to work in a different capacity. On the other hand, few would be willing to move to a different part of the country to get employment.
Czech pole vaulter Katerina Badurova, a silver medal winner at the Osaka world athletics championships in 2007, announced her retirement from the sport Friday. The 27-year-old recently suffered damage to internal knee ligaments. A scan which revealed the full extent of her injury prompted her to make the decision. Badurova finished 12th in the Olympic pole vault competition at Athens in 2004, and finished second in the worlds in 2007 with a jump of 4.75 m. She failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games after suffering ruptures to knee ligaments in January of that year.