Czech university students have launched another week of protest actions against the government’s reforms, including the introduction of enrolment fees at universities. Meetings and lectures about the impact of the government’s reform plans will be held in universities around the country. On Saturday, April 21st students will join a nation-wide trade union protest demonstration in Prague. The organizers expect some 45,000 people to turn out for the event. The first week of student protests against the government’s reforms took place in February with a 20,000 strong turnout.
The Transport Ministry has been fined 400,000 crowns by the Office for the Protection of Competition for scrapping a tender without good reason in 2009 and damaging the companies which lost time and money in filing bids. The Transport Ministry scrapped a tender for a project on road safety and education. It put three companies on a short-list but at the last minute decided to give the commission to a fourth party, citing the results of an internal audit. In an effort to avoid problems the ministry broke up the commission into 14 smaller projects.
A tram collided with a tourist bus in Prague’s Karlín district before mid-day on Monday. Five people were lightly injured in the accident; the driver and four tram passengers. Police are investigating the cause of the accident. Tram traffic in the area had to be rerouted since the tram derailed in the crash.
The vast majority of Czechs believe that foreigners who want to settle in the Czech Republic should respect the local way of life and have a basic knowledge of the country’s language, culture and history, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency. About a half of respondents are of the view that foreigners are not perceived as such if they have been living in the Czech Republic for at least ten years, have a good grasp of the language and participate in social activities at their place of residence. Older people are more rigid in how far foreigners should assimilate, with an accent on quiet law-abiding neighbours who hold down a job.
Spanish poet and novelist Juan Goytisolo was awarded the Spiros Vergos prize for Freedom of Expression at the opening ceremony of the Prague Writers’ Festival 2012 on Sunday. Goytisolo, whose father was imprisoned by the Republican government during the Spanish Civil war, lives in self-imposed exile in Marrakech. In his acceptance speech, the Spanish writer dedicated the award to German author Günter Grass, who published a controversial poem on Israel and Iran a few weeks ago and was banned from travelling to Israel as a consequence. The Spiros Vergos prize was established in honor of a Greek poet, diplomat and journalist who was a great friend of the festival and directed it in 2005. He died in Prague in May 2007.
Convicted former transport minister Vít Bárta will not resign as a member of parliament. Mr Bárta was found guilty on Friday of attempting to constrain party MPs with offers of personal loans and received an 18-month suspended sentence. Prime Minister Petr Nečas and other politicians have called on Bárta to give up his parliamentary mandate. However, Bárta told TV Nova on Saturday that he would not step down until his appeals proceedings were complete. Following the verdict the unofficial party leader gave up his chairmanship of Public Affairs’ club of MPs and discontinued his party membership. MP Jaroslav Škárka, who was sentenced to three-years’ imprisonment for perjury in the same trial, also told Nova that he would not give up his mandate but had resigned from a lower house commission.
Vít Bárta also announced that he would be running for governor in regional elections in Plzeň in the autumn. In a debate programme on Czech Television Mr Bárta said he would try to clear his name by competing with the leaders of the Civic Democrats in Plzeň, Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil and Roman Jurečko, who he believes attempted a coup in Public Affairs one year ago. He said that he wants to continue his work in politics but remain outside of the party he effectively led, so as not to be a burden on it. He has yet to decide whether he will remain a member of the Public Affairs’ club of MPs.
Politicians from across the political spectrum have criticised Mr Bárta’s decision not only to remain in parliament but to run for office. Karolína Peake, a leading member of Mr Bárta’s own Public Affairs party, said it was an "unexpected and likely unfortunate idea”, adding that he should focus on his appeals process. Miroslav Kalousek of the TOP 09 party said the decision was an unpleasant surprise and that his party was not interested in Mr Bárta’s support. Communist leader Vojtěch Filip said Bárta had not kept his word does not want to give up the possibility of controlling the party he had created as an entrepreneurial project. Before the verdict Mr Bárta said that he would leave “high politics” if convicted; on Sunday he said that the position of MP does not fall under that category.
Former Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolánek has called on party members to stand up against concessions that veer from the party’s platform. In a letter to members the former prime minister criticised the party’s current leadership for accepting a seven percent tax increase on those making more than 100,000 a month, which he said was the flagship tax of all leftist, “neo-communist” movements. He added that the party offered nothing, did not have a comprehensible platform, upheld neither freedom nor capitalism and had lost and would continue to lose voters. He also criticised the party for not standing up for former Prague mayor Pavel Bém and ex-environment minister Pavel Drobil, both of whom were involved in wiretapping scandals.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says no further drastic measures will be needed if the Czech economy develops according to his current economic forecast. The Finance Ministry expects a 0.2% rise in GDP this year; for next year it has lowered its growth estimate to 1.3% from the 1.6% forecast in January. The government has frozen budget spending for almost 24 billion this year through higher VAT and lower growth in pensions with the aim of keeping the state budget deficit 105 billion and the public budget deficit at 3.5% of GDP. However, unexpected developments on financial markets could provoke the need for further fiscal measures, the Finance Minister noted.