Education Minister Josef Dobeš has offered a concession on controversial plans to introduce college tuition. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Dobeš said that he would offer to maintain free basic bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes if fees are raised on additional and secondary studies. At present students are offered four and six-year bachelor’s and master’s degree studies for free with the option of extending one year. Under the education minister’s new plan, the first three and five years, respectively, would be covered by the state. Fees for those who study multiple college programmes would increase by ten times, up to 26,000 crowns per year. The original plan called for tuition of up to 10,000 crowns per semester, with the option of student loans. That however has come under heavy criticism from students, the opposition and even the minister’s own Public Affairs party.
Meanwhile, Czech colleges have begun a “Week of Protests” against the plans for higher-education reforms. Thousands of students and academics from all major Czech cities will be organising demonstrations, lectures and theatre to gather support and persuade the government to abandon the reforms, which include the controversial introduction of tuition. Protesters also fear the bills threaten the autonomy of universities in favour of political and economic elites and were prepared hastily.
The executive council of the Civic Democratic Party has decided to select its presidential candidate through party primaries. The council will decide how what form the primaries will take in mid-March and will then begin nominating candidates. Possible candidates mentioned thus far include deputy chairman of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka, chairwoman of the Chamber of Deputies Miroslava Němcová and Euro MP Evžen Tošenovský. Of the major political parties only TOP 09 has chosen a presidential candidate, party chairman Karel Schwarzenberg.
Doctors’ unions meeting to assess the performance of pay rises negotiated with the Health Ministry last year say they will give the government two months to resolve the situation. Insisting that the agreed 10% rise be respected, the unions say they will discuss a protest at their April congress. Early last year, hospital doctors threatened to resign en masse if the ministry did not raise their salaries by 10%. At the end of 2011 however, the health minister reneged on the agreement citing the poor economic situation and promised a 6.25% increase. Since then doctors’ salaries have been raised only in certain state hospitals. Hospitals in various regions are not paying the increases citing a decrease in money from insurance companies. Mr Heger says the hospitals have the money but are unwilling to raise the salaries.
The Czech Helsinki Committee has criticised the judicial response to two, high-profile cases of vandalism. The artist known as Roman Týc began is currently serving a one-month prison sentence for refusing to pay a fine imposed for replacing dozens of figures on pedestrian crossings with various absurd images. Týc paid damages but rejected the fine, saying he had merely set the figures free. In an unrelated, recent case, bus driver Roman Smetana paid damages but refused community service for drawing on about thirty advertisements for political parties. He was sentenced to 100 days in prison by the wife of a major figure of the Civic Democratic Party, which was the only party to press charges. The Czech Helsinki Committee says that the judicial responses in both cases were vastly disproportionate and compared the acts to the famous colouring of a soviet tank pink after the Velvet Revolution.
In related news, supporters of artist Roman Týc have begun a protest event, gluing transparent headless figures on to cross-walk signal lights. The event, called Figures Losing their Heads over Týc, emerged via social networks as a spontaneous reaction to the artist’s jailing; its Facebook page urges supporters to continue showing solidarity and civil disobedience until Týc is released from jail. The figures have also appeared in other Czech cities and, according to the webpage, in France and Russia.
The Anticorruption Endowment has filed criminal charges against the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Jaromír Drábek, on suspicion of public orders made without tenders. The endowment’s chairman, Karel Janeček, says that suppliers for a number of new programmes at the ministry, such as payment information systems, were chosen without tenders and were companies close to the minister and his deputy, against whom they have also brought charges. The organisation adds that the new systems were created in spite of the fact that it would have been more economical to modify the old software. Unions have said the transfer to the new systems was moreover poorly prepared and that the computer system did not work.
Segregation of Romany children at school is not decreasing much, in spite of criticism the country has long faced, Czech Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková told the Czech Press Agency on Monday. The statement came in response to the latest report of the Council of Europe, which states that that too many Romany children are still placed in special schools despite a 2004 law designed to improve the situation. Ms. Šimůnková said social disadvantages are often mistaken as minor mental disorders. She said the strategy against social exclusion the government passed last year, which includes stonger pre-school preparation, must start to be pushed through.
The Czech Republic’s supplies of brown coal will only last for another 18 years, according to the industry research institute. According to the annual report of the Brown Coal Research Institute, the reserves amount to 846 million tonnes amid current mining limits. Another five billion tonnes, equal to the total amount mined in the past, is available but inaccessible due to current restrictions and unprofitability. The amount of brown coal that can be mined under current conditions is running out, which mining companies say will impact smaller consumers – households and heating companies – the most. Ecologists fear that raising limits would lead to a new mining boom, however, and say the consumer impact would be mitigated by restricting export. At present some 83% of the country’s brown coal goes to power plants.
Police have estimated that damage or losses to a jeweller’s robbed at the weekend in Řevnice near Prague are worth around three million crowns. Two unidentified assailants held up the shop on Saturday morning, slightly injuring the owner. They took gold jewellery. The crooks then escaped in a personal vehicle bearing license plates that had been stolen the previous evening. Police have not said whether the owner has been questioned yet. Last year a similar robbery took place at a jeweller’s in the centre of Beroun, also outside of Prague; then, three masked men took jewels worth more than one million crowns.