The Social Democrats agreed on Saturday to call for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government within the next two weeks. Party leader Sobotka is seeking signatures for a special session; even with the support of the Communist Party however the numbers will be stacked against them. Mr Sobotka cited the trial of former transport minister Vít Bárta as an additional reason for a vote of no confidence. Public support in Mr Bárta’s Public Affairs party has evaporated since his corruption scandal began early last year, and critics of the government argue the party no longer has a mandate. The Social Democratic Party has made two unsuccessful no-confidence votes during the current election term, which began in mid-2010.
Meanwhile, 70% of Czechs believe the money that Mr Bárta gave to two of his party’s leading members were intended as bribes, according to a survey carried out by the STEM/MARK agency for Czech Television. Slightly less men than women believed Mr Bárta’s defence, that the money in question was given as personal loans. The corruption trial of Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka adjourned on Friday to study the evidence and will continue in April.
The town of Moravský Krumlov will begin repairing it’s chateau in the summer in a bid to have Alphons Mucha’s Slav Epic returned to his custody. The 20-canvass masterpiece was removed to Prague after a long-running dispute over which city should host the Art Nouveau paintings. The Krumlov town hall is seeking to satisfy the demands of preservationists, namely to upgrade the air conditioning and stabilise the humidity in the castle, in the hopes that the paintings will b e returned after their exhibit in Prague closes in two years. The painter’s family is seeking a permanent home for the works in Prague, but will support their return to Moravský Krumlov if no suitable venue in the capital is created.
Czechs keep more household pets than any country in Europe, according to surveys compiled by the website Novinky.cz. The site claims that half of Czech households have one or more pets, with two million dogs and a million cats in four and a half million households. Conversely, a poll made for an association of German kennels suggests that only 13% of households in Germany have dogs, compared to 38% in France. According to the GfK agency, Czechs spend more than two billion crowns a year on veterinary services and a similar amount on pet food.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has reacted to pressure by students at the Plzeň law faculty and extended the undergraduate programme at the troubled school until 2016. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, he stressed it would be impossible for all 1,800 undergraduate students at the institution to complete their studies elsewhere: the school had been slated to close by October of this year, following a decision by the Czech Accreditation Commission over staffing problems at the school and a lack of vision. The faculty has been dogged by problems since 2009 when it was hit by a scandal involving plagiarism and fast-track degrees. The education minister’s decision brought immediate reaction from Accreditation Commission head Vladimíra Dvořáková, who called it unlawful and confirmed in response the commission will file a legal complaint. Technically the minister was not in a position to counter the earlier decision.
In related news, former education minister and the head of the extra-parliamentary Green Party, Ondřej Liška, filed a criminal complaint against Josef Dobeš, expressing shock over his successor’s steps. Mr Liška said he was stunned over the unlawful manner in which the current education minister had extended accreditation at the faculty to 2016, saying Mr Dobeš had no right to go against the earlier decision by the Accreditation Commission. Minister Dobeš, at a press conference on Friday, said the step was backed-up by legal analysis.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has told the Austrian daily Der Standard he still believes the Czech Republic will eventually sign the European Union’s new fiscal treaty. In the interview, published on Friday, the minister, who is also chairman of the TOP 09 party and a presidential hopeful, reiterated his conviction the country belonged in the EU core and also expressed support for energy reforms meant to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness. Regarding the Czech Republic, he rejected the idea of a referendum on the adoption of the single European currency, saying a promise had been made when joining the EU. He added, however, that his opinion differed from the prime minister’s. Prime Minister Petr Nečas and the foreign minister have clashed on a number of occasions over the fiscal compact; Mr Nečas was the only EU statesman besides British Prime Minister David Cameron not to sign the document. There have been some suggestions the Czech signature could be added later.
More than half of the country‘s town halls, city halls and regional bureaux have unfurled and hung the Tibetan flag a day ahead of the international day of solidarity with the people of Tibet, which was annexed by China in 1959. Andrea Pavlátová a coordinator from the NGO Lungta told the Czech news agency that of 728 bureaux or town halls contacted, 405 had agreed to take part in the Flags for Tibet event while 307 declined. Taking part in the event has become a tradition in parts of the Czech Republic since Žižkov’s city hall in Prague became the first Czech institution to join the international event 17 years ago.
Interior Minister Jan Kubice has said the ministry expects a shortfall of around 1.7 billion crowns in 2012 as a result of government austerity measures. At a press conference in Prague, the minister stressed that although the number was not necessarily definite and would depend on negotiations between within the ruling coalition in March, he did not want any additional cuts to affect police officers or others in the security services. He did suggest that hiring new police officers as sought by police president Petr Lessý (who said he would like to see 1,500 personnel recruited) was not in the cards. Currently there are some 38,900 members of the force in the country but analysis has suggested 40,309 would be ideal
The first round of the trial of leading Public Affairs member and former transport minister Vít Bárta comes to a close on Friday. Over the course of the week six past and present government ministers took the stand to give testimony. Mr Bárta is accused of having given bribes to former members of his party, including Krystina Kočí, who was a top representative. The trial saw a number of revelations this week regarding secret recordings and some emotional moments including one where Mr Bárta came close to tears. A number of high-profile members of Public Affairs, including former interior minister Radek John, have come to Mr Bárta’s defence, suggesting that funds given were only loans. Mr Bárta’s trial will continue in April; if found guilty, he could face up to six years in prison.