Prime Minister Petr Nečas defended the government’s pension reform on Tuesday urging more people to join the so-called second pillar, thereby putting part of their pension funds into private insurance companies. He said that in view of the aging population the only alternatives to a pension reform would be to increase taxes or cut pensions by a third. He said the second pillar of the government’s pension insurance scheme was advantageous to approximately half the working population, rather than just high income groups. Czechs have proved wary of putting their money into private insurance companies, with only 31,000 people joining the second pillar in the past four months. The government had hoped to see half a million people join by the end of June.
The police have uncovered close to one million liters of untaxed liquor in storage in a number of warehouses around the country. The tanks of alcohol had been cemented underground in order to escape inspections relating to the methanol scandal which broke out last year. Several people from an unspecified firm have been detained for questioning. The loss in taxes is estimated at 300 million crowns. The police’s organized crime squad is on the case.
The town of Kladno is to get 1.5 million crowns in compensation from Vaclav Havel Airport for excessive noise pollution over the summer. Maintenance work on the airport’s main runway has necessitated the use of alternate runways meaning that between now and September planes will be flying at low altitudes over densely inhabited areas. The Kladno authorities have said they will use the money for road maintenance.
Cyprus is reportedly planning to close down four of its embassies, including its embassy in Prague, within the framework of tough austerity measures. It is not clear when the decision will come into force. Greece, also in financial straights, is selling dozens of buildings around Europe and moving its diplomatic missions to cheaper quarters. The move is likewise expected to effect its Prague representation.
The Ombudsman has said he will look into complaints regarding how banks and insurance companies are treating older clients. Apparently some financial institutions are refusing to issue older people credit cards and asking them to pay higher health insurance on trips abroad purely on the grounds of age. The Ombudsman’s Office is planning a survey of 45 banks and 52 insurance companies to get an overview of the situation. The results should be known in August.
Civic Democrat councilors are holding an emergency meeting on the crisis at Prague City Hall. The future of the city’s administration lies in the balance after TOP 09 pulled out of the coalition and is demanding the lion’s share of powers in local government. TOP 09 is pushing for a new coalition agreement with the Civic Democrats under which it would get seven seats on the eleven member council and the post of mayor. The party has been increasingly critical of overpriced city projects such as the Blanka tunnel or Opencard and in future wants to oversee key areas such as public transport, property and financing. It has offered its right wing coalition partner just four council seats and made it clear that if the offer is rejected it would approach the Social Democrats or seek support for a broad coalition. The Civic Democrats have said they are not prepared to relinquish the post of mayor.
A group of MPs across the political spectrum are preparing an amendment to the law which would allow registered homosexual couples to adopt their biological children. Civic Democrat deputy Jana Cernochova, one of the authors of the amendment, told the CTK news agency that this was to formalize an existing state of affairs, where children already live with one of their parents in a same-sex registered partnership but cannot be legally adopted. She said the proposed amendment to the law was minimalist in order to give it a better chance of passing through Parliament.
There are growing protests against President Zeman’s decision not to name Martin C. Putna, a widely recognized Catholic intellectual, professor. Seven other professorial candidates are refusing to accept their decrees from the president’s hands and say they will boycott the ceremony in protest. Others have criticized the president’s decision and are awaiting the outcome of a meeting between President Zeman and the rector of Charles University Vaclav Hampl. Under growing public pressure President Zeman on Monday clarified the reason for refusing to name Mr. Putna professor. He said it was due to the wording of a banner that he carried at Prague’s Gay Pride parade two years ago which did not correspond to his notion of how a university professor should appear in public. The president is to give a press conference on the issue on Wednesday.
Czech-born New Zealand artist Mirek Smíšek died on Sunday aged 88. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1925 Mirek Smíšek forged a successful career in New Zealand since arriving there in 1951. He was an internationally respected potter who specialized in salt-glazed stoneware and porcelain. For close to a year he dropped all his other work to make about 700 pieces for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
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“Einstein in Bohemia” – Part II: how alienation in ‘half-barbaric’ Prague led him to a new theory of gravity, eventual love of a free Czechoslovakia
“Einstein in Bohemia” – part 1: how a Prague sojourn sparked his theory of general relativity, journey of self-discovery