Canada has started issuing tourist visas at its embassy in Prague, in an effort to alleviate tension over the reintroduction of visas for Czech nationals in mid-July. Ottawa reintroduced visas over the high number of mainly Romany asylum seekers, and since there is no Canadian consulate in the Czech capital Czechs were forced to travel to Vienna for a visa. Czech officials have welcomed the move but said they would continue to push for the re-introduction of visa-free travel between the two countries. The Czech Republic blames Canada’s benevolent asylum system for the flow of refugees and as an EU member state has put pressure on Brussels to effect a reciprocal measure.
The cabinet on Monday unanimously approved a government strategy for Romany integration in the period between 2010 and 2013. The concept was put forward by the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocab and contains guidelines for local administration authorities. The main focus is on creating equal work and education opportunities for the Romany minority and preventing their ghettoization.
The government is reviewing the planned closure of the Czech embassy in Brazil and the Czech consulate in Sydney, Prime Minister Jan Fischer told journalists after Monday’s cabinet meeting. Mr. Fisher said the cabinet needed more time to assess the situation and weigh the options.
The government came under fire earlier this year after announcing plans to close down a number of embassies because of the recession. The embassies slated for closure are in Angola, Zimbabwe, Columbia, Canada and Brazil as well as the Czech consulate in Sydney, Australia. The planned move has evoked a wave of protests from people who would be inconvenienced by the decision and there has also been criticism from the foreign affairs committee in Parliament which said it had not been consulted on the matter.
International ratings agency Standard & Poor's on Monday affirmed the Czech Republic's foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings and said the outlook for the Czech economy was stable. Standard & Poor's said the credit ratings on the Czech Republic are supported by the country's diversified and competitive economy, and moderate though rising government debt burden. The foreign currency rating was kept at A/A-1 and local currency at A+/A-1. The agency warned however that the Czech Republic's main credit problem was “the absence of a political consensus in favour of undertaking deeper fiscal reform” and said it could downgrade its ratings if public finances deteriorate.
The Czech government on Monday approved a scheme to co-subsidize fruits and vegetables for primary school children within a broader effort to combat problems with obesity. According to the results of a European survey Czech children are the ninth fattest on the continent. Experts blame this on below-standard-nutrition in schools and a lack of physical activity. The free fruit-and-veg scheme for school children is voluntary and will be financed in part from EU funds, in part from a 20 million government subsidy. The government is also subsidizing milk for school children, but only about half of the country’s primary schools have requested it.
Teachers at a loss over some kids view that communism was “fine” A team of specialists from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes which cooperates with schools on projects and lectures relating to the country’s communist history said that many teachers they had worked with were at a loss over how to deal with some kids’ belief that communism was “ok” or “fine”. The head of the team, Jaroslav Pinkas said schoolchildren picked up this view from their parents and admitted that teachers were in a difficult position correcting it. He said the team’s advice was to deliver the facts and call on specialists for help. Some schools are inviting communist prisoners to visit classrooms and talk about their past.
An Interior Ministry report says the need to pass a Czech language test has reduced the number of foreigners who apply for permanent residence in the Czech Republic. The report, which was presented to the cabinet on Monday, says that hundreds of applicants who fulfill all the other criteria don’t turn up for the exam because of poor language skills. Since the compulsory language test was introduced a year ago, 3,800 applicants have turned up for it, with an 80 percent success rate. Czech is generally perceived as a very difficult language, especially for people who are not of Slav origin. Examiners say there have been attempts to bribe them and some foreigners even sent a double.
Although the Czech Republic is regarded as one of the most atheistic countries in Europe, an opinion survey conducted by the STEM polling agency suggests that 39 percent of Czechs will attend Christmas mass. Thirty-two percent of the population identify themselves as “believers”, with forty percent of those being older than 60.
The Czech gas company Česká plynarenská will start building a gas pipeline to Austria in the spring, the business weekly Euro wrote in its latest issue out on Monday. The completion of the pipeline, which should be called Mozart, is scheduled for 2013. Česká plynárenská, which imports Norwegian gas to the Czech Republic, wants to build gas storage tanks with a capacity of 400 to 500 million cubic meters and connect them to Austrian gas pipeline West-Austria-Gasleitung owned by the OMV concern.
After a bout of freezing cold weather, which claimed 9 lives in the Czech Republic, day temperatures should gradually climb to a more moderate level of around zero. Night time lows are expected to hover around minus 6 degrees Celsius.