Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Work Permit Time...Again

On Tuesday, I had a meeting to sort out the renewal of my Czech work permit.  In order to apply for a new two-year permit, I had to submit:
  1. A copy of my previous work permit
  2. A copy of my passport ID page
  3. A copy of my Czech biometric ID card
  4. A passport-sized photograph
  5. A signed power of attorney for the Bureau of Labor
The one thing that they didn't require was the nostrification of my diploma and transcripts.  I was told last year that having the nostrification would be mandatory for all non-EU citizens when applying for, or renewing, a Czech work permit.  Well apparently the rules changed.  Now it is only necessary when applying for a new work permit.  Since I am renewing an existing work permit, the nostrification is not necessary.

I'm really glad that I was notified about this change.  I gave up an entire day of my vacation in Atlanta just running back and forth between the University and the court house to get the apostille needed in order to apply for nostrification.  And poor Steven had to drive me back and forth across town to get it done.

Since I have everything ready for nostification I was advised to go ahead and do it even though I don't need it.  The reason was that "you never know when the rules will change again".  That's comforting.

I received my first work permit when I was still in the USA.  It was valid for two years.  In 2011, I received my second work permit.  It too was good for two years.  This new one will hopefully be the last one I ever have to apply for.  This permit will last until 2015.  However, I will be eligible to apply for permanent residency in 2014.  Getting permanent residency is not the same thing as getting citizenship.  And I will not give up my American passport.  Having permanent residency doesn't even mean that I will live here forever.  But the big benefit for me will be that with permanent residency I will never again have to apply for a work permit or a new long-term visa. 

So here's to applying for, hopefully, my last Czech work permit.  I should have it in about 30 days.  In the meantime, now I also have to start gathering all of the documents needed in order to apply for my last long-term visa.

Note:  It's now the end of March and I still don't have my new work permit.  Apparently, there is some delay and the Czech government is way behind.  I'm told that it should be ready within another week or two.

Note:  I finally received my work permit on April 10th.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

New Czech President-Elect

The run-off vote for the 1st direct presidential election is complete and Czech Republic has a new president.  Miloš Zeman took 54.18% of the vote to beat Karel Schwarzenberg's 45.19%,  Polls were open Friday and Saturday and there was a 59.11% voter turnout.

President-elect Zeman will take office in March at the start of his five-year term.  The Czech president doesn't have a lot of executive power.  The president represents the ČR internationally.  After a general election, the president has the power to pick the prime minister and to make appointments to the board of the Central Bank.  The president also appoints judges to the Constitutional Court, with the approval from the Upper House of Parliament.

I think that people realized it was going to be an interesting election when Karel Schwarzenberg's own vote was thrown out because he didn't cast his ballot properly.

I had to laugh when I saw what one of my mates wrote as his Facebook status...

"New President has been elected - luckily it was the hard drinking chain smoking ex commie that was as opposed to the gout ridden, geriatric Austrian ;) Hurrah for democracy in ze Ost bloc!"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Consulate in Brno

Philippine Consulate in Brno
Last week, the Philippines opened a new consulate in Brno.  The new consulate's role is to support the Philippine embassy's promotion of trade, investment and tourism to Moravia.

There are official consulates here for Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia.  Brno also has honorary consulates representing Angola, Belarus, El Salvador, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Morocco, Moldova, Georgia, Laos, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Tanzania, Turkey, and Austria.

An embassy is a permanent diplomatic mission and the person in charge is the ambassador.  Embassies are normally located in a foreign country's capital city.

Russian Consulate in Brno
A consulate is kind of like a junior embassy.  Consulates are located outside of capital cities and the person in charge is the consul-general.  Consulates handle things such as fostering regional trade relationships, issuing of visas and take care of tourists and expats.

American Embassy in Prague
There is no American consulate in Brno.  The US Embassy in Prague is 116 miles away.  However the American embassies in Austria and Slovakia are actually closer.  The embassy in Vienna is only 69 miles away while the embassy in Bratislava is just 76 miles away.  There is a consulate in Krakow and another embassy in Budapest (161 and 162 miles away respectively).

EDIT:  February 11, 2014 - an honorary Finnish consulate opens in Brno.

EDIT:  July 2017 - Italy opened an official consulate in Brno.

Update 2022:  The Russian consulate was closed due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

Update 2022:  Back in 2020, the Centre for Experimental Theatre opened an Embassy of Independent Belarusian Culture

Saturday, January 19, 2013

DVD Regions

Watching DVDs is a great way to practice a foreign language.  For this, DVDs over here are better than the DVDs back home.  For example, an American DVD will be in English.  It may or may not offer the movie dubbed in to Spanish.  It will probably have subtitles available in Spanish and maybe in French.  Whereas I recently purchased a DVD over here and the movie was in English but had dubbing available in Czech, Slovak, and German.  The subtitles available are in Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, French, German, Spanish and Italian.  You can always find discount DVDs here for only 50 Kč ($2.50). 

All DVDs are region coded so that you can't just play them everywhere.  Movie studios like to use region coding to control movie releases.  What may be a summer blockbuster in the USA may not get released in Europe until December.  In this case, the studios don't want anyone to be able to simply watch a foreign DVD when the film hasn't been released locally yet.  The world is broken down in to six regions.

Region 1 is the USA, Canada, Bermuda, and U.S. territories.
Region 2 is for Europe (except Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine), Egypt, Middle East, Japan, South Africa, Greenland, and French territories.
Region 3 is Southeast Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Region 4 is Brazil, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Australia, and  New Zealand.
Region 5 is India, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, North Korea, Central Asia, South Asia, Pakistan and most of Africa.
Region 6 is China.

DVDs may be set up for multi-region play.  For example, the Baltics use both region 2 and region 5 formats.  Some DVDs are set up for every region.  You have to carefully look at the DVD label to see which region it's for.

The reason that the DVD region matters is because DVD players are configured to only work for specific regions.  I would send my nephew some Krteček DVDs but the problem is that they won't work in my sister's DVD player.

Lots of people only watch DVDs on their laptops.  Many laptop DVD drives will only let you switch between regions for a fixed number of times, usually five times, and then they become permanently locked.  Luckily my Czech laptop has a multi-region player so I can watch my European DVDs as well as the few hundred American DVDs I brought with me when I moved here.  While I was back in Arizona last year, I managed to find a little portable multi-region travel DVD player for only $50 (€40).  It too can play all of my DVDs.  I just have to use a European adapter so that I can plug it in to the wall over here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013 Round One Election Results

Well the first direct elections for the Czech presidency have come and gone.  Since no one won with more than 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off election on January 25th and 26th for the top two finishers.

In the first round, former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman won 24.21% and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg won 23.4%.

Former Prime Minister Jan Fischer led the polls back in November but finished in third place, and out of the second round, with only 16.35% of the vote.  "Avatar" came in fifth place.

There were 8,435,522 registered voters and voter turn out was 61.31%.

The Czech President serves a five-year term and represents the country internationally and appoints candidates to the constitutional court and to the central bank.  However, there is not much day-to-day power.  That belongs to the prime minister.

Schwarzenburg is a 75-year old titled prince.  As a native German speaker his Czech is sometimes a bit rustic and he can't properly pronounce Ř.  However, he is very popular with young, urban voters.  I've already noticed these flyers out on Facebook to go vote for Karel in the next round.

Friday, January 11, 2013

1st Czech Presidential Election

Today, Czechs go to the polls to elect a new president.  This is the first time ever.  Previously, the president was chosen by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate because it was thought that the popularly elected president might weaken a government led by the prime minister.  The Czech President serves for a 5-year term.  The current president is Václav Klaus and he has to step down because he is finishing his second term and a third term is not permitted.

Czech President's Flag
Twenty people tried to get on the ballot but in order to become an official candidate a person needs to get 50,000 signatures or be nominate by 20 deputies or 10 senators.  Nine people qualified.  Czechs get two days to vote, this Friday and Saturday, but if no one gets more than 50% of the vote then there will be a run-off election on January 25-26 between the top two finishers.  Here are the candidates...

Jana Bobošíková is the leader of the Sovereignty party.  She used to be a journalist for Czech TV and was a member of the European parliament.  She is a Euro-skeptic and wants to restore border controls.

Jiří Dienstbier Jr., was born in the USA and holds dual citizenship.  His father was a well-known dissident.  He was a lawyer and is a senator.  He is the Deputy Chairman of the ČSSD, the Czech Social Democratic Party.  He is the youngest of all of the candidates.

Jan Fischer is an independent candidate and one of the favorites.  He was president of the Czech Statistical Office and was the Czech Prime Minister, from May 2009 to June 2010, where he led a caretaker government.  He is pretty much a moderate but is often criticized for being a member of the communist party from 1980 to 1989.  If elected, he would be the world's first popularly-elected Jewish president outside of Israel.

Táňa Fischerová is an independent candidate and a former dissident.  She is an actress, writer, television host and a civic activist.  She was a member of parliament from 2002 to 2006.  

Vladimír Franz graduated from law school but is a painter and opera composer.  He is a professor of dramatic arts in Prague and wants to bring education, culture and tolerance to politics.  He is an independent candidate and is very popular, especially with the youth.  The 53-year old is known for his extensive tattoos which cover 90% of his body, including his face.  His nickname is "Avatar" because in photos he often comes out dark blue.

Zuzana Roithová was a physician and represents the KDU-ČSL, the Christian and Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People's Party.  She was once the Minister of Health and is a former senator.  Currently she is a member of the European Parliament.

Karel Schwarzenberg is the leader of the TOP 09 party and is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  He has served in the Chamber of Deputies and as a senator.  He is a prince.  I don't mean that he is a swell chap, I mean that he is a royal prince.  His full name is Karl Johannes Nepomuk Josef Borbert Friedrich Antonius Wratislaw Mena Fürst zu Schwarzenberg.  After the communists took over in 1948, his family fled the country.  He grew up in Austria but has dual citizenship with CZ and Switzerland.  He returned to Prague in 1990 after the Velvet Revolution.  He is extremely popular and always sports a bow tie.  He is the oldest candidate and, at 75, some people wonder, if elected, how long he would actually be able to serve as President.  He has been known to sleep during parliamentary sessions.  

Přemysl Sobotka was a physician before becoming a politician.  He is the candidate for ODS, the Civic Democratic Party.  ODS was founded by the outgoing president, Václav Klaus, and is the largest conservative political party in the country.

Miloš Zeman is among those with the most experience.  The hard drinking, chain smoking economist was the Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 and led the Social Democratic Party.  He was the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies from 1996 to 1998.  In October 2209, he founded Zemanovci, the Party of Civic Rights.  He is best known for his arrogance and his belligerent rhetoric with political opponents and journalists.

By law, the candidates can spend up to 40 million Kč (~$2.08M) during the first round of elections.  In the event of a run-off, the two top candidates may spend up to 10 million Kč during round two.  Here's a quick video I found out on YouTube about the upcoming elections.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Merry Orthodox Christmas

Most people celebrate Christmas on December 25 as based on the Gregorian calendar which Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar with in 1582.

However, Christians in many Eastern Orthodox countries still observe Christmas using the Julian calendar which puts it on January 7th.

The Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian church, after the Roman Catholic Church, in the world.  There are an estimated 225-300 million followers.  Most of whom are in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, as well as, in the Middle East.

Orthodoxy is by far the largest faith in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus.  There are also large populations in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Orthodox Churches in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania celebrate Christmas on December 25th.  But today is Christmas for all of my friends and colleagues from Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Macedonia and Moldova.  So Merry Christmas!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013 VAT Increase

As of January 1, the VAT (Value Added Tax) has increased again.  It already went up last year but given the current state of the global economy it is increasing again.

The Czech government pushed through a few changes in order to bring public finance deficit to less than 3% of GDP.  Here's what has changed...

The tax on goods and services has been raised 1%.  The new tax on food, medicine, newspapers, books, heating, water and public transportation is now 15%.  There is now a 21% tax on everything else.

The price for electricity will increase, on average, by +2% and the price for natural gas will increase 4%.

For people who have had regulated rent, the 5-year deregulation process has ended, so the rent on around 700,000 flats throughout the country will increase.

People who are self-employed and claim flat tax deductions are no longer eligible for tax breaks for children or for spouses with low incomes.

People who earn more than 100.000 Kč (~$5,000) per month, which is almost 5 times the average salary, will now pay an extra 7% income tax on everything over 100.000 Kč.  I've heard this referred to as a "solidarity increase".

Update:  In 2021 the 7% solidarity tax was eliminated.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Travel Poll Results

Well my first blog travel poll results are in for where I should visit in 2013.  First of all I would like to thank the 164 people who cast their votes.

This was kind of fun letting others have a voice in where I venture off to in this new year.  Next time I will limit people to only a single vote.  However, even with people being able to vote for more than one place I don't think it severely impacted the final results.

So with 61 of 164 votes, I will go to Iceland this year.  I never thought that it would have been such a close race between Iceland and one of the Central Asian "-stans".  Or that Georgia would have come in 5th place.

I may still visit one or more of the other choices sometime this year.  However, the first trip I organize will be to where my loyal readers have decided.  So even though I'm not a fan of cold weather, and Iceland is up near the Arctic Circle, I guess now's time to start sorting out my trip to Reykjavik.

Happy 20th!

Happy 20th Statehood Day to Czech Republic and Slovakia.  On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia's Velvet Divorce saw the establishment of two new countries - Czech Republic and Slovakia.

There is often debate about why the two nations split and if it was the best thing to do.  Would a united Czechoslovakia have been better off today than having two independent countries?  Perhaps a future post is in order about this but, for sure, not today.

The USA is only 236 years old which is nothing compared to some of the places I've seen in Europe.  Heck, I've been in churches that are older than my country.  Now that Czech Republic and Slovakia are 20 years old, the USA doesn't seem quite so young anymore.

Všechno nejlepší Česko!   Všetko najlepšie Slovensko!