Wednesday, January 27, 2021

New Integration Course Requirement

There's now a new requirement in Czechland for foreigners who have been issued long-term residence permits, since 1 January 2021, to complete a four-hour integration course.  

The course covers the rights and obligations that come with residency here as well as Czech culture and values.  The class is conducted in Czech, with interpretation into English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mongolian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian or Vietnamese.  There's no exam but participants receive a certificate when they complete the entire course.  It costs 1500 Kč ($70) and is available at 18 centres across the country.  You have up to one year from receiving your residency permit to complete the course.  The fine for not completing it in time is up to 10.000 Kč ($467).

This is only for third-country nationals as EU citizens are exempt.  It's not required if you are under 15 or over 61 years of age.  Those here on study or investment visas are also exempt.

Aside from this, the education minister has submitted draft legislation that will increase the Czech language requirement for permanent residency from A1 to A2.  When I received my permanent residency back in 2015 I only had to prove A1 level Czech.  This isn't official yet but I think it's for sure coming as there's been talk of raising the level of Czech required for at least the past eight years.  I don't know if they will raise it this year with COVID-19 but for sure by next year.

I was surprised to find out that Czechland and France are the only two EU countries that only require A1 for permanent residency.  I would have thought that the level of language proficiency would have been more unified across Europe but each has its own requirements.

In Czechland, A2 will be required for permanent residency while B1 is required for citizenship.

Germany requires B1 level for either permanent residency or citizenship.

Austria requires B1 for permanent residency and B2 for citizenship.  This means that for Austrian citizenship you need to speak better German than a German citizen.  Albeit Austrian German.

France requires A1 for permanent residency and B1 for citizenship.

Poland requires B1 for both permanent residency and citizenship.

I don't know about permanent residency but Italy requires B1 for citizenship.  The Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain only require A2 for citizenship in Dutch, Portuguese, or Spanish respectively.  Denmark requires B2 for citizenship.

For countries with multiple official langues the rules seem to vary more.  For citizenship in Finland, B1 is required but it can be in either Finnish or Swedish since both are official languages.

Belgium has three official languages so for citizenship you only have to prove A2 in either French, Dutch, or German.

Luxembourg has three official languages - French, German, and Luxembourgish.  But if you want citizenship than only Luxembourgish counts.  You need A2 level speaking and B1 level listening.

Switzerland has four official languages - German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  For permanent residency you need A1 writing and A2 speaking in any one of the four languages.  For citizenship, A2 writing and B1 speaking are required.

I'm still waiting to find out when I get to take my B1 Czech exam.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

2020 Global Peace Index

The 2020 Global Peace Index results are in.  This is the 14th year of the index ranking peacefulness in 163 countries.  This year's index included analysis COVID-19's impact on peace.

This report also looked at the trends of civil unrest over the past ten years.  I was surprised the Europe had the largest number of protests, riots and strikes with almost 1.600 events between 2011 and 2018.  The civil unrest events in Europe were nonviolent 65% of the time.

Overall, Europe maintains its status as the most world's most peaceful region, with 13 of the 20 most peaceful countries.  The Middle East and North Africa was the least peaceful region.

No surprise that Iceland is the world's most peaceful country again since it's been number 1 since 2008.

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Portugal
  4. Austria
  5. Denmark
  6. Canada
  7. Singapore
  8. Czechland
  9. Japan
  10. Switzerland
It's interesting that except for Iceland, 9 of the 10 most peaceful countries all have some of the most powerful passports.

The USA is ranked #122, behind Azerbaijan and ahead of Burkina Faso.

Afghanistan is still the world's least peaceful country, just behind Syria.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

21 January 2021

In just a little bit it will be...

The 21st second...of the 21st minute...of the 21st hour...of the 21st day...of the 21st year...of the 21st century.

The next time this happens is on the 101 years.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Charter 77

A couple of weeks ago, on 6 January, was the 44th anniversary of Charta 77 (Charter 77).  Following the arrest and sentencing of members of the Plastic People of the Universe, a group of artists, writers and intellectuals produced a document that was signed by +240 people.  

Charter 77 criticised the government for failing to provide for human rights provisions which the Czechoslovak government had signed up to including the country's constitution, the Helsinki Accords and UN covenants.   

Charter 77 emphasised that it was an informal open association of people because if it was an organisation for political activity then it would have been against the law as organised opposition was illegal in Czechoslovakia.  

On 6 January, Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík, and Pavel Landovský were detained for trying to deliver the charter to the Federal Assembly.  The original document was confiscated by the authorities.  However, it had been smuggled out of the country and on 7 January it was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, Corriere della Sera, the Times of London and the New York Times.  It was also broadcast to the country by Radio Free Europe.

The communists considered distributing the document as a political crime.  People who had signed the charter were targeted by the StB, the Czechoslovak secret police.  Many were fired from their jobs, their children were not allowed to attend university, some had their drivers' licenses suspended, while others were detained, put on trial and imprisoned.

The government never published the Charter 77 text but described it as anti-state propaganda written by traitors and imperialist agents.  On 28 January the government released its "anti-charter" arguing the government's support of human rights.  The anti-charter was endorsed by the executive committees of the Czechoslovak Writers' Union, Union of Visual Artists, the Composers' Union, the Union of Dramatic Artists, the Federal Union of Architects.  The communists required artists to sign up to the anti-charter, without ever showing them the Charter 77.  Many artists including singer Karel Gott and actor Jan Werich later claimed that they had no idea of what they were signing to, just that they were required to sign it.

People continued to sign Charter 77 and by the Velvet Revolution there were almost 2000 signatures.  The first post communist Czechoslovak parliament were among the original signers including the new president Václav Havel and foreign minister Jiří Dienstbier.   

Here are a few relatively short videos I found on YouTube about Charter 77 and the government's anti-charter.

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Plastic People of the Universe

The Plastic People of the Universe was an underground rock band formed in Prague in 1968 just after the invasion.  The band was inspired by Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground.  

Following the invasion, the overthrow of Alexander Dubček and the end of the Prague Spring, Czechoslovakia instituted "normalisation" which was a return to hard-line communism.  As such, psychedelic rock music wasn't high on the list of communist values so the government revoked the band's license to perform in 1970.  Since they weren't able to perform openly, they basically established an entire underground cultural movement during the 1970s.  I imagine it was a Czechoslovak version of hippies wanting to change the world just as there were similar movements across the world.

In 1976, the band performed at a festival which resulted in their arrest and conviction for the "organised disturbance of the peace".  The band members, and others, were given prison sentences ranging from 8 to 18 months.  The band had no political association but since they were prosecuted by the communist regime it started a number of protests.  Václav Havel and others wrote Charter 77 in response to the arrests and the trial ended up becoming a milestone for human rights against the government.

The band broke up in 1988 however they reunited in 1997 in honour of the 20th anniversary of Charter 77.  Since then they have continued to perform around the world.

Here's a short video that I found on YouTube that shows part of an interview with one of the band's members.

©Radio Free Europe

Friday, January 15, 2021

Bankovní Identita

Bankovní Identita is a new banking identification system that is getting rolled out in Q1 of this year.   

The system will allow you to use your bank's electronic banking security methods to verify your identity.  Just use your Internet banking login details and you will be able to access more than 125 services on-line.

The system will allow people to electronically sign documents and automatically pre-fill forms which will reduce the amount of time people need to actually visit government offices.

People will be able to file taxes, deal with driver's licenses and vehicle registrations, get an extract from the criminal registry and deal with health insurance companies.  The census will be online and available in March.  I swear that anything that helps reduce Czech bureaucracy is a good and welcome thing.  

The Czech Banking Association has a commercial about it that I found on YouTube.  The commercial is a bit abstract in my opinion. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

2021 Passport Power

The new passport rankings are in and Japan now has the world's most powerful passport.  A Japanese passport allows a citizen to travel to 191 countries either visa-free or visa on arrival.  Only 35 destinations require a visa or an e-visa.

Here are the top ten most powerful passports for travel.

  1. Japan
  2. Singapore
  3. Germany, South Korea
  4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain
  5. Austria, Denmark
  6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden
  7. Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, UK, USA
  8. Australia, Czech Republic, Greece, Malta
  9. Canada
  10. Hungary
Last year my American passport was ranked 8th and now it's moved up to 7th place. A U.S. passport will get you in to 185 countries with 41 countries requiring a visa.

A Czech passport allows entry to 184 countries with 42 countries requiring a visa.  The two passports are pretty close but the mix of countries is a bit different.

An American passport gets you in to Australia, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, and Mongolia whereas Czechs must get a visa.  Americans are also eligible for the 3-year visa for Russia which is not available to Czechs.

A Czech passport allows for entry to Iran, Myanmar, and Turkey which Americans must get a visa in order to visit.

One important thing to note is that temporary travel restrictions use to COVID-19 aren't considered which is a good thing because otherwise a U.S. passport would come in around 71st place.

The world's weakest passport is Afghanistan.  This passport allows for travel to only 26 countries without a visa.

Now we just need to get past COVID-19 so that I can take my passport out for a spin.  As well as, work on getting Czech citizenship so that I can have a Czech passport too.

Update: 2022 passport power rankings.
Update: 2023 passport power rankings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Czech Unemployment Rises

Czechland has had very low unemployment and in January 2019 the unemployment rate was 1,9%.  This was the first time ever that an EU country was under 2%. 

Due to COVID-19 it was pretty certain that the unemployment rate would increase.  In November 2020 there was 3,8% unemployment and 4% in December.  This is the highest that it has been since the summer of 2017.

Even with the increase, Czechland still has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October 2020 for Czechland was 3,1%.  For comparison the entire EU rate was 7,6% and it was 8,5% for the Eurozone countries.

Spain had the highest unemployment at 16,2%.  I expected that Greece would have had the highest and it actually may have but the data for Greece wasn't available.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

2021 Labour Code Changes

There are several changes to the Czech labour code which took effect on 1 January.

 An employee's vacation time is now determined by the number of hours worked during a week and not but the number of days worked.  This makes it fairer for employees who work part-time or work irregular shifts.  The law provides for a minimum of 4 weeks (160) hours of vacation time per year for a full-time employee.  While 4 weeks of vacation time is the minimum required under the labour code, many companies actually provide 5 weeks off in order to be competitive.

There's a new shared workplace law that allows an employer to hire two or more part-time employees to fulfil one full-time job.  The employer determines the schedule of working hours and the shared workplace has to be agreed upon will all the employees by a special written agreement.

The amount of worker's compensation benefits have been increased.  The circle of relatives eligible for survivor's benefits have also been extended.  There's now a new one-off compensation in place for non-pecuniary damage in the event of serious health damage to an employee.

Freelancers are now allowed to pay a flat tax instead of monthly contributions.  The 2021 flat tax is 5.469 Kč ($255) per month.  This includes the minimum health insurance contribution of 2.393 Kč and the  2.976 Kč minimum contribution for social security insurance.

The annual taxpayer allowance increases to 27.840 Kč ($1,297).  In 2022 it will increase to 30.840 Kč ($1,437).

The government has done away with the super-gross salary.  Previously, a person's tax base included the social and health insurance contributions made by one's employer.  

The solidarity tax has been eliminated.  This was an extra 7% on all income over 100.000 Kč ($4,660) per month.

Instead there's now a progressive income tax for people of 15% and 23%.  The 23% rate is for people whose income exceeds 48 times the average yearly salary.  For this year that's for people earning 1.701.168 Kč ($79,279).

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Current COVID-19 Situation

The number of COVID-19 cases is pretty much of control here in Czechland.  Last week the country had the world's worst numbers it's not surprising that the current state of emergency, which was supposed to end on 10 January, has now been extended to 22 January.

  • There's still a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am.  
  • Only up to 2 people can meet up in public.
  • Shops are closed.  
  • Grocery stores must limit the number of people inside at a time and they are closed on Sundays.
  • Restaurants are all still closed but take away windows can be open until 9 pm.  
  • Public consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
  • Hotels are closed.
  • On 4 January, first and second graders returned to school.  Other grades are still online.
There are plenty of exceptions though.  Gas stations, pharmacies, pet stores, opticians, dry cleaners, florists, locksmiths, hardware and home goods stores all remain open.

The South Moravian region is now having medical high school students who are in the final year to help out in healthcare facilities.   

From 15 January everyone over 80 can register for the vaccine.  Everyone else in the country can register from 1 February.  A point system based on age, health status, and employment will determine when you get the vaccine.

In February I'm also supposed to be able to register for my new date to take the language and citizenship test since my December test was cancelled.

I guess at this point it's a coin toss which date I'll get first, for my language test or for my COVID-19 vaccine.  We'll see.

Update: The Finance Ministry will now waive income tax for all of the students who are called up to work in hospitals and social facilities. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

SkyUp Airlines Coming to Brno

SkyUp Airlines is a Ukrainian low-cost airline that opened in 2018.  It currently has 11 planes flying to 33 different destinations and soon Brno will be one of them.

The Ukrainian State Aviation Commission approved the airline to begin 7 new routes between Ukraine and Czechland from April 2021.  The airline already had routes to Prague but all flights are currently suspended due to COVID-19.  I'm not so sure that things will be much better by April but let's hope.

The plan is to have flights going from Kyiv to Prague, Pardubice, Ostrava, and Brno.  There will also be flights from Prague to Kharkiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Zaporizhia.

They will also fly from Bratislava to Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv.

Currently, again due to COVID-19, there are no passenger flights right now at the Brno Airport.  

Ryanair permanently cancelled its route between Brno and Bergamo (Milan) last year.  In Spring they should resume regular flights to London Stansted.  I still avoid Ryanair as much as possible because they suck.  The good news is that once SkyUp does actually begin flying to Brno there will be two airlines flying to Brno, even if one of them is Ryanair.

Update March 2021:  Due to COVID-19, SkyUp flights from Brno are delayed until at least June 2021.  Ryanair will resume flights to London Stansted and Bergamo in May 2021.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Post-Brexit EU Trade Deal

Thanks to Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the single customs union.  The UK and the EU did manage to agree on a last minute trade deal right before Christmas.  The impact of which is already starting to be felt and I believe that more problems will continue to pop up as Brexiters begin to realise the implications of voting to leave the EU.

The deal maintains the Good Friday peace deal so there is no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  In order to do this, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods, which means that Northern Ireland has to follow the EU's customs rules.  So now there's a customs border in the Irish Sea which basically separates the UK, between Northern Ireland and England/Scotland/Wales.

All goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland now require a customs declaration, and additional certification on some goods and products, just as it does between the UK and any other EU-member country.

There's no more unlimited freedom to work and live between the UK and the EU.  UK citizens are free to visit Europe but have to follow the Schengen rules which means they can only be in the EU for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.  Any stay over 90 days will require a visa.

Not that there's a whole lot of travel now due to COVID-19 but when arriving in the EU, UK citizens no longer get to use the EU/EEA queues.  They have to use the non-EU citizen queues.

There are now additional customs duties, import fees and VAT when you purchase something online from the UK.  EU consumer protection rules no longer apply to purchases made from the UK.  So I won't be buying anything any longer from  I need to switch to Amazon in Germany

Mail will be more complicated.  Both from the UK to the EU and vice versa.  All customs fees, duties and taxes need to be paid in order to pick up any packages.  Some shipping companies have already increased their fees to cover the cost of the extra paperwork required.

The UK has set new tax rules where taxes must be collected at the point of sale which means that a business in the EU must collect taxes on sales made to UK customers which means a lot of tax headaches because now the EU firm must establish an account with the UK tax authorities and keep up with ever changing UK tax laws.  There are already cases where EU firms are no longer selling goods to UK customers.

I'm still not sure what's going to happen with surcharge-free roaming.  I have no idea what I'll pay to use my mobile whenever I actually make it back to the UK for a visit.

Booze cruises to the wine shops in Calais, France, were popular because there was an unlimited allowance on alcohol.  That comes to an end because now, there's a limit on the amount of alcohol allowed from the EU for personal consumption.  UK citizens can now only take back home up to 42 litres of beer, 18 litres of wine and 4 litres of spirits, plus up to 200 cigarettes.

On top of all of the this the UK still has to settle a £25 billion ($X) divorce bill by 2057.  It will be interesting to see what other unintended headaches pop up as a result of Brexit

Here are a few short videos already showing up on YouTube showing some of the consequences of the post-Brexit trade deals.

©Al Jazeera

©9 News Australia

©Sky News

There was speculation that with the UK out of the EU, that English would no longer be an official EU language.  Every country gets to put up an official language and Ireland chose Irish and Malta chose Maltese so now there's no EU country with English as its official language.  English is the most widely taught foreign language in the EU.  It appears that English will be kept on as an official EU language.


Update:  Here's a short story on Brexit's impact on the music industry.  I never even thought about this one.  What a mess.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Significant Days

The Czech government has 15 days which are designated as významné dny which translates to "significant days."  These are days worth paying attention to but they are not public holidays.  In other words, there's no day off as these are all working days.  

16 January is Jan Palach Remembrance Day.  It commemorates his self-immolation in 1969.

27 January is Holocaust Remembrance Day and the prevention of crimes against humanity.  It remembers the 1945 liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

8 March is International Women's Day.  

9 March is Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Extermination of the Terezín Family Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

12 March is the Day of Accession of the Czech Republic to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  This commemorates the day Czechia joined NATO in 1999.

28 March commemorates the birth date of Jan Amos Komenský in 1592.

7 April is Education Day.  It commemorates the founding of Charles University in Prague in 1348.

5 May remembers the May Uprising of the Czech People which took place in 1945.

15 May is International Family Day.

10 June is the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Extermination of Lidice which took place in 1942.

18 June is the Day of the Heroes of the Second Resistance which commemorates the fight in Prague's Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius that took place in 1942.

27 June is Memorial Day of the Victims of the Communist Regime and pays respect to the 1950 execution of Milada Horáková.

21 August is Remembrace Day for the Victims of the Invasion and Subsequent Occupation by Warsaw Pact Troops.

8 October is Memorial Day of the Falconry.  In 1941 the Nazi Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich issued a decree in 1941 for the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Sokol community.

11 November is War Veterans Day.  It commemorates the end of WWI in 1918.  This is the same as Armistice Day.

Update:  There's now a 16th significant day, the Day of Czechs Abroad.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2021 Public Holidays

The good thing about 2020 was that it was a leap year with 1 January falling on a Wednesday which meant that we got the maximum of 11 out of 13 public holidays off.  The rub was that whilst we had the days off we couldn't go anywhere due to COVID-19.

Since the 1st fell on a Friday this year we only get 9 public holidays this year with only 2 long weekends.

We lose out on any public holidays that fall on a weekend which means that we don't get any days off in May because the 1st and 8th both fall on Saturdays.

Christmas falls on Friday which means that we only get the 24th off because the 25th and 26th fall on Saturday and Sunday.  Even 1 January 2022 falls on a Saturday.

There was talk of getting a new public holiday for 21 August to mark the 1968 invasion but it ended up being designated as a "significant day" rather than a public holiday.

Now we've just got to hold out until April for a four-day weekend.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Velvet Divorce

Happy Czech Independence Day!  Happy Slovak Independence Day too.  It's been 28 years since the Velvet Divorce on 31 December 1992 which let to the breakup of Czechoslovakia.

Following the Velvet Revolution, and the removal of the Communist regime, the country became the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (ČSFR).  So there was a Czech Republic and a Slovak Republic and both were governed by a Federal Assembly in Prague.

In the 1990s, Czechia's GDP was 20% higher than Slovakia's.  I understand that some Czechs felt that the Slovaks had too much say given the size of the population and were weighing them down.  In 1991, Czechia stopped making transfer payments to Slovakia.  Slovaks wanted wanted greater decentralisation while Czechs were happy to maintain control from Prague.

In 1992, Václav Klaus became the Czech Prime Minister and Vladimír Mečiar became the Slovak Prime Minister.  Klaus wanted continued integration while Mečiar was a separatist whose party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), wanted independence.  

At the time, only 37% of Slovaks and 36% of Czechs favoured dissolution of the country.  However, Klaus and Mečiar were unable to agree on how to move forward.  In July 1992 the Slovak Parliament adopted a declaration of independence.  About a week later, Klaus and Mečiar agreed to split up the country without ever putting forward a referendum for people to vote on.  Probably because they knew that a referendum to split up the country would have failed.  Václav Havel was opposed to the split so he resigned because he didn't want to be the President of the broken state.  In November the Federal Assembly agreed on the dissolution of the country effective 31 December.  At midnight there were two new countries.  The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Like in any divorce, the assets needed to be divided.  Most everything, including military equipment, was split two to one in line with the populations of the two countries.  Unlike the break-ups of Yugoslavia and the USSR, this one was smooth.

People living in Czechia became Czech citizens and those living in Slovakia became Slovak citizens.  People then had one year to decide if they wanted to switch or not.  There was a customs union between the two countries that lasted until 2004 when both joined the European Union.  There were border controls between the two until 2007 when they both joined Schengen.

Today only about 46% of Czechs and 44% of Slovaks think that the split was a good thing.