Sunday, February 28, 2021

TV Licence Fee

Last week I received a letter from Czech Television letting me know that I need to pay a TV licence fee.  I do own a television but I use it to watch Netflix, YouTube or AppleTV.  I don't watch Czech TV, I don't have cable or satellite service so what gives?  

Apparently every household that owns a television, whether you use it or not, is required to pay 135 Kč ($6 or €5) a month.  You have the option of paying monthly, quarterly or annually.

The money goes toward funding Czech Television (Česká televize) and Czech Radio (Český rozhlas).  Neither receives any government funding so the money received from licensing helps keep public broadcasting independent from political influence.

Every household is required to pay regardless of how many televisions or radios they own.  Business and the self-employed have to pay a licence fee for each television and radio owned.

Apparently they got my info from my electric provider.  A friend of mine in Prague received the same notification last week so I guess there's a push right now to collect.  TV licensing fees aren't a thing in the USA but they are normal in Europe with each country doing its own thing.  In Germany for example the monthly fee is €17,50 while there's no fee in Spain.

The letter I received did provide for the option of declaring that I don't own a television.  I really don't want to get in trouble for not paying my TV fee when I'm trying to apply for citizenship.  I just went online, paid the yearly fee and now I'm covered.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Increased Lockdown

The COVID-19 situation in Czechland continues to get worse and now the South African variant has shown up here.  From 26.2. until 11.4., all Czech citizens and residents are prohibited from travelling to Botswana, Brazil, Eswanti, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia or Zimbabwe.

From 1 March, all schools including kindergartens will be closed.  So far only first and second grade classes have been open but now they all close again.  There's an exception for child groups at healthcare facilities for the children of first responders.

The government will also restrict the free movement of people for three weeks.  People must remain in their district.  If you do need to travel outside of your district for work, to go to a doctor or public authority or to an airport, then you need to have written confirmation from your employer or a sworn affidavit.

Brno-City and Brno-Outskirts are considered a single district for the restriction of movement.  Some 26.000 police officers will be deployed to enforce the restriction.   About 5.000 soldiers will be used to reinforce the police.  

It's a good thing that I didn't choose to take my exams in March because with the new restrictions I won't be allowed to travel to Prague.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

New Mask Requirement

From today there's a new requirement to wear respirators or N95 masks instead of home-made roušky.  Respirators have to be worn in all shops, on public transit and at stops, at airports, in medical facilities, in cars if passengers aren't members of the same household, and in all buildings or outside when you are less than two metres (6 feet) apart.

There are a few exceptions but the big one is for children under 15.  I don't quite get this.  I can see an exception for small children.  But all kids under 15?

Monday, February 22, 2021

Mail Delays

There are still postal delays due to COVID-19.  Today I received a Christmas card from the Wellington Whānau in New Zealand.  Better late than never.  At least it made it.  Much love back to everyone back in Kiwiland.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Abortion

Abortion can be a divisive topic for some.  Some people argue that an embryo or foetus is human being so abortion equals murder.  Others view abortion as a cornerstone of a woman's right to make decisions about her own body.  Religion deepens the divide between the two sides.  Globally there are about 56 million abortions performed each year.  Roughly 45% of these are not performed safely which to me makes it a matter of public health.  

Abortion was legalised but with restrictions in Czechoslovakia in 1957.  In 1986 the restrictions were lifted.  The increased availability of contraception and sex education have contributed to decrease in the number of abortions performed in the country.

In Czechland it is legal to have a an abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for any reason.  Abortions are allowed up to 24 weeks for some medical reasons and at any time due to a malformed foetus.  Abortions for non-medical reasons are not covered by the public health system.  The average price is around 4500 Kč ($205 or €170).  

EU citizens can legally come to the Czech Republic for an abortion.  This is good news for women in Poland.  Only around 1000 legal abortions were performed in Poland each year because the country already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.  The Polish government now only allows abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the mother's life.  Abortions due to foetal abnormalities are no longer allowed.

This has led to mass protests against the Polish government.  A red lighting bolt has become the main symbol at Poland's pro-choice demonstrations.  It's estimated that 100.000 women each year travel to another country, usually Germany, Czech Republic, or Slovakia, for a safe and legal abortion.  The scary number is how many women have unsafe "back alley" procedures because it is illegal in Poland?  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Czech Gun Rights

Czech law permits gun ownership to those who can pass a gun proficiency test, a medical exam, and who have a clean criminal record.  The majority of gun owners here report having a weapon for self-defence and not for just sport or hunting.  This is one of the safest countries so I don't quite understand the self-defence reason but to each their own.

There are five different types of gun licenses here.

Type A = Firearm collection
Type B = Sport shooting
Type C = Hunting
Type D = Exercise of a profession
Type E = Self-defence 

A application for a gun license is made with the police.  A application fee is 700 Kč ($30) and the license is issued in 30 days.  It is good for 10 years before needing to be renewed.  

For sport and hunting, types B or C, the applicant must be at least 18 years old.  There are special exceptions if the applicant is a member of a sporting club or if hunting is taught as part of a school curriculum then 15 or 16 year olds can get a license.  The minimum age for A, D, or E license types is 21.

Anyone who excessively drinks alcohol, uses illegal drugs, or those found guilty of misdemeanours related to firearms, DUI, or public order in the previous 3 years don't qualify for a gun license.

Ex-convicts who served more than 12 years in prison are not allowed a gun permit.  Convictions for public endangerment, murder, treason, or participation in organised crime are not allowed a permit.

Those who serve less than 2 years in jail are eligible to apply after a 5 years.
Those who serve sentences for 2 to 5 years can apply after 10 years.
Those who serve sentences for 5 to 12 years can apply after 20 years.
For those who server sentences more than 12 years are ineligible from ever getting a gun permit.

There's no limit on the number of guns a person can own.  There are safe storage requirements of owning more than 2 weapons or having more than 500 rounds of ammunition.  There are additional requirements if a person has more than 10 guns and further requirements for having more than 20 guns.

Possessing a firearm without a license carries a penalty of up to 2 years in jail.  In some cases this goes up to 8 years.  Carrying a gun while intoxicated is illegal.  There are heavy fines and forfeiture of one's gun license.  

Across most of the EU, the concealed carry of firearms is not allowed.  Here though it is allowed provided the owner has a concealed carry permit.  I've heard that around 80% of gun owners here also have a concealed carry permit.  It is against Czech law to carry any weapon during a public demonstration.  It is also illegal to carry a weapon with a silencer installed.

During the German Nazi occupation it was illegal to posses firearms.  During communism only those seen as loyal to Communist regime were allowed to possess guns.  Given these historical restrictions the right to posses firearms is viewed as an essential liberty.  But it's not like everyone here owns a gun.  There's something like 12 or 13 guns for every 100 people.  In contrast to the USA where there are about 120 guns for every 100 people.  The USA can't even pass common sense gun legislation.  I feel much safer here in Czechland than I do in the USA.

From 1 January to 31 July 2021, there is an amnesty running where any illegally-held weapons can be turned over to the Czech police, no questions asked.  Or if you have a valid gun license and proof that the weapons wasn't stolen or used to commit a crime then you can legally register the gun.  

The last time this was done was five years ago and most of the weapons turned in dated back to WWII and the Soviet occupation.  The Czech police released a video on YouTube and with typical Czech humour it shows a guy turning over a Soviet tank.  

©Policie ČR

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

New Exam Date

This morning I was able to register online for a new exam date.  Exam dates were offered in a few cities across the country for 13.3. and 10.4.  Unfortunately, no exams were offered in Brno.  Or in Olomouc either.  Ugh!

If I want to take my exam in Brno then I have to wait until May, at the earliest, and there's no guarantee that I'll get a spot.  So I decided to take the exam in Prague.  Given the constant changing restrictions I feel that the March date may get cancelled so I'm registered for 10.4.  Thanks to Covid-19 my exams have been delayed almost a year.  This is the 3rd time that I'm scheduled to take the Czech citizenship test and B1 language exam.  Fingers crossed that get to take my exams this time.  Third time is a charm, right?

I paid 4900 Kč ($226) for my exams in 2019.  The prices increased this year to 5500 Kč ($254).  When I registered I wrote in the comment field what I paid in 2019 and that my 2020 exams on 25.4. and 5.12. were both cancelled due to Covid.  I received an e-mail about an hour later thanking me for the information and that my exams are covered with no extra cost.

In order to take my exams I have to present a negative Covid-19 test result, PCR or antigenic, no older than 48 hours.  There will be a temperature check at the entrance and anyone with a temperature above 37,5℃ (99.5℉) will not be allowed to take the exams.  Masks must be worn the entire time.

We still have a curfew from 9 pm - 5 am.  So my plan is to get my Covid test on Thursday or Friday and then go to Prague on Friday.  I expect that hotels will still be closed so I'll rent an airbnb, take my exam on Saturday and return to Brno on Sunday morning.

Update:  I'm glad that I didn't choose 13.3.  Due to the newest restrictions, all of the tests scheduled for 13.3., have been moved to 24.4.  But let's hope that my 10.4., exam doesn't get moved.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Visegrád Group Turns 30

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Visegrád Group.  This is the partnership between the V4 countries of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary

Czechland even issued a commemorative stamp.  Though to be fair I think the other three countries did as well.  

Currently Poland holds the rotating presidency of the group so to commemorate the 30th anniversary the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs post a short video out on YouTube.

©Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Suchej únor

Czechland ranks third in the world for alcohol consumption.  The Czech Statistical Office, ČSÚ, reported that in a year the average Czech consumes 292 beers, 100 glasses of wine and 175 shots of hard spirits.  According to the World Health Organization the average Czech drinks 14,4 litres (38 gallons) of pure alcohol every year.

There's a cost to all of this drinking.  The 292 beers alone cost about 8.800 Kč ($405).  The government spends more than 56 billion Kč (~$2,58 billion) on alcohol-related health care.  Heavy drinking kills about 7.000 people each year here.

The National Institute of Mental Health, NÚDZ, reported that men drink 4 times more than women.  Due to COVID-19 it looks like Czechs are drinking about 60% more than before.

I'm actually drinking less.  Way less.  Our last virtual pub night was back in November.  I had wine with my virtual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners but I haven't had a drink since.  It's not like I'm trying to become a teetotaller it's just I don't really see a point to drinking alone during a global pandemic.  

This year is the 9th annual Suchej únor challenge.  I don't expect that the Dry February challenge will be too difficult since I haven't had a drink since December.

But full disclosure...I'm for sure looking forward to the next lad's night at the pub.  Hopefully sometime this Spring.

Plastics Ban

Last year the EU agreed on enacting new restrictions on single use plastics items like straws, cutlery, plastic plates, and cotton swabs that are polluting the oceans.  Czechland followed through and is banning specific disposable plastic products.

The Ministry of the Environment estimates that each year about 300 million plastic straws, 20 million plates, 60 million cutlery, 40 million food containers, and 40 million polystyrene cups are sold here.  That's a lot for a relatively small country.

Effective July 2024, beverage containers that have plastic lids and caps will be banned unless they remain attached to the container.

The EU has agreed that by 2025 all plastic bottles have to be made of at least 25% recycled content.  By 2029 that goes up to at least 90%.

The EU generates 25 million tonnes of plastic waste but only about 30% is recycled.

In 2018, before Brexit and leaving the EU, the UK was by far the biggest contributor of discarded straws.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Vyprávěj

The Wonder Years premiered 33 years ago and depicted events from 20 years earlier.  A similar show today would be set way back in 2001.  I feel old. 

This American TV show ran on ABC for six seasons from 1988 to 1993. It is considered by many to the one of the top 20 best shows of the 1980s.

©ABC

The Czech equivalent is Vyprávěj, which translates to "Tell" and it aired on ČT1 from 2009 to 2013.  I'm told that it is one of the most successful shows on Czech television.  I'm currently watching series 1 online.

The show takes place in Czechoslovakia, and latter on in Czech Republic, and centres on the Dvořák family.  In each episode there are actual excerpts of the news and film from the time. 
©ČT1

The show ran for five series and there are 106 episodes.  Series one starts off in 1964 and series five ends in 2005.  The box set has 34 DVDs and is around 99 hours of content.  Let's see how far I get through series one considering there are no subtitles.
Side note:  In the USA, a TV show is referred to as a "series" but in Euroland it is a "serial" while an American "season" is called a "series."  So "season 1" in the USA is called "series 1" over here.  This took me a little bit of time to get used to.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Day of Czechs Abroad

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has added a 16th significant day.  Den Čechů v zahraničí, the Day of Czechs Abroad, is mean to honour Czechs who emigrated.   

The ministry selected five historic dates and ran an online poll last year for people to pick the new significant day.  If only a significant day equaled a public holiday but people still have to work.

With 42% of the vote, 4 February was selected as the winner.  This is the day that the philosopher Jan Amos Komenský left Bohemia.  Komenský is considered the father of modern education.

In second place, with 21% of the vote, was 23 December.  On this day in 1989, the foreign ministers at the time for Czechoslovakia and Germany, Jiří Dienstbier and Hans-Dietrich Genscher cut the barbed wire at the Rozvadov-Waidhaus border crossing.

In third place, with 18% of the vote, was 7 March which was the birthday of T.G. Masaryk in 1850.  He was the first president of Czechoslovakia.  Apparently there used to be a Masaryk Day of Czechs and Slovaks Abroad that was first celebrated in 1934.  It lasted until 1938.  It returned in 1947 but 1948 was its last year.

In fourth place, with 15%, was 1 July.  In 1932, this was the first congress of Czechs and Slovaks abroad.

In fifth place, with only 4% of the vote, was 17 April (1826).  This date commemorates Vojtěch Náprstek who is considered the spiritual father of Czech journalism in the USA.

The whole point of the Day of Czechs Abroad is to highlight the role of Czechs living outside of the country and for them to forge stronger bonds with Czechland.