I for institutions

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The Czech Republic is a bureaucratic superpower, someone has once said. Czech bureaucracy - byrokracie - indeed drives everybody mad and foreign residents are usually shocked when they first encounter it. Whatever you want to do there are always identity cards, personal numbers, permits and licenses, rules, regulations and complicated forms dampening your spirits. Anyone who has ever ventured into a Czech office with some innocent query will understand where the writer Franz Kafka found inspiration for his novels...

Hello and welcome to the ABC of Czech, my name is Pavla Horakova and today I'm joined in the studio by Alena Skodova. We have reached the letter I which means we are going to talk about institutions.

The Czech Republic is a bureaucratic superpower, someone has once said. Czech bureaucracy - byrokracie - indeed drives everybody mad and foreign residents are usually shocked when they first encounter it. Whatever you want to do there are always identity cards, personal numbers, permits and licenses, rules, regulations and complicated forms dampening your spirits. Anyone who has ever ventured into a Czech office with some innocent query will understand where the writer Franz Kafka found inspiration for his novels.

Let's start with the police or policie. Although the Czech police force is fully staffed, there never seems to be a policeman in sight when you need one. Foreigners who ask for a residence permit in the Czech Republic have to undergo the ordeal of reporting to cizinecká policie, the foreign or immigration police. At the Social Insurance Office - Správa sociálního zabezpeèení and the Inland Revenue - Finanèní úøad - the clerks are not as hostile, but still unfriendly and unhelpful and the forms - formuláøe - are no less unintelligible. The same goes for government ministries, ministerstva, health insurance companies, zdravotní poji¹»ovny and local authorities - okresní úøady. Czech courts - soudy - are often criticised for their inefficiency and sluggishness.

Foreigners say that the Czech language, albeit difficult, has some discernible logic to it. But Czech bureaucratic language seems to make no sense and sometimes seems to be of absolutely no use to anyone. Grumble as they may, however, Czechs probably cannot imagine their life without it. The most striking example of the Czech attitude to bureaucracy was when a few years ago a special governmental commission with several sub-committees was set up to fight the problem of red-tape.

And that's all for today, I'm afraid, as I have a stack of forms on my desk that I have to fill out now. So until next Wednesday, na shledanou, good bye.


See also Living Czech.