Topics in this week's edition include: Czech Centres. Minorities. Job cuts in the public sector. Standard of living. Listeners quoted: George Tante, Susanna Fernandez, Henry Walters.
We begin right away. George Tante listens in from Nigeria and asks:
Unfortunately, there is no Czech Centre in Nigeria, or in any of the neighbouring countries. If you visit our website at www.radio.cz/english and click on the "Czech Centres" icon in the left-hand column, you'll get a list of all centres and their web addresses.
There are 17 Czech Centres located in fifteen countries around the world. They work independently with the support of the Czech Foreign Ministry to promote the Czech Republic internationally. Their work focuses especially on culture, trade and tourism, and each offers a rich programme of events, ranging from film festivals, art exhibitions and literature readings to trade presentations and events to promote tourism. In the English-speaking world you can find Czech Centres in London and New York.
Susanna Fernandez tunes in to Radio Prague in New York City, the United States - most of the time on short wave but also on the Internet. She asks:
"How large is the Hispanic community in the Czech Republic? What's your biggest minority?"
The Hispanic community here in the Czech Republic is very small. In fact, they do not figure in statistical research at all - just like the African community. According to the results of a census conducted on 1st March 2001, the biggest minority is Slovak - a little over 180,000 of a population of over ten million. They are followed by the Polish minority (51,000) and ethnic Germans (some 38,000).
But I would take the results of the census with a pinch of salt as they also suggest that the number of Roma in the country is as low as 11,700. The true figure is believed to stand at around 250,000.
We have another question, or actually just a comment, from Henry Walters.
I'm afraid, Mr Walters, you do not specify where it is you sent us the e-mail from...
"I have been listening to Radio Prague for years. I started tuning in on short-wave more regularly three years ago. After I had worked at our Ministry of Labour for over thirty years, cuts in spending forced my boss to let go of me and a few other colleagues. The last holiday I had just before I became unemployed was in the Czech Republic with my Czech wife. So, just for the memories, I tuned in to radio Prague and have been fond of it ever since. I believe you help me feel better about my condition, when you report about the conditions in your country - the low average wage, unemployment, and so on."
Well, Mr Walters, we're sorry to hear about the way you were treated at the ministry. Just to make you feel better, last month the Czech cabinet approved a proposal made by our finance minister to lay off some thirty thousand public sector workers by 2006. This is about six percent of the current number of workers. The education ministry will be most affected, expected to let go of over 14,000 employees. Due to the reform in the Czech Army, over 8,000 defence ministry officials will have to go as well and the justice ministry will also not be spared.
Those in favour of the plan claim that, with some half a million employees, the Czech Republic has more people working in the public sector than it can afford, especially with the planned reform in public finances.
When compared to the countries expected to become EU members next year, Prague ranked best but thanks to lower prices and not higher incomes. The inhabitants of Prague earn less than people in Ljubljana, for example, but they can enjoy prices that are one third lower than in Slovenia. But in comparison to Switzerland's Zurich, which ranked first, Prague's inhabitants can only afford a third of goods and services. Prague was followed by Ljubljana, Budapest and Bratislava. A Prague resident works 42 minutes to earn money for one Big Mac at MacDonald's while a resident of Zurich earns money for three hamburgers during that time.