ECONOMIC TUMBLE. As the pervasive financial crisis hit the world's stock markets below the belt last week, the Czech Republic also felt the pain.
The week began with the Prague Stock Exchange suffering some of the largest daily losses since 1993. On Monday the main PX index plunged 8.46% to 1,102.9 points, the lowest level in almost 3.5 years. The hardest-hit were the shares of the CETV media group, followed by the country's top power producer ČEZ.
Friday closing saw little improvement on the bourse. The PX index fell even further, four stocks were temporarily suspended from trading, with the exchange freezing Erste Bank and insurance group VIG in the early part of the day.
IMF IS PESSIMISTIC. It may not be surprising, then, that the International Monetary Fund has expressed a somewhat bleak outlook on Central Europe's economic situation for the year.
According to the World Economic Outlook published by the IMF, the only Central European country that will be spared low growth numbers this year will be Hungary. The Czech economic growth will slow down to 4 percent this year, which somewhat pales in comparison to last year's 6.6 percent, as the global financial crisis will indirectly hit Central and Eastern Europe. Local predictions from this past weekend were even gloomier. Zdeněk Tůma, Czech National Bank's (ČNB) governor, predicted next year's economic growth to be 3.6 percent. And that's substantial loss of confidence from the 4.8 percent the Finance Ministry was expecting when they began drafting the state budget for 2009
JOB CUTS AND WORK PERMITS. The financial crisis seems to have had a serious effect beyond big banks and stock markets. Earlier this year analysts predicted a continuous decrease in unemployment figures, but the rates published by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry for September remained flat at 5.3 percent.
A number of major glass and textiles producers let go thousands of workers in the past weeks. Although employers from other regions made an effort to lure the redundant workers to their factories, it's unclear how many will be willing to relocate for these opportunities.
Employers can now invest their hopes in foreign workers to fill in the vacancies left. Last week, President Vacláv Klaus signed last week a law on worker green cards for foreign workers in the Czech Republic. The green card bill, which was initiated over a year ago, is meant to make the hiring of foreign workers easier and faster. The initiative, though, has met with considerable opposition on its way to last week's final approval.
CRASH FAME. Among all the depressing news last week, there were indeed some winners. A photograph by Reuters' David W. Černý was awarded the top prize for the best journalistic photograph of 2008 by an international jury of the annual Czech Press Photo competition. Černý's photo was taken at the site of one of the biggest multiple-car pile-ups on the D1 motorway that happened in March and involved over 150 vehicles.
Winning photos in other categories depicted fighting in Iraq, this year's defeated presidential candidate Jan Švejnar, a shark tunnel and many other diverse subjects. You can view a gallery of some of the winning works here.
CAR MAKER UNDER ATTACK. A foreign name has made a number of Czech headlines this past week. The South Korean carmaker Hyundai, which has been building a new production plant in Nošovice, north Moravia, is getting in trouble with some of it's subcontractors and partners.
Slovakian firm Kovo that participated in the construction of production halls accused Hyundai of using low-quality construction materials, threatening that parts of the construction are bound to collapse one day. Hyundai leadership dismissed this, claiming Kovo is trying to get money owed to it by another subcontractor. The carmaker seems not to be bothered by this too much since the final inspection of the new plant will take place in half a year.
Apparently, there was actually a number of subcontractors who were unpaid for the work in Nošovice, but Hyundai again refused to take responsibility, saying that another company, Wi Tech Slovakia, was responsible for hiring small and medium-size companies as sub-suppliers for the construction. But Wi Tech seems to have evaporated from Slovakia leaving many contractors empty handed.
TRENDY, NOT TRASHY. Although Czechs have been criticized in the past over their recycling habits, the figures presented for the past two years show that progress is happening, at least in the plastics department.
EKO-KOM, a company that coordinates collection and recycling of package waste in the Czech Republic, says the share of recycled plastic last year exceeded 50 percent. While in 2006 the country recycled 44 percent of all PET bottles and other plastic packaging. This is 3 percent more than in Germany two years ago. And the percentage for 2007 far exceeded the EU requirements. But with all the optimism coming from town administrations, there's still quite a way to go to get recycling habits down for other materials besides plastics.
ON THE SILVER SCREEN. Movie fans will have a delightful time in the upcoming weeks both in Prague and the Vysočina city of Jihlava. The fifth annual MOFFOM (Music on Film - Film on Music) festival will kick off this week and feature films focused mainly on New York City, it's habits and quirks. The 5-day festival will show 60 films at three of Prague's noteworthy cinemas - kinos Světzor, Lucerna and Evald.
Starting a week later, the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival will show slightly different types of films, that nonetheless will certainly present an unblinking view of the Czech Republic and the world. Among many other intriguing features, Helena Třeštíková's newest documentary René will be screened.