For over a year and a half now, Czechia has been ruled by a coalition that a growing number of citizens describes as the source of the worst governance since the fall of the old regime.
Be that as it may, the current government is a disparate patchwork of five political parties; some parties are liberal, others are conservative. There are anarchism-baptised Pirates (Pirate Party) who have also secured lucrative positions in the government – young rebels who, with a wave of the magic wand of power, quickly turned into “old court councillors” vigorously managing any remaining party idealists…
At the very head of the government there comes Professor of Political Science Petr Fiala, a lover of ostentatious public gestures and exaggerated gesticulation.
Fiala, just as in the days when he held the post of education minister, prefers to remain conspicuously silent in the event of severe difficulties in the cabinet. Alternatively, he travels to distant lands to collect diplomatic flattery and other essentially empty honours. In sum, there is a power unicum unsuited to the difficult times we are going through. And we will be for years to come…
Led by an aspiring political scientist from Brno, the “gentlemen’s coalition” (panská koalice) is characterised by poor public administration, pompous inconceivability, simple-mindedness and unprofessionalism, subservience in international relations and general unpredictability. In this sense, for example, the characterisation of Fiala’s academic colleague Pavel Šaradín is quite apt:
“The pension valorisation affair is only the result of underestimating the real problems of Czech society and resignation to predictability. It is similar to the failure to meet financial commitments to teachers.”
One thing, however, cannot be denied to this strange confluence of formally opposed parties: from a pure power perspective, the “heart of Europe” is only and only theirs. It dominates both houses of parliament quite sovereignly. It also put its own man in Prague Castle, and the idea of Pavel’s candidacy originated – according to the president’s chief aide, a former ambassador to the US – several years ago at the US embassy. That is a very remarkable fact per se.
Meanwhile, as it seems, the current head of state doesn’t have ceased to be a de facto obedient (NATO) military commander who changed (world) sides early in his star career. Thus, he is now apparently actively and proactively fulfilling everything that his key supporters during the previous several years of electioneering would wish…
Soon, the current cabinet will also fully complete the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, where the term of office of a total of seven judges is ending this year. This includes the president, Pavel Rychetský, who has turned his final years in office into a perfect caricature of the apolitical nature of the Constitutional Court, which he has so often publicly advocated. Who knows how some of the Cabinet’s apparently illegal procedures will turn out? Especially with the unjustified declaration of a legislative emergency, through which the above-mentioned anti-social norm on pension regulation was effortlessly pushed through…
The media situation in the country is a chapter in itself – since most of the mainstream media, first and foremost, the public (!) Czech Television, are usually quite openly sympathetic to the governing coalition.
After all, Czech Television’s hatred of Andrej Babiš has perhaps even the validity of the Ten Commandments. The fresh election of the new leadership of public television will hardly change that.
The cabinet led by the former anti-communist activist and monarchist Fiala can therefore afford a lot. If it saves money on pensions, for example, it does not hesitate to valorise MPs’ salaries or announce nonsensical purchases of overpriced aviation equipment from the armaments factories of a friendly superpower. Just as it approves obviously related, yet tricky, security agreements with the same foreign power…
Not enough on that: it can afford even more. For instance, to fight, in the scandalous words of the prime minister, against “wrong views”. To screen, threaten and censor dissenters in the old-fashioned, so to speak, “Bolshevik way”, using the vague word “disinformation”. They are, after all, so-called “dezoláti” (losers), “chcimíři” (appeasers in a derogative way), and “agents of Moscow and Beijing”. Alternatively, they are mentally inferior citizens influenced by pro-Russian websites (arbitrarily shut down at the instigation of the secret services at the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict). There are even occasional public promises to crack down on the mob because there is already too much freedom of speech!
In this context, the statement of the Minister of the Interior becomes omniscient: “I expect the organisers to distance themselves from these acts of violence. It gives the impression that the so-called demonstration against poverty was just a cover for pro-Russian provocation, and we certainly cannot tolerate such manifestations.”
Perhaps the “good old days” really are coming back to us. The offensive rhetoric of the cabinet does indeed bear a striking resemblance to the labels of the old regime, which cast discontented people as “American agents”, “self-proclaimed traitors”, or victims of inflammatory Western broadcasts, sources of so-called ideological diversion worthy of rigorous disruption.
Incidentally, what is being described also resembles the current developments in pre-election Slovakia, which has one major advantage. Its existing party opposition, especially Smer – Social Democracy (although we may have many critical remarks about it), is strong and operational. This is far from being the case in the Czech Republic, where the entire left has collapsed into an extra-parliamentary heap purely through its incompetence. In the legislatures, the multi-billionaire Babiš, or the peculiarly nationalist shouter with Japanese roots Tomio Okamura, remained in the role of “the left-populist opposition”. These are two political entrepreneurs who, despite all their agitation, probably have no real wish to take responsibility for our country right now. Unfortunately, the trade unions, whose prominent functionary for many years, Josef Středula, only pretended to participate in the last presidential campaign, from which he eventually withdrew in time (after “slimming down” his fat electoral account), are also mostly cautious and opportunistic…
The lifelessness of Czech democracy seems even more striking when we look around the current EU.
While there are demonstrations over late retirement in France and often large-scale strikes for workers’ rights in neighbouring Germany, the situation in the Czech Republic is diametrically different. Public actions of dissent here are often fragmented, internally insecure, and often organised by, at best bizarre, or in previous times (powerfully) bankrupt, personalities.
A fine example of such blatant impotence was the recent bizarre “revolt of the academic crowds”. When even Czech university teachers (often apparently voters of the right) finally realised that they were completely out of their depth under the current circumstances, they decided to take to the streets on Teachers’ Day. However, it turned out to be telling. Although their salaries – especially in the humanities – are not even remotely comparable to those of their French or German counterparts, the relevant union organiser was quick to assure that the action was in no way directed against the government! Someone then aptly renamed the whole enterprise of the nation’s intellectual elite: the group therapy of the humiliated.
It is quite a tragedy and one with deep symbolic content. But let’s still be optimistic; every crisis is an opportunity. This long-term crisis may generate some new fundamental motive or persona. Much also depends on how far the other problematic government of Central Europe will eventually go with an unprecedented deepening of the debt trap, by making energy, services, and goods more expensive (including occasionally scarce medicines). And also, how much lower it will fall in its struggle to maintain power, in its “new political culture” and, at most, “values-based” governance.