Czech Politics at a Crossroads: Towards a ‘Populist’ Syncretism?


More than half a year has passed since the Czech Republic held parliamentary elections. To this date, a government has still not been formed. Indeed, last year’s elections yielded a kind of zugzwang on the Czech chessboard, thus offering a glimpse into the reality of everyday democracy: not a single party won enough votes to form a government, and voters did not even grant the winners enough to claim any leading or more or less stable positions.

Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, the movement known by its Czech abbreviation ANO, which has  launched the oligarch Andrej Babiš into politics, won 29.64% of the vote.

The conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS) established by the several-times prime minister and former president, Vaclav Klaus, won 11.32%.

The “liberastic” party that came out of nowhere, the Pirates, claimed 10.79%.

The populist, and for some nationalistic Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) headed by the Czech-Japanese Tomio Okamura, came in with 10.64%.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) finished with its worst results in recent history – 7.76%.

The Social Democrats (CSSD), who just recently were the ruling party, suffered utter and complete defeat, with 15 mandates instead of 50, i.e., 7.27%.

The Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) were quite satisfied to stay in the game with 5.8%.

The Liberal Conservatives (TOP 09) received 5.31%.

The Mayors and Independents, or STAN, received 5.18%.

Other parties trailed with minuscule percentages.

These, of course, are clearly not the nostalgic, stable times of developed socialism. One does not need to be a sophisticated political analyst to realize how difficult it must be for a ruling coalition to be assembled out of these parties and movements who achieved close vote margins. The ideological, tactical, and personal contradictions between this parliamentary game’s players have been unusually large. Hence why already last autumn the old cunning fox of Czech politics, President Miloš Zeman fully used his constitutional authority to allow the oligarch Babiš some time to rule the country while in the minority and try to create a working administrative system without getting bogged down with new early elections.

Zeman needed Babiš as presidential elections neared, in which Zeman would have collapsed without Babiš’ support. This “sweet couple” thus successfully overcame the next historical stage, which was Zeman winning the difficult battle for the presidency as “one against all.” Although he had no worthy opponent, during the campaign all of his rivals managed to unite together around the single goal of overthrowing him. There were moments in this story when Babiš began to fret and practically renounced his strategic partner. But something kept him in place up to the last minute. To Zeman’s merit, he honored their unspoken contract. And even after victory, already being President and therefore less dependent on direct and indirect sponsors, Zeman continued to support the “Prime Minister in demission.”

Czech President Miloš Zeman

Moreover, Zeman at times has taken the initiative to create a workable government into his own hands and firmly laid out for the game’s players his proposals, all the while, of course, not forgetting his own pragmatic interests. Thus was born, or perhaps more accurately, was conceived the coalition between the globalist “populist” Babiš and the people’s populist Okamura, between Action of Dissatisfied Citizens and Freedom and Direct Democracy. Of course, this embryo turned out slated for abortion, as Tomio Okamura, as a popular opponent of the EU, uncontrolled migration, and fanatical Islam, decided not to fully submit to the Brussels and NATO stooge Babiš. Okamura did not dare risk losing his supporters and face. In the meanwhile, he has remained confident that any future coalition will have to take his party’s opinion into consideration, and he has effectively taken his place on the bench of classical opposition.

Czech oligarch, Prime Minister, and ANO founder Andrej Babiš

The conservative and liberal parties – the Civic Democrats (ODS) and Liberal Conservatives (TOP 09) – have also consistently refused to cooperate with the ANO. After all, it was they who initiated the criminal prosecution of Andrej Babiš when he was Minister of Finance for violating financial and tax law. It remains a flagrant case of nonsense that the country continues to be ruled by a man who is under investigation in what is, frankly, far beyond any ordinary case. These parties cannot afford to openly cooperate with a man whose reputation they themselves have seriously tarnished, and they have already committed enough mistakes and compromises to lose their standing in Czech society.

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The fighter and statistician Zeman still hopes to find a salvational scenario. Meanwhile, Czech society is beginning to grow tired of political uncertainty. The Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) has reported that over the past few months, public confidence in the presidency has fallen from 55% to 49%. Babiš’ government has lost 7% of trust – from 38% to 31%. The overall political situation can be illustrated with the following figures: in February 2018, only 17% of Czechs were satisfied, and 44% were disgruntled – in April, these figures dropped and raised to 13% and 57% respectively.

President Zeman has thus recommended that the partially unrecognized Prime Minister Babiš initiate negotiations on forming a government with the Social Democrats and the Communists. This plan is based on the presumption that the Social Democrats will join the ANO coalition and government while the Communists will play the fiddle behind the scenes. In modern Czech political vernacular, this is called the “ANO and CSSD coalition with the support of the Communists.”

However, not all Social Democrats are happy with second place. In recent years, they have committed to a number of unaccountable, two-faced moves which resulted in their crushing defeat in these past parliamentary elections, which turned them from a ruling party into a secondary player with 15 mandates instead of 50. The party has at times openly and decisively, and at times through intrigue, considerably shuffled its leadership. But even its new leadership and new deputies are not against sitting in honorary seats in parliament and government – including in Brussels. The Social Democrats decided to hold a mass party referendum on full cooperation with the ANO populists and globalists in order to shift the responsibility for such a decision onto the shoulders of all the party’s members. This would appear to be a very democratic move, but only if one does not take into account one crucial subtlety: beforehand it was announced that the referendum’s results would be “strictly classified.” This classified label can only be removed by the party’s higher leadership, i.e., those announcing the “correct decision.” For people at least slightly familiar with the practices of party discipline in the Czech Republic, this strict confidentiality should provoke a chagrin: surely the secret will be blurted out?

Be that as it may, perhaps the biggest intrigue in this post-election scenario of forming a new Czech government has concerned the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which both Fort Russ News and the Center for Syncretic Studies have already explored in a series of interviews. While the Communist Party did make it into parliament again this time, it received only 15 seats instead of its previous 33.

The until recently Deputy Chairman of the KSCM, Dr. Josef Skala, commented on this failure for the Center for Syncretic Studies:

“In the last elections we received the worst results since 1921. Never before has our Communist Party had a result of less than 10%. Prior to this, the weakest result ever was 10.6% in 1929. Of course, this means that all of our political work deserves a low evaluation. This result was compounded for us by the fact that around 60% of votes in the elections were made up by so-called protest votes. Those parties that have been in power stably since 1990 have lost, you could say, everything. Some of them struggled to break the 5% threshold allowing them to enter parliament. What are the reasons for this? People who have been obscenely mistreated by capitalism have lost protection and hope in left forces for bettering their standing. This is a very serious warning for us. Communists should first and foremost think about how to pursue policies henceforth and what changes should be introduced into the ideas and methods of our work. The wave of coups in the socialist world in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s led to a faith in sweet illusions. This was a time of illusionists who promised that in a couple of years time we would live like they do in Switzerland, and so on. This time has irreversibly passed. Today, the masses of Eastern Europe are plagued by disappointment and fear of the future. But the party’s leadership seems to be frozen in those times, in the ‘90s.  We need to quickly change our politics in a way so that we can once again become the speakers of the critical sentiments of the masses, the ‘party of the future.’ So that people once again can pin their hopes for change for the better on us.”

Dr. Josef Skala – now ex-Deputy Chairman for Ideology of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia

In the period between the party’s failure in the Czech parliamentary elections and the party’s recent congress which was supposed to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of addressing its shortcomings, Skala attempted to change the Communist Party’s leadership. But the extraordinary congress was put on a very long pause, time dragged on, and ultimately rank-and-file members began to forget about the reasons for their recent defeat. Interestingly enough, Skala’s critical group was opposed not only by the Communist Party leadership, but also the Czech mainstream, which can by no means be said to be fans of the Communists! “Orthodox Stalinist” and “radical Marxist” are relatively respectable appraisals of Skala’s position that have been voiced. However, the critical stances of the Prague “cafe” and its “sans-culottes” were weakened by the European Commission’s chief himself, Jean-Claude Juncker, who celebrated Karl Marx’s 200th birthday and praised him as a great philosopher. In the context of the Czech Communists, particularly Skala, this move can be interpreted as an usurpation of legacy.

Skala, who has a doctorate in philosophy, has no doubts as to the utility of Marxism as a tool for understanding the world. For him, “the world following the shameful ‘Catastroika’ was supposed to have discredited Marx forever”, but instead, in Skala’s opinion: “the world is only rushing down the path that Marx foresaw, and “Catastroika” ended not only with geopolitical catastrophe, but also unprecedentedly paralyzed movements for justice, including communist movements. The latter is demanded to apologize for the fact that it managed to make the world more humane; we are demanded to repent like criminals or shameless heirs. And we are demanded to, silently or even out loud, agree with the disgraceful narrative of history praised to the heavens by nuclear blackmailers and those who were even allies and sponsors of Hitler. The panorama of the history of the 20th century, mutilated beyond recognition, is a political weapon. Its aim is to force us to capitulate.”

President Zeman himself has joined in on the calls for the communists to repent and has struck at their tried and tested soft spots. And he did so on the scene: Zeman became the first President of the Czech Republic in the “new period” since the “Velvet Revolution” to visit a Communist Party congress, a move which drew fierce criticism from his closed-minded liberal opponents and inspired a number of questions from the otherwise quiet democratic public. The main question is: “Why did Zeman go to the Communists’ congress?”

President Zeman speaking at the Communist Party congress

It seems that Zeman the pragmatist’s goal was to reconcile them with the Czech Republic’s current position in the world and European Union, prepare them for further everyday and ideological compromises and, as it turns out, prevent the election of the “radical Skala.” If Skala would have won, the Communist Party would be unlikely to support the “government in demission” of the globalist oligarch and best friend of Brussels, NATO, and President Zeman – Andrej Babiš.

At the closed session of the congress, one could hear shouts to the tune of “Give Skala the vote! If we don’t change, thousands of party members will throw out their membership cards!” The vote strongly resembled the theatrics of Agatha Christie. In the first round, the master of all administrative tools, Vojtěch Filip, won 110 votes and Skala won 105. The two went head to head in the final round. The results of the first round were not discussed, and no analysis was made of the defeat in parliamentary elections. In the end, Filip won with 165 votes and Skala lost with 143. Is the victor, Filip, a pragmatic savior or an outstanding opportunist? In the battle for the position of Deputy Chairman for Ideological Work, Skala won 139 votes in the first round against 54 for the future winner. Then began a festival of ‘miracles’, and 54 votes turned into 155, with 147 for Skala in the next.

The larger implications which this picture entails are crucial: in effect, the Communists have managed to “influence” the decisions of parliament and the government, and even draw the Czech President himself to their congress. Already in the first days following the new alignment of forces in their new-old leadership, the Communists have been faced with the dilemma of supporting or opposing the “government in demission’s” decision on expanding the Czech Army’s foreign missions. It will be very interesting to see how this will affect the Communists’ working-class electorate in municipal elections. 

The unique place and dilemma of the Communists on the Czech political chessboard is no mere coincidence. It has a larger context. The geopolitical pressures of the struggle between unipolar and multipolar forces, and the search by old and new ideologies for orientations in today’s unique socio-political circumstances, are forging alliances and possibilities which do not fit the outdated left vs. right paradigm. This dilemma has not spared Czech parliamentary politics. 

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