Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

“When more than 70,000 demonstrators gathered in Prague on 3rd September, two different stories immediately emerged” – The Art of Telling Stories and A Wake-Up Call for the Left

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In 2022, Previously stable political certainties have been shredded on the European Continent. One example comes from Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic. It is dramatic. The far-right : anti-vaxxers, anti-Ukrainian racists, fans of ultra-racist imperialists Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – led the demonstrators. Vivek Prokop explores “a wake-up call for the left”

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Czechia: the crowd on Wenceslas Square

Sunday 11 September 2022, by  PROKOP Vítek

Czech Republic/Czechia

They say that politics is an art: the art of compromise, the art of getting along with people, but also the art of telling stories. When more than 70,000 demonstrators gathered in Prague on 3rdSeptember, two different stories immediately emerged. According to one story, it was an action by the Russian fifth column, according to the other story, it was a protest by desperate citizens. So what was really happening on Wenceslas Square?

At first glance, it seems that everything important about this “Czech Republic First “protest has already been said. For example, the fact that one of the organizers, Ladislav Vrabel, has big debts, and that the money to organize the protest was sent to a non-transparent account belonging to his wife. Another key organizer, Jiří Havel, has become famous for recommending chlorine dioxide, which is otherwise used as bleach, for the treatment of covid. Both men are members of the anti-globalisation movement “Restart World Freedom,” which was launched by the American investment banker and Donald Trump supporter Catherine Austin Fitts.

Why do I mention this here? The Czech left-wing scene reacted to the event according to its “best” traditions and immediately got into arguments. Matěj Stropnický, for example, declared that the demonstrators’ demands were 80 percent left-wing and that he agreed with them, for which he was roundly condemned by the organisation Socialist Solidarity. Yes, one can agree with many of the points of the Czech Republic First programme (preventing profit outflows abroad, ensuring food self-sufficiency, state ownership of gas reservoirs, etc), but if one looks at the organisers and individual speakers, the appearance of leftism quickly evaporates.

For example, one of the speakers at the demonstration was Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková, chairwoman of Trikolora, a party that advocates the abolition of the minimum wage. Another speaker was Lubomír Volný, who is famous for ranting against the abuse of social benefits, not that this prevented him from falsely claiming sickness benefits. In short, these are false friends of the people. They pretend to be concerned about the welfare of ordinary citizens, but in reality they are only pursuing their own interests.

Otherwise, among the participants in the protest, were personalities like Zarko Jovanovic, who has collaborated with Russian state television on several occasions and voluntarily identifies himself as a Russian agent, and David Formanek, the operator of the conspiracy website Open Your Mind. Not surprisingly, it did not take much effort for people like Forum24 editor Pavel Šafr to label all the demonstrators as “fascist scum — Putin supporters”.

This is of course not true. I never expected to say such a thing, but on this point I agree with Justice Minister Pavel Blažek (ODS), who said “a year ago, a similar event to today’s would have attracted a thousand people. This 1,000 also came today. I do not believe that the other 69,000 were fanatical Putin supporters. They were people afraid of the future. Let’s take them seriously.” Serious comenators agreeing with Blažek include political analyst Petr Just and Jan Kašpárek, editor of the daily newspaper Deník Referendum.

The situation with prices is not just bad, it is downright terrible. As a result, what I warned about in my April commentary has come true. Income poverty has risen by almost half and with it the number of murders and domestic violence cases has also increased. The current demonstrations confirm my fears about the impending radicalisation of society. For such an assemblage of obscure individuals and political groups to fill Wenceslas Square is historically unprecedented in our country. I am shocked at how quickly my warnings came true. So what does the near future hold for us?

The majority of the protesters in Wenceslas Square didn’t really care who spoke, as long as they were against the government. The ideological programme of the protest organisers, with its diverse range of demands, reflects their ambition to attract as many dissatisfied people as possible – not to create an alternative political project.

If we look at the remaining clearly non-leftist 20 per cent of the programme, we can find a point about ending the “planned dilution of the nation”, which will please any ultra-nationalist, or that vaccinations should be voluntary, which is the key demand of Czech anti-vaxxers.

If a crowd of demonstrators on Wenceslas Square were to attack a government building – the Chamber of Deputies, for example – it would be similar to the attack on the Washington DC Capitol by Trump supporters last January. The demonstrators would have walked through the Chamber of Deputies and, not knowing what to do next, would have dispersed again. Similarly, when opponents of the lockdown in Germany managed, to their own surprise, to break through the police cordon on the steps of the Bundestag – they took a few photos and videos and that was it. The Czech Republic First protest is a symptom of the current state of our politics, not a solution.

For years the political establishment has ignored hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty. The right loves to repeat that each individual constructs his or her own success. Some people are poor – their individual problem – they should have studied harder! External factors such as the crisis of capitalism or an over-bureaucratised and inefficient welfare system seem to be non-existent. Let’s not forget that poverty is often hereditary in this country because of our poorly functioning education system. Around one million inhabitants, almost one tenth of the nation, are stuck in long-term poverty These people have not really lived beyond their means and now have no way and no place to save in times of extreme energy prices and high inflation. And what solution has Prime Minister Fiala’s government offered them? A one-off allowance for children, which, given its ridiculous amount of CZK 5 000 (EUR 200) does not help anyone very much. For half a year, the much publicised energy-saving tariff was presented as the magic solution, but the sum available doesn’t even cover the amount of one advance payment for electricity.

On top of that, we have received a dose of arrogance of power. Are you worried that you will not pay your energy bills? Wear an extra jumper! For the record, mould thrives in cold environments and can pose a major health risk to young children and the elderly. Exactly how an extra sweater will help against this, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has not told us. Although the government has finally decided to cap energy prices, it is too late – many citizens have already been impoverished and many businesses have already gone bankrupt.

The anger of the people over the disastrous state of the Czech left has been largely exploited by the forces of the populist right. The Czech Republic First demonstration itself should thus serve as a wake-up call for the left. It is no longer possible to continue the petty battles that, for example, led to the Left Party not being able to participate in the Solidarity coalition in the Prague municipal elections. There is no alternative but to unite and intensify their political work.

Politics is an art. And although our Prime Minister is a Professor and student of politology, he clearly has not mastered this art. As Goethe put it, Grey is theory, but green is the tree of life. Instead of trying to understand the rank-and-file protesters, instead of trying to communicate with people outside of his own Spolu (Together) liberal-conservative coalition’s voter base, the prime minister decided to condescendingly condemn the protest and thus only deepen the polarization of society.

So let’s come together and show him that not everyone who is unhappy with his rule is pro-Putin. On October 8, the Left Party and the trade unions will meet in Wenceslas Square. This will be a demonstration which does not warn about the dangers of antibacterial gels or the threat of dilution of the nation by Ukrainians. We will meet there because we don’t want an anti-social government, because we don’t want a society where everyone is left to fend for themselves and where words like solidarity or change are nothing more than advertising slogans.

Vítek Prokop is a student of political science at the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen. He is the secretary of the Academic Association of Students of Political Science in Pilsen and a member of the National Committee of the political party Levice.


Source: Studentske Listy (CZ)
Translation for ESSF by AN

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