Past protests and future prospects in 2013
Posted: January 2, 2013
If you were anywhere near a Czech office, pub or car radio in 2012, chances are you have heard at least a few chords of Tomáš Klus' iconic protest song, "Into God's Windows."
Singing of a fairytale land where "the human descends from a pig," Klus mercilessly satirizes the sociopolitical situation, asking "For what, God, for what/ Did you let us get tricked?" in the refrain. The political left steals for the people, the right steals from the people; the people react by choosing the extreme right, whose signature is a bald head and unfamiliarity with history and the Constitution, or the extreme left, whose symbol, the cherry, affects bowel movement. The nation, lamenting the waste of yet another four-year electoral term, resorts to dissecting the political situation over beer in some dingy watering hole, awaiting salvation.
It is little wonder this simple tune resonated so profoundly in 2012, a year in which the continuing drone of recession and austerity cuts, coupled with weak leadership and an accelerating rate of corruption exposure thrust Czech society into the foulest mood it has experienced since the 1990s. The melodramatic arrests and show trials of familiar public figures like former Central Bohemian Governor David Rath and Public Affairs party mastermind Vít Bárta, or the public disgrace of lobbyist Roman Janoušek, left voters shaking their heads in disbelief over the way their country was being run. Instead of applauding the fact that many notoriously corrupt figures were finally getting their comeuppance, they retained an uneasy suspicion these high-profile undoings were small fish compared with the activities of those who remain firmly in power.
New details regarding the systemic mismanagement of public funds, be it in older privatization deals such as Škoda-Plzeň or the increasingly threatened inflow of money from the European Union, do not sit well with an electorate that is being instructed to tighten its belt and forgo the social safety net it traditionally relies on. The mood only worsens when those austerity measures prove problematic and ineffective, as in the case of the sCard, a new and much-beleaguered electronic system designed to streamline welfare payments. Meanwhile, the economy continues to decline, contracting 0.3 percent in the third quarter.
At a time when key factors affecting the nation's future prosperity are determined by the international market - and, to a smaller extent, by Brussels - it is difficult to recommend a path for civic action. The bad mood of Czechs has given rise to a chain of popular protests and short-lived civic movements, all of which have failed to outline a nuanced and feasible alternative to the status quo. As a result, voters opt for political figures from an older era, which, although far from transparent, guaranteed certain social benefits as well as clear political goals.
But is voting for the Communist Party - or even former socialist PM Miloš Zeman - an apt response to the current existential crisis? At least some part of the population, whose younger members have taken to the writings of the late Václav Havel, seems to think otherwise.
It has been said that the Czech "Švejk" mentality, which has a historical inclination to ride out times of hardship by laying low, is in fact complex and full of surprises. So maybe 2013 will be the year we forgo our passive approach, get up from our pub stools and come up with something brilliant. One can always hope.
The first issue of The Prague Post in the new year will appear on newsstands Jan. 9.
- The current political climate has moved to the centre, it may only be with the ...
- ''At least some part of the population, whose younger members have taken to the ...