The Purge: Czech local and Senate elections in 2014
Aggression, hatred and vulgarity: These are the main features of the campaign in the runup to this weekend's local and Senate elections in the Czech Republic. What's more, intolerance, racism and xenophobia are not just fads being followed by what are traditionally extremist, obscure, small movements and parties.
At the lowest level, hatred and populism are being incited against anyone of a different lifestyle, opinion, origin, religion or skin color, and not just by embryonic extremists and racists, but by established parties like the Civic Democrats (ODS), the Social Democrats and TOP 09. Czech Roma are the traditional scapegoat, but the role of bogeymen and culprits is also being ascribed to Jewish people, anyone of a minority opinion, Muslims, Russians, sexual minorities, the unemployed - even people who ride bicycles.
"The Roma have children as a business"
"This has really burned every decent person for years now. The Roma are literally turning the welfare benefits paid by the state into an advantageous business. Every child in that minority population knows exactly what he is entitled to. Do they go to school? On the contrary! Do they find work as adults? What are you talking about? Why would they, when an eight-member family from Prostějov collects welfare that totals more than CZK 40 000 per month?" Deputy Mayor of Prostějov Alena Rašková, a candidate for mayor for the formerly tolerant Social Democrats, shouts to the world.
That party has left no one in doubt in the runup to the fall elections that it is no stranger to boorishness, vulgarity and xenophobia. Its slogans about expelling "inadaptable citizens" this year would be the envy of any extremist nationalist party.
"The Roma have children as a business so they can get as much welfare from the state as they can," the Social Democratic candidate says in an interview published by the daily Prostějovský večerník, whose reporter not only did not correct any of her statements that crossed the line of the law, but dutifully agreed with them all. "I absolutely hate the behavior of some Roma, who basically don't even suspect that something like work exists. They just live to stick our their hands and say to the state: Pay!" the Deputy Mayor fulminates, adding that "What is saddest is that many doctors just confirm any illness at all for the Roma just so they will be entitled to welfare...".
These are the words of a local candidate for the traditionally tolerant Czech Social Democratic Party. The slogan of its political program is "Freedom, Justice and Solidarity".
"Good luck, Pinďa!"
Social Democrat Martin Klika, a regional councilor responsible for social policy in northern Bohemia, is not far behind Rašková in this regard; three years ago he became notorioius as a commander of the Litvínov local police who was close to the banned Workers' Party (Dělnická strana -DS) and who agreed with the town leadership to set up "patrols" by party members that later led to several attempted anti-Roma pogroms and unrest. The fact that he still cultivates an undying sympathy for the right-wing extremists from the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti or DSSS, the successor party to the DS after the courts dissolved it because of its racist program) is proven, for example, by his online communications with DSSS member Jindřich Svoboda beneath a publicly shared photograph promoting the DSSS on the Facebook social networking site.
Svoboda, aka Pinďa, is one of the most infamous Czech nationalist radicals and is currently the chair of the Duchcov cell of the DSSS. Last year he was one of the organizers of anti-Romani marches there and publicly called on social networking sites for the "murder of all Roma".
In status updates posted in July, the Social Democrat Klika converses with Svoboda about the upcoming local elections this fall and then writes: "The main thing is to build up your strength, I believe the battle for the town hall will begin in August already... My fingers are crossed that you get onto the council."
Sidewalks are for walkers!
While these racist and xenophobic tendencies are shocking coming from the Social Democrats, who until recently profiled themselves as a socially sensitive and tolerant party, the populist battle waged by its traditional right-wing rival, the ODS, against "the inadaptables" is a familiar tune. Their hysterical slogans, such as "Homeless people out of residential zones", surprise almost no one.
The characteristic calling card of this once powerful, proud party, now impoverished and moribund thanks to its corruption and mafia-like practices, is the election poster for tabloid journalist Pavel Novotný, who is running for mayor of the Prague quarter of Řeporyje. Under an image of his crafty face, the slogan reads: "Insolent, proud and self-confident - that's the Řeporyje I want!"
TOP 09 is also not lagging behind in this regard, but its hatred targets Russians and the Kremlin instead of inadaptable Roma or Jews; the party is doing its best to distract us from its own intra-party scandals by pointing far beyond the borders of our country. It is calling for a resolute struggle against Russia and Russians, trying to depict Russia as historically the most serious danger not only to the Czech Republic, but to all of Europe.
This is resulting in an unusually strong wave of xenophobia against "everything Russian", which traditionally finds fertile ground here in relation to the historical traumas caused by the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia in particular. Be that as it may, irrespective of politicians' ideological priorities, such traumas should not become a pretext for disseminating hatred on the basis of a purely ethnic principle.
An enormous billboard blocking a large part of the sidewalk leading to the Lesser Town Square in the historic center of Prague aptly characterizes the position being taken by TOP 09 in its merciless campaign prior to this weekend's elections - at first glance its rhetoric seems charismatic, gentlemanly and helpful, but in reality it is, of course, considerably calculated. Its gigantic slogan "Sidewalks are for walkers" quickly became the target of frequent jokes, so the party had to replace it with another that is only a bit less absurd, "Tolerance, Responsibility, Prosperity!" (Tolerance, Odpovědnost, Prosperita! - or TOP).
Guns for everyone
A heaping portion of xenophobia is being offered by less significant political entitles such as the Civic Conservative Party (Občanská konzervativní strana - OKS), which is proudly declaring itself the country's only genuinely authentic right-wing party and the only official partner of both the French ultra-nationalist National Front of Marine Le Pen and the radical Hungarian paty Jobbik. OKS was created when nationalist MPs left the ODS, and it is banking on taking a harsh stance against "ecoterrorists" (i.e., people who ride bicycles around town) and "indaptables" and praising the right to use a weapon in any context in which it is clear that it is necessary to start using openly carried arms.
"We will rid Prague of the homeless. We will distinguish between those who want to return to normal life and those who have chosen homelessness as a lifestyle," the OKS writes in its campaign materials.
"However, in the case of those vagrants who loll about drunk in the parks, bothering those around them and stealing, we will use all available repressive instruments," writes OKS chair Jiří Janeček, following that promise with an invitation to the voters to have a beer on him at a specific pub. This theme of the fear of the different and strange is often combined in local campaign rhetoric with a contrasting, friendly approach that says: What sets us apart is our fear and hatred of the aberrant, to be followed by a conspiratorial beer or sausage or a free concert.
Laura Janáčková is running for Babiš's ANO party as the sex symbol of these elections. She too wants to uncompromisingly purge all homeless people and the socially "inadaptable", and her xenophobic slogans on enormous posters include a semi-clothed stripper.
Crisply ironed and free
Another interesting phenomenon is the creeping "ironing-out" and transformation of xenophobia in the propaganda of the ultra-right Freedom Party (Svobodný), which is bending over backwards to get away from openly shouting hateful slogans and is styling itself as a group of internally determined, uncompromising people who communicate in public in modern, respectable ways. This party would still prefer to purge the "indapatables" and send them as far away as possible, but they are doing their best to say this in a less boorish and more distinguished way than ever before.
This new image of the "decent and proper" is also bringing the party popularity among all those layers of society that previously rejected it. The essence of its anti-solidarity, xenophobic program, of course, has not changed: It would prefer to cut social policy back as much as possible, removing it from the powers of the state altogether and reducing it to mere "aid to those close by" for whom "families, individuals and private groups" would bear full responsibility.
The Freedom Party also openly rejects the current tendencies toward closing primary schools with a "practical" or "specialized" focus, because "these schools provide an education to children who need a special approach." In other words, they support the further isolation of Romani children by the school system.
What is also important is that even as the Freedom Party is surprisingly curbing its enthusiasm at the national level and on its publicly accessible website, at the local level xenophobic groups are naturally forming around it who take no prisoners - such as, for example, the "Movement for a Vimperk without Inadaptable Roma" (Hnutí za Vimperk bez nepřizpůsobivých Romů). Beneath an election poster for the Freedom Party in Vimperk (which is calling, among other things, for the ROMEA civic association to be banned) the Movement's candidate has written: "I openly say I cannot stand gypsies and this has nothing to do with racism."
Lukáš Kohout, who is apparently close to the Freedom Party, is an infamous convicted con artist and failed organizer of anti-Romani demonstrations who walks the line between absurdity and mystifcation; he has joined the campaign battle with the truly fresh slogan "An ordinary person for ordinary people." He, too, is not ashamed to play either the anti-Romani card or cheap xenophobia.
On his website, Kohout has written: "Support our efforts for an undisturbed life and sleep in Varnsdorf! When were you last unable to fall asleep because of the noise in the streets and no cops in sight?!"
Even after all of his frauds have been exposed, Kohout retains the unshakeable calm of a fake gentleman. The fabricated quotes from famous celebrities whose support he falsely claims to have are still up on his website.
"Ostrava doesn't have to be black"
In contrast to the immaculate xenophobes discussed above, the new Tory movement in the Czech Republic seems to have been lifted straight out of a horror thriller about neo-Nazis. Its campaign bulletin, "Patriot", finds itself not just on the very edge of the law but very far over the line.
The headlines of its articles - "Ostrava doesn't have to be black", "Zero tolerance" and "Finally a solution" (which in Czech is one diacritic mark away from looking like the phrase Final Solution) say it all. Even though its racist, xenophobic insults and slogans are not very professionally camoflauged or manipulated, between the lines of its texts one can discover the hidden key to the Fascist humor of these Czech Tories.
The party ostentatiously espouses Christian and conservative values, only to tear off its mask and gamble on striking a crude, openly Nazi note. "There will be no place in Ostrava for the inadaptables, a special municipal police team will be established for those purposes," the Toryové.cz website reads.
The movement also demands "the establishment of a special fund for young employees from which the interest on their mortgages will be paid, as that would be more advantageous that paying welfare to the inadaptables." This raises the question: Who is it that has basically gotten together with these declassé former ODS politicians, most of them the posthumous remains of the vanished political style of former Czech President Václav Klaus, to espouse the "iron hand" of Thatcherism?
The answer lies in the exceptional interest taken by these new Silesian Tories in the fate of the Baník na Bazalech football stadium: The party includes the hard core of the Baník football rowdies. In that context, it is also interesting to see the more and more frequent hateful invective proclaimed by the ultra-right against those who ride bicycles and protect the environment.
Environmentalists and the advocates of sustainable development are being labled "militant interest groups and individuals", and bicyclists are summarily considered an organized club whose social activities occupy all of the space for the "free" (i.e., unrestricted) operation of automobiles (which would of course be best without any speed limits, either). Many politiicans are banking on this rhetoric, such as those with ODS and TOP 09, or Martin Jindřich Glozar from the fringe movement "For a Czech Prague", whose campaign poster reads "A city for people, not bicycles - harassing drivers must not become a police task".
DSSS: No sitting allowed
We have now arrived at the very bottom of Czech political culture, home to the movements and parties that do not consider it necessary to mask their racist ideas at all. These include the DSSS, which was created as the successor party to the openly Fascist DS after it was banned and dissolved.
The DSSS election posters directly radiate a desire for physical confrontation and violence. Their campaign is based on aggressive glowering, clenched fists and the combative attitudes of their candidates, augmented by slogans like, "The effective answer to the question of inadaptables", "The national interest", "Patience has run out", "Radical change", etc.
All it takes is to look into the eyes of party boss Vandas or those of his leading candidate in Silesian Ostrava, Vilém Fronček, to be clear that these men consider punching anyone they view as an enemy or an opponent to be a basic method of politics. Their "DSSS Decree" deserves a chapter in and of itself, as it evokes the horrors of the Nazi Protectorate's anti-Semitic regulations.
This piece of campaign literature states, for example, that "The inadaptables must be aborted from the streets". The "decree" even bans sitting in public places: "A ban on sitting on parts of buildings and equipment, on palisades, on masonry and on low concrete walls or curbs."
A remedy for parasites
The Republic Party (Strana Republika) is waging its campaign in a similar spirit, running Czech Senator Otto Chaloupka as a candidate, who last year defended the Czech Republic at a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe against "allegations of discrimination made by the Romani minority", and also running his colleague Lebeda, who was recently found to have utterly lied to the press about the alleged "positive discrimination" of Romani people here. The Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit) movement traditionally does not lag behind on xenophobic rhetoric either; on its publicly accessible website and on its Facebook social networking profile, Úsvit's South Bohemian headquarters presents its program as an "effective purging remedy" that "reliably kills all parasites".
The last openly xenophobic movement we have monitored is the "No to Brussels - National Democracy" movement, which is closely linked to the National Congress. The aim of this radical group is to abolish the (non-existent) "positive discrimination" in the country and to fight against so-called political correctness, which essentially means fighting for the unrestricted freedom to disseminate racist and xenophobic ideas.
Proof of this is the candidates' campaign declarations, which are buzzing with anti-Semitic slogans. One of their members, A. A. Bartoš (the infamous author of the "Lists of Jews" in the Czech Republic) is openly calling for the reintroduction of early 20th-century legislation entitling local authorities to determine who can reside on their territories; under the headline "We don't want ebola on the streets of Prague", he calls for the "purging of Wenceslas Square" in Prague so that "Czechs won't be afraid that they have ended up in Africa."
Let's not vote for racists and xenophobes!
It must be said that this rough overiew of the racist and xenophobic texts produced by the campaign for the upcoming municipal and Senate elections is far from complete and does not even intend to capture this phenomenon in its full breadth. Rather, this is randomly collected evidence.
This shift has been caused, among other things, by the political movements and parties' tendencies to suppress the gaudiest of their racist or xenophobic statements in the big cities, in their headquarters and in the national media in order to avoid being charged with breaking the law. However, both the big, established parties and the smaller movements are giving a lot of room to their local candidates to engage in this kind of speech.
At local level, excesses are being frequently committed that should be prosecuted. Fortunately, who we vote for in this weekend's elections is up to us.
We must make sure that we do not, out of haste or ignorance, give our vote to someone who is spreading hatred of difference and diversity, be it on the basis of ethnicity, opinions, or religion. It could so easily happen that we ourselves might one day become victims of such treatment.
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