Commentary: Czech PM fishing for votes in a racist/xenophobic pond
The ANO movement, unlike the other main favorite parties running in the elections to the lower house this year, has not yet officially begun its campaign, but the speech given last Thursday by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) can be considered just such a launch by that private movement of his - and there was nothing nice about it. Babiš has decided to shore up the movement's declining favorability by inciting hatred in a primitive way against immigrants, by railing xenophobically against foreign nationals, and by telling what are evidently lies about his political rivals.
Babiš: We don't want multiculturalism! No, no, no!
"I've said it a thousand times already, the Czech Republic is a sovereign state and we ourselves will decide who will work and live here. [...] Mr Bartoš [the chair of the Pirates] has declared 'I'd like a world without borders, migration is natural.' 'If Europe is meant to be Muslim within 10 or 15 years - and we already see that in France and in Germany - I have no problem with that,' Mr Bartoš says. Well, I do have a problem with that. I do have a problem with that. I do not want a Muslim Europe. [...] We in Czechia do not want a multicultural, eco-fanatic Piratostan! We don't! [Thunderous applause from the ANO benches and other parties in Government. Shouts: 'Excellent! Bravo!'] We don't want to share our cars! We don't want to share our apartments! We don't want to share our country! [Response from the plenary: 'And our women!'] We don't want our country controlled by the European Parliament! These Green fanatics the Pirates have joined forces with! [Applause from the ANO benches.]," - this is an excerpt of just some of what the PM said during last Thursday's session in the Chamber of Deputies when the opposition unsuccessfully attempted a vote of no confidence in his Government.
Babiš continued his ranting on Twitter, where he exchanged views with journalist Jindřich Šídlo. During the crossfire of tweets, the PM alleged, falsely, that the Pirates "want to first map all the apartment units, tax those who have too many meters of space and then move somebody in with you. The best would be a migrant of some sort."
That was not the end to his kicking in the quasi-fascist doors of this xenophobic election campaign. "We don't want foreigners [cizáky] from all over Europe walking around here and carousing, that causes a big problem," he said of the criticism that while bars and discotheques have been allowed to reopen in the country, they are not being allowed to play music.
Up until now the authorities have claimed that the ban on dancing and music is to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, but the PM has now explained to us that it's because of foreign nationals - or I beg your pardon, he actually said "furriners" [cizáky], his new term for such people - and in that same interview he also says: "We've sold it all to the furriners." The entrepreneurs in tourism who have already been crushed by two years of the COVID-19 crisis must certainly be overjoyed by such remarks.
Political scientist: This is desperate - and tacky
Babiš has apparently definitively abandoned fighting for the votes of those who embrace democratic values and has decided instead to fish in the racist/xenophobic pond that has so far been cultivated by the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party of Tomio Okamura. This is, at the same time, an attack above all on the coalition of the Pirates and the Mayors and Independents (STAN) that is being given favored odds of winning the election this fall.
The PM wants to label these parties as advocates of massively uncontrolled migration. According to political scientist Tomáš Lebeda, this is an attempt to distract from other subjects.
"Andrej Babiš did not say that by accident, there's an intention behind it. However, it is more than apparent that it is especially tacky to hear such things from the mouth of a Prime Minister," Lebeda told the news server Seznam zprávy.
"Andrej Babiš will not want to mention the more than 30 000 people who have died here during the pandemic, but he will want to dedicate himself to the subjects where he feels strong," Lebeda added. "To a certain degree, coming from Andrej Babiš, this is desperate. However, we'll see whether he manages to become a so-called opinion leader and whether the public will allow this subject [migration] to be forced on them."
Pirates: Babiš has no compunction about publishing lies and scaring people
The Pirates have decided to defend themselves against the lies the PM is spreading about them and on Friday afternoon they sent him an appeal prior to launching litigation against him, calling on him to apologize for spreading the lie that the Pirates want to tax people for excess housing space and move migrants into their households. Ivan Bartoš, chair of the Pirates, said they decidedly do not have anything in their program about moving migrants into people's homes.
"Naturally there is nothing of the sort in the Pirates' program, there never has been and there never will be, and Mr Babiš and his colleagues know that very well. It is unacceptable for the Prime Minister himself to act like a disinformer," Bartoš said in response to the PM's allegations.
The Pirate chair said the PM's actions are unacceptable and that it is necessary to stand up to him. "He has no compunction about publishing disinformation, and what's worse, he is scaring people who are already overflowing with fear because of the pandemic," Bartoš said of the PM.
The Government is already responsible for many scandals, according to the Pirate chair, but instead of accepting responsibility, the Prime Minister is doing his best to accuse the Pirates and STAN coalition of being to blame for those failures and to thereby distract the public. Bartoš said the PM has long been spreading fake news about the Pirates.
Last Thursday's Twitter tantrum crossed the line, according to the Pirate chair. "We refuse to tolerate manipulation of the voters and the spreading of false alarms, and for that reason we have sent Mr Prime Minister an appeal prior to filing litigation against him in which we are asking for an apology and a retraction of his deceptive posts," Bartoš said.
Spreading lies and xenophobia has unfortunately worked well in previous elections in the Czech Republic. We can recall "Zeman's ad" against his rival Schwarzenberg during his campaign for his first term as president and his billboard against another rival reading "Stop immigrants and Drahoš, this is our country," during his campaign for a second term.
It will probably not be surprising if the PM decides to pull out another regularly-repeated, tried-and-true kind of ammunition ahead of the elections: The war on "inadaptables", which for Czech politicians is the code name for Romani people. We can all recall his remarks questioning whether the Protectorate-era facility at Lety u Písku had actually been a concentration camp.
"There have been times when all the Roma worked. What these idiots are writing in the newspapers, that the camp at Lety was a concentration camp, is a lie, it was a labor camp. Anybody who wasn't working, bam! - he ended up there," he said at the end of August 2016 in his role as Czech Finance Minister.
Babiš later apologized for that remark and paradoxically, it was exactly that faux pas that kick-started the successful buyout of the pig farm formerly located on the site of the former concentration camp. It remains to be seen how far the PM and his PR team will be willing to go this time in their hunt for votes.
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