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Commentary: Fascist pixies, come out of the Czech moss!

Czech Republic, 24.10.2014 23:50, (ROMEA)
The openly racist and xenophobic posters used by neo-Nazi extremist parties in Europe:  The German NPD, the Swiss SVO, the now-defunct Czech National Party, and the new Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit) movement in the Czech Republic. (Collage:  Romea.cz)
The openly racist and xenophobic posters used by neo-Nazi extremist parties in Europe: The German NPD, the Swiss SVO, the now-defunct Czech National Party, and the new Dawn of Direct Democracy (Úsvit) movement in the Czech Republic. (Collage: Romea.cz)

Fascist rhetoric was used by candidates from various groups during this year's municipal and Senate elections in the Czech Republic. To what degree was it ultimately successful?

Does such rhetoric win votes? The local elections brought us many surprising results, some of which were pleasant for civil society and unpleasant for the long-term enemies of civil society sitting on local councils around the country.

Now the initial enthusiasm is beginning to wane, the young activists are starting to settle into the everyday reality of local politics, and the country will follow anxiously whether things will actually "get better", whether the establishment has been justifiably criticized all these years. In addition to the spirit of activism and civic renewal that made the rounds of our small country for several weeks before these elections, there was another spirit here too:  The true spirit of good old-fashioned Fascism.  

The cleanup

A key theme of the local elections became "cleaning up" - in the broadest sense of the term. Talking about "cleaning up" politics, however, is not the same thing as cleaning your room.

From our historical experience it is evident that this term doesn't so much mean cleaning up dirt and rubbish as it means cleansing the symbolic reality of the respectable bourgeoisie itself. When we make such cleansing a subject of political dialogue, we find ourselves on thin ice.  

Our symbolic image of the world is primarily created by other people, so if our world seems contaminated somehow, then it means that unwelcome "others" are showing up in it. While in the traditional mining regions (northern Bohemia or the Ostrava area) the main "polluters" of the public space were still being identified in these elections as Romani people (skilfully referred to by every possible kind of euphemism embedded in tidy campaign slogans), in Prague the campaign universe was ruled by attacks using the term "elements" (as Social Democrat Jiří Bodenlos called them in his campaign), meaning the "drug addict, the homeless, the prostitute".    

Transports and collection points

The fervent embrace of scandalous sentiments by the traditional parties in Prague was represented not just by Bodenlose (and ultimately by the entire frenzied Czech Social Democratic Party in Prague 4) but also by Tomáš Holeček, the Civic Democratic (ODS) candidate for mayor of Prague 9. We would have every right to expect his slogan - "Homeless people out of residential zones"- not from a candidate in the capital, but from some provincial right-wing conservative living near the very smallest of this country's cities (in the candidate's logic, if the working class doesn't deserve special treatment, then the stinking subclass of those who refuse to participate in accumulating wealth at all hardly deserves it either).  

After a four-year break since the last local contest, it was also possible to hear echoes of the Nazi Reich-style Action Plan of councilor Jiří Janeček (ODS) once again, who said he wanted, in the name of bourgeois purity, to build a fenced-off ghetto on the outskirts of Prague:  "On the outskirts of Prague, where it won't bother anyone, we would set up collection points for those who will never fit in. A special microbus would take them there."

Separation, transport, collection site... . It was with great disillusionment that the socially-minded followed how some organizations of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) remained faithful to those immortal words of former Czech Senator Alena Gajdůšková that "Social Democracy is not a party for the homeless".

A catch-all party, in the Social Democratic conception, apparently means "capturing" only that part of society that has already been symbolically cleansed. Voters in Prague 4 rewarded this quasi-Fascist, spirited campaign with just five seats on the 46-seat council.  

In the towns of České Budějovice, Most and Ostrava, a caricature of the British Tories ran candidates for local town councils for the first time; the common starting point that was central to its program was that of "pushing the inadaptables to the periphery." In Most the Tories won 1.29 % of the vote with 9 728 votes (almost 5 000 less than the stray brown-shirts from the ultra-right DSSS).    

The České Budějovice Tories received 2.47 % of the vote, in particular through their own social/technocratic program, which did not abuse the Romani theme in any particularly vehement way. It was the Ostrava billboards of the Tories that dominated, with by far the most horrifying slogans:  "Finally a Solution" [translator's note:  in Czech the spelling is virtually indistinguishable from the spelling of the words meaning Final Solution] or "Ostrava Doesn't Have To Be Black" - their aggressive campaign in this critical region was ultimately only good for a mere 1.81 % of the vote.

Provocation through flimsiness

The greatest extemporaneous performance of the Senate elections was, without any doubt, the ANO movement's candidate in Prague 1, Laura Janáčková. Journalists labeled her a controversial candidate, but in my opinion she was far more deserving of the nickname "unbearable".  

Janáčková also called herself provocative, and I must acknowledge that she provoked me constantly. During the two weeks of her Prague campaign, she managed to offer a lighly bored public several scandals that bore absolutely no relation to how little of her (if anything) had ever been heard prior to these or any other elections.  

When someone labels all homeless people "indecent", I believe that is not being provocative so much as it is being extraordinarily stupid. The agile Ms Laura managed to piss off first the gender studies crowd (her billboard earned her their nomination for Sexist Piggy) and then the fellow citizens of her declared hometown - the last straw for anyone judicious was her saying that "My aim is to uncompromisingly drive the drug addicts, homeless and prostitutes from our squares and streets and return Prague to its decent residents and visitors."  

From this brownshirt equation we can infer that Janáčková believes a condition of "decency" is having a home. That means "decency" is defined exclusively through property ownership - or is there an opportunity for the impoverished among us to buy their way out of their primordial indecency through some humiliating mortgage, at least?  

In short, Janáčková was one of those who were unafraid to take advantage of the general trend of an egotistical society for her personal benefit, a society in which people are not interested in the precise contours of the fates of those whose presence spoils their freedom to imagine what the world outside should look like. The slogan she used under the rubric of [Czech Finance Minister] Babiš's movement in her campaign ultimately brands homeless people as evil.

One ambitious woman easily tars homeless people with the same brush as criminals and with the aid of an oligarchy, floods the public space with her deplorable rhetoric. After that it doesn't matter that Salvation Army statistics report that only about 5 % of the homeless people in the Czech Republic have ever committed a crime.  

Fascists, lower your ears!

Her populist campaign with its elements of Fascism and sexism earned Janáčková 4 189 votes in the Senate district of Prague 1, which meant 13.26 % of the vote, or fourth place. The saddest thing of all about her brief political career, of course, is that she shared the loss of that district with former Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursík, whose campaign combined elements of animal cartoons with a fight against the Russian Empire.    

Janáčková managed to fail even though she ran (please note, in Prague) with the support of the supposedly undefeatable Andrej Babiš - her campaign was not outrageously political, but purely "a test case". In the runup to the elections, the Fascist pixies poked their noses out of the moss, but after the elections, with the exception of the DSSS, they have all lowered their ears and crawled back undercover.

We can still "comfort" ourselves with the understanding that is the longterm incapability of the left to work with social themes that is now being exploited by this content-free billionaire. The furtive nature of these latently Fascist, ostracizing slogans could be evidence that the populists themselves are aware of the long-lasting anti-Fascist nature of the Czech electorate and still don't have an entirely easy time of it here.      

We must not, however, forget that only one-third of the electorate participated in these elections. Yes, things could be worse.

First published on Deník Referendum.

Petr Bittner, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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nesnášenlivost, Politika, Soužití, Volby, Volby 2014, Xenophobia



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