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November 11, 2019
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Commentary: Truth vs. oligarchy, populism and xenophobia

27.6.2019 9:25
Demonstration on Letná Plain in Prague, 23 June 2019. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)
Demonstration on Letná Plain in Prague, 23 June 2019. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Sunday's demonstration in Prague was the culmination of a civil society empowerment that has been taking place across the spectrum of political opinion and that crosses the barriers of religion or skin color among those who attended and other supporters. That bothers those who are usurping all the power for themselves here and who do not need us, the citizens, for their idea of democracy.

The awakening of civil society here is well-described by Mikuláš Minář, chair of the "Million Moments for Democracy" association: "The assembly on Letná... is not a period, it's a colon... It's necessary that each of us personally continue what has now been started... It depends on all the people who believe that it makes sense to take care of what we have in common - the public space, our freedom, the law, our democracy - with kindness, nerve and prudence. Just a couple of people are able to achieve big things through great persistence, to say nothing of a million such people... Many communities have already written to us that they will be holding more meetings. Maybe they won't be every week, and maybe they won't just be about protests, but people want to meet up, discuss things, and find the way forward."

The populists just want sheep

From the podium during the demonstration we heard much that was positive - challenges for reflection, a desire for democracy, for what is real, for the truth, and condemnations of populism and xenophobia. Jiří Padevět, director of the Academia bookseller and an historian, stated that clearly in his speech:  "All over Europe today, populism, sometimes painted in the national colors, sometimes just wrapped in tempting packaging, is doing its best to corrupt democratic society... Democracy demands responsibility, the will to make decisions, to respect those who are different, or more vulnerable, it demands that we think. Populism demands that we stay quiet as individuals. It demands that those who decide to follow the populist leader set aside their own desires and opinions and assume those of the leader, that they take on his unwillingness to address actual problems and replace it with campaign slogans... It demands not the will to make decisions, but obedience, it does not demand respect for those who are more vulnerable, but disregard for them. Essentially, it requires just one thing:  To shut up and four years later, to vote the same way you did the last time... Populists are just interested in a homogeneous, uniform mass of sheep, and that is being demonstrated once again all over Europe."

Concerns about the environment were also expressed. The ecologist Jan Piňos spoke up, as did representatives of private farmers.

There were also challenges full of healthy self-confidence, such as when the singer Radek Banga called for a moment of noise so our presence would be heard all the way to the seat of the Czech Government. Everybody shouted, including the Romani people present, because we all want the powerful to hear our objections to their sins against democracy.

We have recently heard so many lies, so many repulsive attacks against different groups, and so many subterfuges from Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and President Miloš Zeman that the desire for the truth seems a matter of course to us now. We have long known that it is not enough to just go vote once in a while and not take any further interest in public affairs.

If we do not take care of public affairs ourselves, then those who do not want anybody to see what they are up to will win. That means the power-hungry, the greedy, the immoral rulers, tunnelers, robbers and solicitors of corruption, in one word, the parasites gorged on the taxes we pay to the state.

What the oligarchs and populists need

Babiš is not the first such person to govern us here. Immediately during the Velvet Revolution, the political scene was infiltrated by members of the Prognostic Institute at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences and other "experts" affiliated with them.

Those people designed the privatization of the state's assets to benefit those who, at that time, had already acquired both financial and social capital - connections, contacts, knowledge of how things work. Who were they?

They were Bolsheviks and secret police of all kinds, the directors of state enterprises and their deputies, the black market money-changers, the thieves and other lowlife, as well as a couple of athletes and artists. It was exactly [Václav] Klaus and Co. who created the oligarchy here, Babiš included.

It was also Klaus and Zeman - or rather the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) - who were the first to crudely attack democracy through their power-sharing Opposition Agreement. It is no accident that today, alongside Babiš and ["Freedom and Direct Democracy" chair] Okamura, it is Klaus and Zeman who are doing all they can to drive people away from this current awakening of civil society.

It is exactly these politicians who need "enemies", domestic and foreign, in order to govern. This is why they hate civil society, why they proclaim and support hatred of refugees or Romani people.

They do not have any meaningful content to their policies other than raking it in for themselves and taking revenge against those whose opinions differ from theirs. Such politicians in particular need to control the media to the greatest possible extent so they can cover up their emptiness with marketing slogans.

Such politicians also need to control the judiciary and the police to cover up their crimes. It is up to us, and nobody else, whether we manage to nip the oligarchy governing us today in the bud or not.

The truth will be established

After this series of demonstrations organized by Million Moments for Democracy, we can also cast off a bit of our healthy skepticism. As Minář said:  "It is clearer than anything under the sun that after today, the scorners will say: 'You see? Andrej Babiš did not resign. What good was that? It was absolutely useless. Nothing changed.' That's not true. Things are slowly changing. A year ago there were 25 000 of us on the square. Today there were 250 000. How many of us will be here a year from now? Things are changing. We are changing ourselves. We ourselves are changing because we continue to insist that the truth is the truth and must be honored as such in politics. We do not doubt that if we persist in this attitude the truth will eventually be established."

Yes, the truth will finally be established as long as we will be willing to do something for it in our neighborhoods and in the public space per se. This most recent demonstration significantly contributed to that.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Občanská společnost, Populism, Xenophobia, 1989



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