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July 6, 2020
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Czech demonstration for democratic institutions objects to new ombudsman, politicians' efforts to control public broadcasting

2.3.2020 10:18
Romani activist Čeněk Růžička on 1 March 2020 at the Million Moments for Democracy demonstration. The sign reads
Romani activist Čeněk Růžička on 1 March 2020 at the Million Moments for Democracy demonstration. The sign reads "Křeček = the fox guarding the chicken coop". Czech Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček has said he will not focus on discrimination against Romani people while in office. (PHOTO: Petr Zewlakk Vrabec)

Thousands of people assembled yesterday afternoon on Old Town Square in Prague for a demonstration convened by the "Million Moments for Democracy" (Milion chvilek pro demokracii) after the recent election of Stanislav Křeček, a former Deputy Public Defender of Rights, to the role of Public Defender of Rights. Organizers warned of the threat of institutions breaking down that are meant to make sure the rules are being followed and the public is being served.

The organizers especially expressed concern about opportunities for politicians to control public broadcasting. The protest was peaceful and lasted roughly two and a half hours.

Dozens of police officers were on hand and reported that the demonstration took place without any incidents. Those protesting set off around 16:00 from Prague Castle, and according to Czech News Agency reporters, the march was several hundred strong.

On the way to the Old Town Square more people joined them and hundreds more were waiting for them on the Old Town Square. Demonstrators brought a big chair to the square inscribed with the word "Democracy", the legs of which represented the Courts, the Media, the Government and the Law.

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Organizers symbolically demonstrated how the entire democratic system will collapse if just one of those pillars falls, namely, the independent media. They called on people to carefully follow the elections to the boards of the public broadcast media institutions.

From politicians' remarks, according to the organizers, it can be deduced that they will do their best to acquire influence over Czech Television in particular. "Let's be prepared, in case of need, to stand up for that institution," the chair of the association, Mikuláš Minář, declared.

Others who spoke then emphasized the role of civil society. For example, Fedor Gál, a Slovak sociologist who lives in Prague, said that without civil society, the change and the victory of the Ordinary People and Independent Figures (OLaNO) movement in the Slovak parliamentary elections this weekend would not have been possible.

Those participating in the demonstration and march carried slogans against the Czech Prime Minister and chair of the "Association of Dissatisfied Citizens" (ANO) movement, Andrej Babiš, as well as signs reading "Chinese/Russian behavior smells of totalitarianism", "We want the EU path, not Kaczyński/Orbán", or "The media does not belong to politicians". Romani activist Čeněk Růžička also walked in the crowd carrying a sign reading "Not protecting minority rights = the road to Fascism" and "Křeček = the fox guarding the chicken coop".

Minář mentioned the new ombudsman in his opening speech, claiming that Křeček wants to defend just some rights, and only for some citizens. The association previously stated that the new ombudsman is denying the very purpose of that institution.

Million Moments has also expressed the opinion that the state administration and significant institutions are being intentionally, politically, systematically broken down, step by step, and then privatized. In addition to the ombudsman and public broadcasting, he also mentioned the anti-monopoly authority as a target of this practice.

The peaceful protest concluded with opera singer Dagmar Pecková singing the national anthem just before 18:30. She has been attending the protests organized by the association since 2018.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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demokracie, Demonstrace, Menšiny, Ombudsman



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