Significantly more demonstrators than last year’s record 45,000 might descend on Wenceslas Square on April 21. The government’s cost-cutting measures and inflation have worsened the situation of socially deprived groups, political weakness has become the norm and tensions in society are on the increase.
Some unholy information made the rounds of the Czech media on Holy Wednesday (April 4). The evening before, the latest in who knows how many government crises erupted, this time provoked by the hysterical outburst of Public Affairs (VV), which threatened to leave the government (and has since split in two), and the rustic humor of Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09), who attempted to shove VV de facto leader Vít Bárta’s people out of the coalition. Were it not for the level-headedness of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats, ODS) and the total capitulation of VV, preparation for early elections to Parliament in June would be underway (and it could still happen).
Fortunately for the organizers of the Week of Protests, lasting from April 15 to 21, Nečas’ three-party coalition government (ODS-TOP 09-VV) not only survived the latest crisis of its “Italian marriage” but with the votes of the temporarily pacified VV approved further measures that are “possibly painful but being taken at the right time,” as Kalousek told Novinky.cz. “We will not spend more than we can just to be popular, and we didn’t care what will happen in three of four years – après moi le deluge,” said this fine man, with an honesty all of his own.
The government’s austerity package aims to keep the public deficit below three percent of GDP in 2013 and 2014, for instance by means of lower valorization of pensions and an increase in both VAT rates and income tax. With its latest package the government offered those intending to pour onto the streets during the Week of Protests a few decent slogans for their placards.
Support of the ČSSD and KSČM
The Week of Protests was intended to be not only a campaign of unrest and gatherings but also of seminars. The aim is apparently to explain to the general public the reasons for the demonstration against the government called for Saturday (April 21) on Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague. The demonstration is being organized by the largest Czech trade union, the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS).
Jaroslav Zavadil, Confederation of Czech-Moravian Trade Unions (ČMKOS)
The two political parties in opposition, the center-left Social Democrats (ČSSD) and largely unreformed Communists (KSČM), have lent their support to the demonstration and the Week of Protests preceding it. They have been joined by ProAlt and some other fairly well known civil initiatives and associations, such as the Free Universities Movement, the Czech Council of Seniors and the Czech Union of Tenants. Several smaller trade unions operating outside the ČMKOS – the Association of Independent Unions (ASO), the communist-affiliated Trade Union Federation of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (OSČMS), etc. – are also coming out in support.
However, the website stopvlade.cz, created by the protest organizers over the past few days, is being misleading when it lists under the link “Who we are” sympathetic trade unions said to be part of the larger federations. Overall the effect is powerful, though anyone interested in the genuine number of supporters of the demonstration and Week of Protests will come away unsatisfied.
Communication failings of Nečas’ government
According to the survey of political preferences carried out by STEM in March and published on April 11, all the parties listed are losing support while the number of undecided voters is increasing. For the opposition Social Democrats, who are closest of all the parties to ČMKOS, the main organizers of the planned protests, this means that their alternative program to government cuts, only hazily mapped out up until now, is not sufficiently appealing to the public.
But let’s return to Nečas’ government. Certain of its reform measures are undoubtedly essential. However, for the general public they would be more palatable if the government came up with measures to stimulate growth, mapped out the direction the Czech Republic should take, did not improvise as it has done up till now and offered voters some reassurance it knows what it is doing. But this appears beyond the capabilities of a group, one part of which comprises a “party” of would-be divas.
However, from the point of view of the impact on public opinion, the worst thing about this “government of budgetary responsibility” is its inability to explain intelligibly its policies to the people. In terms of communication Nečas’ government has failed completely. The reason for this is quite possibly that it regards the popularisation of reforms as a technical rather than a political matter. “Who shall kindle others must himself glow,” claimed a certain “leader of the proletariat,” who – unfortunately – mastered the art of “kindling others” perfectly.
Yet most leading Czech politicians don’t glow; at most they simply smoulder — some don’t even do that. This type can do nothing but rely on advertising agencies in the hope that they will popularize unpopular reforms by sleight of hand. But this won’t work. You have to talk and talk and talk to the people using a language and images which they understand.
The meagre outlook for the ODS and TOP 09
Some will no doubt remember 1992, when the ODS leader Václav Klaus crisscrossed the republic, visited hundreds of towns and villages and spoke with everyone he met in order to get their support for his political and economic vision. ČSSD’s Miloš Zeman did the same. But most other important figures in Czech politics have given priority to the Sunday afternoon public affairs program “Questions of Václav Moravec” and discussions on Czech Radio, Radio Impulse and Frequency 1.