Occupy Prague: We must ask ourselves if we want this kind of capitalism

Czech movement inspired by the Spanish protests and Occupy Wall Street wants to “occupy” Klárov

Politics & Policy|Economy|Society
Petr Matějček | 02.04.2012
Politicians should be held accountable for their actions, stop flipping people the middle finger, says Jan Cemper, coordinator of the movement Skutečná demokracie teď (Real Democracy Now), which under the Occupy Prague banner intends to set up a tent village by the end of April at Prague Klárov to serve as a venue for discussions with Czech citizens

Czech activist Jan Cemper wants democracy — “real democracy” — and he wants it now. That is why the former electrotechnician, who now works for a small Prague travel agency, established the Real Democracy Now(STD) group together with a few sympathizers. The main objective of the group, which draw its inspiration from foreign protest movements such as the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street, is to organize tent protests in Prague and other cities starting from April 28.

By the end of the month under the name Occupy Prague they intend to build a tent village on Klárov square that should serve as a venue for debates with other citizens on alternatives to the present political-economic system.

Although Cemper is close to the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation (ČSAF), of which he was a member until 2008, and also has taken part in the Czech anti-NATO and anti-IMF protests held at the turn of the millennium, he in his own words no longer adheres to radical extremist ideas. “Anarchism is a big utopian dream. I rather see a future in direct democracy,” the SDT co-founder and coordinator stated immediately at the beginning of his meeting with Czech Position. 

Q: You say you are, above all, devoted to direct democracy. What form should it take specifically?

CEMPER: At present oligarchy rules this place. A minority controls the majority. We have a mafia government. We want to return power to the people. We would like to push through general referenda that would overrule the legislative bodies. If the people would have expressed themselves in any way or another through a referendum, politicians should not be able to change such a decision, they would at best, after a certain period of time, be allowed to call another referendum.

Q: I'm not sure I’d want my grandmother to decide about, say, tax reform in a referendum…

CEMPER: Currently, a chemist is finance minister [Miroslav Kalousek, Top 09] while a person completely lacking in agricultural or ecological education is acting as the minister of the environment [Tomáš Chalupa, Civic Democrats (ODS)]. In such a situation your grandmother is of the same level. Overall, however, only the most important issues would be tackled by referenda. People would be able to decide on whether to send Kč 80 billion to the European Union or which mission our soldiers should be sent to. It is, after all, their money. I am not disputing the need for a council of experts to exist. But personally, I don’t like the division of a Chamber of Deputies [lower house of parliament] and a Senate [upper house]. The government should be one single entity consisting of personalities, politicians and experts, all under the same roof. ‘Eventually, this would also require a change of the constitution. But certainly not in the way envisaged by the Holešovská Appeal ...’

Eventually, this would also require a change of the constitution. But certainly not in the way envisaged by the Holešov Appeal [Holešovská výzva, which is demanding public referenda] – they, it seems, already have an exact wording for the changes [they want implemented]. We don’t agree with that. If it comes to constitutional changes, let the people themselves decide and let this process take place in its own time. Let the people decide whether they want a party-based system and, if not, let them propose an alternative. That is where I see the shortcomings of the Icelandic revolution. It’s all very well they’re putting the former politicians and bankers on trial who brought about that country’s crash; on the other hand, a select group was formed to draw up a new constitution and ordinary people have no way of seeing into what these changes involve.

Q: Are these ordinary people at all interested in following these political processes from so close? Do they have the time and mood for that?

CEMPER: People are indeed interested. The state is, after all, managing their money. At least some measure of transparency in the state budget should be a matter of course — so as to enable us to see where and to whom that money is going to. We would like to know the names of all companies partaking in state contracts etc. We are continuously incurring debts, simply because the state is poorly managing its finances. Twenty percent of state funds are, just like that, vanishing somewhere down the line due to corruption and obscure state orders.

Q: Are you sure you would be able to find experts better at running the country’s finances?

CEMPER: Experts aren’t really the issue. Politicians should rather get a real sense that someone is watching them, that they are accountable for their actions and can’t afford showing people their middle finger. They should know that if they fail in something they will be held responsible and not get away with pretending as if nothing had happened, as is happening now at a regular basis – just look at the [ProMoPro] affair involving [ODS Defense Minister] Alexander Vondra.

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Biased Interview, Bad Journalism

I am surprised to see how biased the interviewer is toward the ideas endorsed by Jan Cemper. The interviewer's questions presuppose "experts" are better than informed citizens, which often is not true. And judging from his questions, the interviewer also obviously thinks Cemper's movement should not be taken seriously. That is plainly bad journalism.  An interviewer should be more objective.

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