Leaders of the Czech government’s dominant party, the Civic Democrats (ODS), called Tuesday for their coalition partners not to put the government’s existence at risk due to a row over comments by a political appointee.
“When the government is preparing a new state budget for next year and at a key moment for approving reforms, it is irresponsible to risk the future of this government and coalition and the stability of this country,” the ODS gremium said following a meeting on Tuesday morning.
‘We regard it as unacceptable that the existence of this government is put into question by the offensive behavior of one junior official.’
Rifts between the fragile three-way coalition exploded last week when ministers from the TOP 09 party walked out of a Cabinet meeting in protest at insulting remarks about their party leader, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, posted by Ladislav Bátora, a far-right advisor to Public Affairs (VV) Education Minister Josef Dobeš.
Bátora, connected in the past to the extremist National Party (NS), had already hit the headlines in the previous days for condemning US Ambassador Norman Eisen and other ambassadors’ support for the first gay pride festival and parade to be held in the Czech capital, Prague Pride 2011.
TOP 09 ministers have since upped the pressure for Dobeš to sack Bátora, with party leader Schwarzenberg warning for the first time on Monday that the party might walk out of the coalition if the education minister does not do so.
TOP 09 parliamentary group leader Petr Gazdík confirmed the threat on Tuesday. “We must consider whether or not this government continues,“ he told told public broadcaster Czech Television, adding that that it was not possible for it to function with such an extremist personality as Bátora in place.
They say they will only send junior ministers to Cabinet meetings until the row is resolved. But Dobeš says he has no intention of sacking his controversial appointee.
Caught in the middle, the Civic Democrats, led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, have tried to cool frayed tempers. “We regard it as unacceptable that the existence of this government is put into question by the offensive behavior of one junior official,” the ODS meeting added. A statement issued after the meeting said that any party that wanted to quit the coalition should do so openly and not seek to find some pretext.
The leader of the VV group of parliamentary deputies and former transport Minister, Vít Bárta, condemned TOP 09’s stance over Bátora at a press conference on Tuesday. He said the row was artificial and superficial with the real issue the attempt of TOP 09 and Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek to push through his proposed tax reform measures rather than any personal issues.
“I am convinced that the Czech people are intelligent people and can see through what is an artificial conflict and what is reality,” Bárta said. VV ministers were due to meet later.
TOP 09 has clashed with Public Affairs about a series of tax reform measures proposed by party strongman Kalousek, including changes to the rates of value-added tax (VAT) and the finance minister’s proposal to abolish the tax advantages of luncheon vouchers (“stravenky”), much beloved by many Czech workers. The final format of the 2012 budget should be discussed by the government next week.
Bátora, who holds the post of personnel director at the ministry, referred to Schwarzenberg on his Facebook site as a “sorry little old man” whom he said “sputters shamelessly when he knows I can’t challenge him to a duel for at least three reasons.” The insults came not long after the foreign minister said Bátora was not suitable to hold the ministry position due to his extreme views.
Dobeš has defended his adviser and claimed there is no evidence to support charges that Bátora, who is involved in the ultra-conservative civic initiative D.O.S.T. (“Trust, Objectivity, Freedom and Tradition”) whose acronym translates as “enough,” is a racist.
TOP 09 and VV party leaders were due to meet separately over the Bátora row later on Tuesday.