Friday, May 29, 2009

Never trust a man with egg on his face

Following the fall of the government, Czech politics has taken another bizarre turn in the run-up to the European elections, with campaign meetings held by the Social Democrats degenerating into orgies of egg-pelting. This is not something I necessarily approve of or encourage; naturally we ought to be adults about this and acknowledge that the Social Democrats have just as much of a right to make public speeches as their opponents without getting showered in yolk. On the other hand, just as in the case of fascists getting their heads kicked in or taxi drivers getting stabbed, whilst I don’t condone such action I can’t help feeling the fuckers basically deserve it.

The primary target for these attacks has been Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, and this is clearly a personal issue. He’s not the first politician in the world to have had eggs thrown at him, and the whole thing probably started fairly spontaneously rather than as some kind of orchestrated terrorism. Now though it’s gathered momentum, partly thanks to a campaign on (groan) facebook. But it would be lazy and indecently generous to Paroubek to attribute the unprecedented scale and ferocity of these protests merely to the internet. Such behaviour is far from commonplace in Czech politics, and even my own personal bête noire Václav Klaus never succeeded in provoking this kind of reaction. Personalities sometimes are important in politics, and Paroubek is evidently an extremely divisive figure who has a serious case to answer.

There is now a caretaker government of largely unknown technocrats in charge of the Czech Republic, with a general election planned for the autumn. Paroubek is still widely tipped to become the next PM, and you might expect many people to be grateful for him for sinking the weak and unpopular centre-right government of Mirek Topolánek. However, for all Paroubek’s attempts to insist that Topolánek’s party is behind the sharp turnabout in the fortunes of the dairy industry, it’s not only the right who he’s managed to offend, since it’s clear to anyone not in an acute state of denial that bringing down the government in the middle of the Czech Republic’s presidency of the EU was no more than an act of shabby opportunism, motivated by Paroubek’s gargantuan self-interest.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, or the last straw. There are plenty of other good reasons why a lot of people hate him. Many young and liberal-leaning people have never forgiven him for his response to the Czech Tek festival when he was PM in 2005: the event was admittedly illegal and probably also antisocial, but that certainly didn’t warrant the massive police brutality employed to break it up. He hasn’t been blessed with a particularly sympathetic appearance (although his new dolly-bird wife, acquired when he traded in his old boiler, insists he has a “sexy brain”), but he doesn’t help matters with his arrogant dismissal of any dissent, as well as his bullying tactics, which provide the perfect complement to his rotund, steamrolling frame. After losing the last general election in 2006 he was staggeringly ungracious in defeat, trying every low trick in the book in order to hold on to power at a time when wiser men, such as former Social Democrat leader Miloš Zeman – also a bully, though at least one with a sense of humour – would have eased back.

Most horrifying from any liberal standpoint is his casual attitude towards getting into bed with the communists, which means that there’s now a very real possibility of a government involving these murdering scum for the first time since the Velvet Revolution. Paroubek’s retort to the justifiable outrage over this issue is indicative of why he, both literally and metaphorically, has egg on his face: “People get used to all sorts of things”. Bearing that in mind it’s hard to feel much sympathy if he has to get used to a diet of raw dairy produce.


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