Monday, April 02, 2012

A Tale of Two Romans

Disillusionment with Czech politics is far from a new phenomenon. It (re)took root here relatively quickly, replacing the brief burst of optimism which followed the Velvet Revolution, and by the time I arrived in the country was already well established. However, recently it has reached hitherto unseen levels, at least in the period since 1989, and this is hardly any surprise. In the index of corruption the country has fallen beneath the standard of several developing countries, and though there is widespread anger and protests are springing up, including Olomouc’s very own Occupy movement, now in the sixth month of its existence, the predominant response is apathy and fatalism.

The rotten state of the political scene here is well illustrated by two recent news stories. The first relates to Olomouc bus driver Roman Smetana, who stands on the brink of becoming the first political prisoner this country has had since the collapse of communism. Mr Smetana’s crime was to deface fliers of the main political parties which were on display in his bus. For this offence he was sentenced to 100 days of community service by a judge who just happens to be the wife of Ivan Langer, one of the local politicians whose smug face appeared on these fliers. Judge Langerová stated that this matter in no way made her unsuitable to preside over the case, since she would not allow it to influence her professional conduct as a judge, and naturally, what reasonable person would doubt such assurances?

Incidentally, Langer’s political career has been cut short since the appearance of the defaced election fliers in question, though Mr Smetana cannot realistically take the credit for this. Langer was once a rising star in the right wing ODS (known in the English speaking community as the odious) party, having previously made his name as one of the student revolutionary leaders in Olomouc. A close ally of president Václav Klaus, he once even seemed a potential future party leader, but this was not to be, in no small part thanks to his suspected links to organised crime. Voters of his own party registered their disapproval of him at the last election, ensuring that he was not returned to parliament.

Mr Smetana has refused to accept his punishment, with the result that instead of 100 days community service, he is now faced with 100 days in prison. His fate contrasts starkly with that of Roman Janoušek, a Prague businessman who doesn’t drive a bus, rather an expensive but now somewhat damaged Porsche. Recordings have recently emerged of phone conversations between Janoušek and Pavel Bém, former mayor of Prague and challenger for leadership of the same party as Ivan Langer, indicating large scale corruption in the running of the city’s finances. Bém’s party membership has now been suspended. Meanwhile Janoušek has become involved in further controversy, having been arrested following a traffic accident in which he crashed into another car and then attempted to drive off. Unfortunately for him, the driver of the other car, a middle aged woman, caught up with him at the next traffic lights and stood in front of his car in order to prevent him from attempting to escape. His response was to drive into her, hospitalising her, and again attempting to escape. When caught soon after, at some time after 10 am, he was found to be pissed as a cunt and under the influence of other drugs. He was quickly released through the back door of the police station.

As in the UK, where Murdoch and his employees are still unpunished whilst teenagers who attempt to organise riots on Twitter are sentenced to several years in prison, there’s one law here for the well connected and another for the rest of us. Maybe I should be grateful we’re not in Florida, where it’s apparently legal to shoot unarmed black people. As the situation stands Ivan Langer and Pavel Bém are not facing any criminal proceedings. Roman Smetana is due to begin his incarceration, Roman Janoušek has not yet been charged with any offence.


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