>Post-match analysis for the Civic Demorats – time to bring on a Czech Cameron?

> Czech politios seem to have taken time off fixing the country’s deadlocked post-election situation to watch the football, most –surprisingly accurately –predicting yesterday’s convincing win over the USA.

Looking back and trying to get the election result into some kind of perspective it is clearly a very pyrrhic victory for the right, whose huge lead simply evaporated over the previous 12 months. The equivalent of winning 5-4 after leading 5-1 at half time and then not qualifying on goal difference, I guess, due to some dogged defending, aggressive play including a few professional fouls and some simple but effective long balls down the left-wing by the opposition during the second half….

Paroubek – rather like Klaus – is the kind of politician I sneakingly, actually not so sneakingly, admire regardless of ideology: a political streetfighter, who simply does not give up and wins through because, it. Although a new face in Czech national politics when he became Minister of Local Development, seasoned watchers of Czech politics will remember that he was in fact General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party in 1990-2, when it was a small extra parliamentary party led by elderly exiles. At this time – as I remember from reading through the minutes of the party’s executive meetings a couple of years later in the party’s archive when researching a PhD – the party was seeking to be ‘state-forming’ and co-operate with the (neo-)liberal Right because it read Czech politics through a nostalgic haze, which saw the all-embracing five party coalitions of Interwar Czechoslovakia as a model

As a footnote, I should add the archive was bizarrely in the care of one of the Czech Republic’s leading anarchists, Petr Wohlmuth, who proved – even by Czech standards a thoroughly unco-operative and incompetent archivist. Hopefully they have since given him the boot.

When Miloš Zeman took over as leader in 1993, correctly understanding that populist and adversarial politics focusing on the failures and iniquities of transformation were what were called for, Paroubek too got the boot and disappeared into Prague local politics Technically a commune like any other the Czech capital’s municipal politics involve big (and often dirty money), it was a shrewd move for national politicians seeking to hibernate for a bit. Paroubek gained a degree of political rehabilitation in 1998 when the advent of the power sharing Opposition Agreement deal signed with the Civic Democrats suggested that left-right co-operation wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Paroubek himself seems to have worked out that sniping at Zeman in the company of a diminishing band of displaced exiles from low circulation magazines like Trend was also not such a good one.

And then in due course, he gets his chance to enter national politics and is in the right place at the right time to emerge as a caretaker leader when Stanislav Gross – also a Social Democratic ‘veteran’, having also joined the party early in 1990 – spectacularly self-destructed in early 2005.

As the election has showed he learned some of the populist lessons of the Zeman period well. This kind of politics may stink. Kieran Williams aptly described Zeman’s bestselling but rambling and vituperative memoirs as a ‘foul fart of book’ and his populist style – like that of other Czech politician – is similarly flatuant and malodorous. But it does work, at least when defensive spoiling tactics are needed. The Czech right – like its Hungarian counterpart faces more strategic dilemmas – essentially how to capture the 5% of social and economically liberal, well educated urban voters – what ODS people call ‘Prague café society’ (pražská kavárna) who simply will not vote for the Civic Democrats, but prefer small liberal parties – this time the eco-liberal Czech Greens – stressing human rights and governance issues as well as market reform. It would seem a Czech Cameron is called for, although we may be some way from that yet. If he can soften some of his edges socially liberal, punk rock loving ODS European Parliament leader Jan Zahradili is probably the most likely candidate


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