>Czech Republic: No fright on the right?

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The Czech Civic Democrats’ euro-election slogan Řešení místo strašení (“Solutions Not Scaremonging”) – intended to counter the Social Democrats’ hardhitting negative campaigning and capitalise on the relatively good reception among Czechs of the Topolánek government’s prematurely cut short Presidency of the EU – is something of new departure for the party. From anti-communist and free market crusaders for whose election campaigns themselves featured a good deal of strašení about the left, the party is reborn into one of pragamatic and moderate doers who went down with the sinking ship representing the country, while left-wing wreckers and disloyal internal elements caused havoc.

If you take away the opposition-bashing hyperbole, there’s probably even an element of truth in this self-image and it is interesting to see how Topolánek et al have been quietly reinterpreting the role of history of their party and especially the role of Václav Klaus to reinforce this. Essentially, in the (early) 1990s – we are told – Klaus was pragmatic fixer who got things done, then at some unspecified point (but certainly by 2002) turned into an ideological monster and parted company with both ODS and his earlier self. Minister Jekyll and President Hyde, as it were. Hmmm…

Nevertheless, saying that you’re a hardworking moderate team of incumbents interested in the practical business of government has not always been the a winning formula in Czech politics. Anyone with a long enough memory may remember that in 1992 the ex-dissidents of the middle of the road Civic Movement (OH) tried precisely this tack – billboards of rowing boats and appeals to voters to all pull together, as I recall – and were, of course, duly slaughted in the elections by VK and the rising Civic Democratic Party.

Of course, today’s ODS is a far tougher, more formidable and professional outfit than OH whose disdain for party politics was probably their undoing, but parallel was not lost on Klaus himself, who hurled this as a term of abuse at Topolánek’s ODS for its alleged loss of right-wing ideological commitment and embrace of various figures associated with his predecessor Václav Havel and (rather more tenuously) the original OH.

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