>Tea parties Czech style?

>

 The rise of the US Tea Party party movement has held a weird fascination even for those who normally find US politics boring or incomprehensible: revolutionary but right-wing;  a citizens movement, but one making inroads into party-electoral politics; leaderless, but well organised and unstoppable; anti-establishment protest movement born of economic crisis, but one animated by pro-market populism that wants to fell Big Government, rather than shelter behind the protections it can give. None of this is, of course, that inexplicable: money talks, US politics is loosely stuctured and the boundaries between parties and movements are blurred by European standards and there are strong exisiting traditions of anti-state, anti-tax and pro-market populism, recently revivied by the hubble-bubble over the internet economy.

“Budgetary responsability, anyone?”

Still, after the ‘shallacking’ dealt to out Barrack Obama, Tea Parties are (at least until next week) the wave of the future and commentators across the globe have been looking for parallels elsewhere, especially in their own particular patch. Major TP backer the Heritage Foundation predictably sees the movement going international and manages to mention both the Czech and Slovak Republic as well (rather more implausibly) Sweden as recent examples (was it the Sweden Democrats they were thinking of?). The Economist  also noted the same parallel a while back in relations to the emergence pro-market anti-establishmenTOP09 and Public Affairs in the CR and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS)  in Slovakia.

So not surprisingly, Czech commentators have jumped with alacrity into looking for Čajové dýchánky or teapartismus in their own neck of the woods. That Tea Parties are  an anti-establishment  populist revolt from below against experts and the political class, as MFDnes columnist and blogger Zdeněk Muller concludes, seems a safe, if unenlightening first move. But hang on, who in the Czech Republic is the establishment and who are the whacko populists? For some, any Czech and Central/continental European populism is, by definition, of the statist, collective, redistributionist variety. Milla Lilla on The New York Review of Books, for example, argues that the current wave of social and industrial protest in France against retrenchmant of pensions is a Tea Party a la française: angry, unco-ordinated popular mobilization  ritualistically going through the motions of attacking familiar targets, but triggered by times of global uncertainty –  at once in a familiar idiom, but hollow, new, different and edgy,

So, as early as March, one Czech right-wing commenator was rather confusedly urging a responsible  but Tea Party-ish revolt against the populism of the Social Democrats for wild and irresponsible promises, which allegedly made them unfit to run for office.As Czech voters were not unduly impressed by such promises on polling day (when the Social Democrats flopped badly) that could perhaps have left it to the good sense of the electorate and am I the only person to remember Václav Klaus’s weasel words in 1993 that transformation was basically over, or saying that salaries would double during the run-in to the 1996 election? 

So perhaps Lukáš Hoder, writing in FinMag, is closely to the mark in speaking of a ‘new populism’ of fiscal responsibility  which marries populist animus against elites with pro-market, or rather anti-statist, politics. Viewed through the prism of Czech politics, Public Affairs (VV) has a Tea Party-ish flavour to it in its crusade against political dinosaurs and support for market reforms in healthcare. On the other hand, VV’s cutting edge appeal seem to a more a mix of novelty and anti-corruption and its voters and legislators turned out to be a mixed and, in some ways, rather centrist bunch. Like Ivan Krastev, Mr Hoder fingers globalization, detached technocratic elites and top-down European integration as likely suspect for the new populism. But Krastev’s once fresh analysis of a couple of years ago now looks oddly dated in its characterisation of populismtmovements in Europe as being defined by cultrual illiberalism, economic egalitarianisn and xenophobically tinged nationalism. To borrow Benjamin Barber’s terminology from a seminal article which holds up surprisingly well despite being almost 20 years old (and very stereotypical on the post-communist world), these days angry populist can rally to either ‘Jihad’ (nativist fundamentalism of all types) or ‘McWorld ‘(citizens reduced to taxpayer-consumers in a world more about markets than states or societies).

Being more savvy than the aveage journalist, political scientists have, of course, picked up on this. Kevin Deegan Krause at Pozorblog , for example,  speaks of the rise of in CEE in recent years of  a new type of anti-establishment party ‘culturally liberal … attractive to younger, educated voters making extensive use of social networking software:’ with similar (10-15%) vote shares

 ‘…not exactly a new party family (though in their cultural liberalism and anti-corruption emphases they share significant elements) and not exactly a new party type (though their methods and organization do not fit fully with any of the currently hypothesized [organiszational] models, even cartel and firm models), but with strong and intersecting elements of both.’

including the Czech Republic’s TOP and Public Affairs, Slovakia’s Freedom and Solidarity, the Green-ish youth-oriented Politics Can Be Different (LMP) in Hungary as well as  new pro-market parties that crashed onto the political stage in the Baltic states in over the past decade, such as  the People’s Party and New Era in Latvia or Res Publica. And, of course, as new youth driven protest parties go, we should not forget the region’s most successful one, the definitely not culturally or economically liberal, extreme -right Jobbik,  ‘a far-right for the Facebook Generation’ as an excellent analysis in EUobserver put it, although as one of my PhD student noted at a seminar last week Jobbik activists has a penchant for social activism and community politics(and marching around in paramilitary uniforms).

It’s hard to separate out the diverse elements of shifting kaleidescope: anger, youth, disenchament, anti- politics and anti-poltiicians, newnness, globalization, the web as a low cost means of mobilization.  Is the story one of organization, ideology or just raw indignation? And which of these is bringing something new?

The Czech Communists, for example, also see a parallel between Public Affairs (VV) and the Tea Parties, but for them it is old wine in new bottles: all are creatures of powerful business interests plugging the same Neo-Liberal Economic Doctrine (capitals letters for Capital, comrades). Oddly, enough this is very close the analysis carried in one page commentary the Last Word column accompanying the business-oriented Fleet Sheet press summary, which has seen VV and TOP09 (especially) as insurance policies for various politically well-connected business lobbies with the most vested of vested interests. Meanwhile, a column for long established contrarian Czech net journal Britské listy a similar but slightly different angle:  Tea Parties (and by implication VV) it argued are  examples of ‘asro-turf,’orchestrated  but spontaneous (pseudo-)grass roots movements created and financed by business sponsors for self-interested reasons – the subject of a new anti-Tea Party documentary (although the US Democrats and New Labour have used the same strategy) This analysis kind of fits, although VV was more virtual astro-turf as popular moblisation (such as it was) took place in cyber space, rather than in the form of placard waving and whooping at conventions.

Tea for ten million on an artifical lawn?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: