A few weeks before the Czech elections earlier this year, I was asked if I wanted to write a briefing on the electoral prospects of the Czech far-right – given the economic crisis, a risk consultancy analyst wondered, they might (as in Hungary) be expected to make advances. ‘Fat chance’, I said, ‘the Czech far right has been dead for more than a decade’. And, for once, my prediction was right. While the liberal anti-corruption part Public Affairs did surge unexpectedly into parliament, the far-right was nowhere with somewhat over one per cent of the vote, all told. True, the recently banned and quickly re-reformed Workers’ Party (DS), whose paramilitary style street parades and confrontations with Roma – and connections with organized racist violence – have attracted much local and international publicity did manage the best Czech far-right result in parliamentary elections for more than a decade and does seem to have pockets of support among. young people in technical colleges
, school mock elections suggested.
But 1.14 per cent is hardly the stuff of headlines and pales into insignificance with the hundreds of thousands of votes the late, unloved Republicans, whom I blogged about in an earlier post managed in the 1990s (peaking at 8 per cent) when they seem to a fixture on the parliamentary scene. However, the DS’s obvious extremism, which has put in very much under the beady eye of the Czech police and security services, and apparent preference for street politics would seem to rule out put something of an obstacle in the way of electoral growth. In comparative European perspective, as the CR is an oddity because of the weakness of the far right/radical right.
Efforts to formulate some kind of united front of the Czech far-right – capable of crossing the 1.5% and 3.0% barriers for minimal levels of state funding of electoral and party expense – of the kind abortively tried in the run-up to 2006 election seems not to have been attempted before this years elections. And the National Party (NS), which seemed a few years ago to be re-inventing radical right-wing populis
m with a smidgen of sophistication (more educated leadership and female leader) since folded
due to lack of votes, cash and not being able to do the neo-fascist bootboy stuff well enough even to maintain a sub-cultural following in the manner of the DS despite some pretty foul rhetoric
towards the end of its days about deporting Roma to India and the ‘Final Solution of the Gypsy Quesiton’.
So can we rest easily in our beds knowing that, whatever they think, say and do in private, Czechs will stay out of the embrace of the radical right, at least in the polling booth? Not entirely, if polling commissioned by the Czech Interior Ministry on racism, extremism and radicalism
and the Czech public’s attitudes towards them is to be believed. Although operating with some rather blunt conceptual tools (radicalism = anti-government/establishment; extremism = anti-system etc) the findings make interesting reading.
The Czech radical right sub-culture and its organizations are comparatively unremarkable and very consistent in their views: collectivist, anti-capitalist, socially authoritarian xenophobic, racist with an especial animus towards Roma and ethno-nationalist. Some 8% of the Czech population are found to broadly share such attitudes with (interestingly) around 3/4of those willing (in theory) to actively support far-right organizations (the rest would potentially just vote for them). This, the report concludes, suggest a potential electorate for a putative successful far-right party of 8% – the peak level of electoral support actually attained by the Republicans (in 1996). However, I would tend to see this a far bigger potential electorate than the 8% reported in the Czech media, since we seem to be talking about those ideologically very much in tune with the far-right.
Protest voters, we might conjecture could boost the 8% figure significantly in the right circumstances and, as the report depressingly confirms, much of the Czech public shares the ‘anti-Gypsyism’ (anticikánismus) that is the stock in trade of many CEE radical right groups: measures of the ‘social distance’ of respondents from minority groups finds that a whopping 45% of respondents take the ‘I would remove them from the CR’ option when asked about Roma, the most radical of the various statements of feeling offered (and not necessarily an actual policy they support).
There are also some indications that, as well as lacking the organizational and financial wherewithal to (re-)impact national politics – the far-right has so far miscalculated its strategy. The potential far-right electorate, the poll finds, is spread out across the age range, but radical right organizations ‘ activities are focused on the young, who, it seems often engage with it for the excitement, entertainment, esprit de corps without really buying in to its politics very much. In regional terms, the traditional ‘problem regions’ of East and North Bohemia are joined by traditional left-wing industrial region around Ostrava and, to a lesser extent, much of Moravia. Relatively prosperous South Bohemia also seems to be a region of electoral potential for the far-right.
|Political Capital: Index of Welfare Chauvinism
However, if when and if it re-emerges – and in today’s political climate it is not beyond imagination – the radical right would not I suspect be a Czech Jobbik, drawing on traditional far-right sub-culture with a youthful Facebooking using leadership, as seemed to have occurred in Hungary – the kind of subculture well capable of building an organization in the long term as occurred with the Front national in France in 1980s – but from a sub-strata of Eurospectic, economically populist ‘independents’ bubbling around the edge of the frayed Czech political system. According to Hungary’s Political Capital think tank Czech top the poll for welfare chauvinism, although I guess that may be in part
Watching the election lauch of Eurosceptic Sovereignty bloc, led by ex-newsreader and former independent MEP, Jana Bobošíková, this year, I couldn’t help wondered how long it might be before the economically interventionist, nationalist and Euroseptic program of Ms B. might tap in to the Czech public’s darker moods” as she fulminated against “pseudo-humanist and so-called politically correct waffle about human rights and minorities” in her trademark yellow dress.