Stuffed Wolves and Grazing Sheep

In the Czech Republic, the scandal revolving around the question of just where Prime Minister Stanislav Gross got the money to pay for his apartment is rocking the country. Or is it?

Political scandals are nothing new. But here, one thing is certain: Politicians never resign. No matter what. Intoxicated deputies (both while in session as well as behind the wheel), corrupt ministers, and a prime minister and president who lie are all allowed to keep their jobs. Small wonder then that Gross refuses to step down, despite demands from the opposition that he do so.

Despite recent entry into the EU, in the Czech Republic most of the major pillars of democracy are decaying, not growing. This is because the legislative, executive, and judicial pillars have all coalesced into a ruling caste that has self-preservation and enrichment through associated corruption as its only priority. For example, early on in the crisis, Gross’ major ruling coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, declared the Cabinet to be defunct â yet, for some inexplicable reason, they still refuse to leave it. Also at the Cabinet level, the culture minister has initiated a witch hunt against the nobility, calling it a class whose post-1989 acquisitions via legal restitutions should be “re-examined” so as to possibly return them to the state that stole them in the first place. As such, the Supreme Court, with judges now appointed by President Klaus, has taken back property from the Colorado-Mansfeld family, to whom the same court awarded it three years ago. The court said the previous court did not have the right evidence. In refuting the most basic of judicial principles, namely, a verdict based on given evidence at the time, the Supreme Court is now a bunch of kangaroos.

If for some reason the politicians can’t maintain the status quo, the people â up until now, at least â still do it for them. Take, for example, Vladimír Železný, who, while facing multiple counts of committing criminal acts, was nevertheless elected by the people into the Czech Senate and later to serve in Brussels.

Why is this happening? Starting with the defeat at White Mountain, to being sold to Hitler via the Munich Agreement, to the Soviet-led invasion and the subsequent punishment of those who went against the “principles of socialism,” Czechs have come to adopt the path of least resistance as their mode of national survival. Such a tactic, however, means elements that spur a society forward such as role models, faith, altruism, and the pursuit of justice are eschewed, since they represent the potential for change, hence danger. Instead, the emphasis is on self-preservation, on avoiding anything new, and on remaining as anonymous as possible.

What’s left is an inward-looking society, devoid of faith in due process, and thus cut off from its future. Czechs are the most pessimistic of EU members.

At its extreme, reality becomes usurped by make-believe. In a recent poll, Czechs were asked to vote for “the greatest Czech of all time.” The winner was Jára Cimrman, a fictional character whose hallmark is turning the most trivial events into great conquests, which are then repeated and amplified in epic form. In short, something from nothing, but in reality, nothing at all.

Is there a way out of all of this? The possible solutions are several. First, young, honest and energetic people who recognize the system is broken could reform existing parties from within, securing financial backing for their campaigns from similarly minded people. Alternatively, a new party could form. Though there have been many attempts to do so; they have ended up in failure. To do so requires levels of cooperation, compromise and fundraising skills that are still new to most Czechs.

Second, people who are role models in other fields could enter politics, which, with its absence of positive role models, should help them stand out. This too has already happened, for example when the well-known travel mogul Václav Fišer was elected to the Senate. Mr. Fišer ran the only truly door-to-door campaign that I can recall, and was subsequently elected as an independent candidate in the first round of voting â the only senator so elected in that election. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Fišer nor any other respectable politician has been able to penetrate the existing political status quo to make any difference.

Nevertheless, one pillar of democracy, despite obstructions, does work: the press. Politicians from Klaus on down won’t speak to a reporter who is not on their “list,” and will refuse to answer any question they don’t like. Other politicians such as former Prime Minister Miloš Zeman have even tried to shut down independent papers (Respekt) via frivolous lawsuits. At the judicial level, the inept courts continue to be a huge barrier to investigative journalism, since the crimes (and proof) that journalists uncover still go unpunished. Nevertheless, Mladá fronta Dnes did pursue the story of Gross’ apartment. It was their coverage that got at least three citizens to get up and lodge criminal complaints against the nefarious activities of the prime minister and which caused considerably more citizens to demonstrate in front of the Cabinet’s offices Feb. 23.

There is a well-known Czech saying: “The wolf stuffed itself, yet the sheep remained untouched.” Thus far, politicians have stuffed themselves and padded their pockets, while the sheep have remained content through each and every “crisis,” as long as they could graze in their burgeoning shopping malls and live in their world of make-believe heroes. The next few weeks will show whether this saying still applies.

Publikováno:

The New Presencespring 2005

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