Steam engine

Jirí Paroubek may have stumbled into the post of prime minister, but he has hit the ground running and surprised all with the success of his first 100 days in office

By Martin J. Stránský

August 10, 2005

 From the point of view of a manager of a political party, one cannot imagine a better result than that achieved by Prime Minister Jirí Paroubek following his first 100 days in office. After the resignation of his predecessor, Stanislav Gross – who could not explain where he got 10 million Kc (about $410,000) to pay for his apartment â Paroubek has managed to double the approval rating of his Social Democratic Party, bringing it to No. 2 and now threatening the lead of the opposition Civic Democrats. In the past month alone, Paroubek’s popularity rating has gone up 24 points to 63 percent.

Although his popularity has faltered recently following the police raid on the CzechTek techno festival in south Bohemia July 30, it seems likely Paroubek’s administration will shake off this setback.

Following his appointment, Paroubek was quickly spotted alongside leading politicians of the world stage, including the British, German and Chinese prime ministers. He quickly stood up to Czech President Václav Klaus regarding Klaus’ spreading his personal anti-European Union opinions abroad, views that directly conflict with official Czech foreign policy. Along with declaring that the country’s integration into the EU should be strengthened, Paroubek managed to do something that no leading Czech politician since Václav Havel has done â offer a major gesture of appeasement, this time to the Sudeten Germans regarding their forced expulsion from postwar Czechoslovakia.

For Czechs, it should be noteworthy that Paroubek’s success actually confirms the Western prerequisite of going into politics â you first need to prove you have accomplished something, and based on that, you can vie for the right to represent your fellow citizens. It’s not political experience that’s important (a note to Czech political parties who make their new members go through a “waiting period” before they’re allowed to be placed on the list of candidates for public office), but life experience that helps one become a good politician. Gross, who started in Czech politics at the bottom as a virtual infant and worked his way to the top of the system, was completely devoid of any meaningful life experiences. At the level of prime minister, he quickly proved he was incapable of leading, deciding, communicating or even lying effectively.

In contrast, Paroubek was elected to office only once, at the local level, to Prague City Hall. But in the era of “normalization” that followed the crushing of Prague Spring in 1968, Paroubek managed to navigate his way to the top as chief economic planner for the all-powerful Restaurace a jídelny (Restaurants and Cafeterias). This organization controlled virtually everything that had anything to do with restaurants, bars and taverns, from the type of cutlery used to which beer could be sold and where. What is notable is that Paroubek did all of this without becoming a member of the Communist Party. As the chief “maitre d’ of the concern,” it was obviously an ability to communicate and make the right decisions at the right time that got him there. For the post-communist, real-socialist or democratic politician, the prerequisites and methods to success are the same.

As for any politician, the only thing that can bring Paroubek down is the emergence of a past scandal involving him. As the economic head of Restaurants and Cafeterias and as a member of the Prague City Council, Paroubek was at the center of corruption. However, as is the usual case when both sides are armed to the teeth with compromising information, they usually withhold it, thus ensuring that the status quo is maintained.

Thus, we can expect that Paroubek will continue rolling along. For the leading opposition Civic Democrats, who are trapped by the choleric statements of their honorary chairman Václav Klaus on the one hand, and by the plebian image of their current party Chairman Mirek Topolánek on the other, this means trouble. For the Social Democrats, it seems they have finally found a man who is not only in the right place, but there at the right time as well.

Paroubek has proven himself an excellent debater, breaking with the Czech tradition of casting blame on others, and of attacking character and not the issues. Paroubek’s statements are reassuring and not threatening or divisive, in contrast to those of the Civic Democrats and President Klaus. Paroubek has also backed up his statements with quick action, such as his immediate dismissal of Police President Jirí Kolár following the escape of Radovan Krejcír, who was being held on suspicion of multiple crimes.

In a recent interview, Paroubek stated that the president and prime minister should also be capable of providing spiritual and moral leadership to the country, even if their views run counter to public opinion. With his gesture of appeasement to the Sudeten Germans, roundly praised abroad and by the German and Polish prime ministers, it seems that Paroubek is indeed embarking on a new course. Whether his actions represent experience, shrewd calculation or just luck, Paroubek is proving that there is a new engine on the tracks of Czech politics.

– The author is a physician and publisher of The New Presence (



The Prague Post10.8.2005

My priority is that patients recieve
and have access to the best care possible.