Archive | July, 2007

>Czech Civic Democrats consider referendum on Euro

> The same source reports on ODS’s growing debates about following the ‘Swedish model’ of having a referendum on Euro adoption, despite having signed up to adopting the single currency as a part of joining the EU. The official line, repeated by both PM Topolánek and President Klaus, is that a decision on when to adopt will be taken when public finances have been sorted out and when Czech prices and productiveity converge with those in Western Europe, but some in ODS like MEP Hyněk Fajmon don’t mind saying ‘the later the better’ and, Fajmon who has just published a pamphlet with the CDK thinktank entitled ‘Crown verus Euro’ (in Czech, but free) naturally, wants a referendum. His arguments are a familiar set of anti-Euro positions regarding the unsuitability of a one-size-fits all model for a small European economy, differing in crucial ways from those of Western Europe. The latest Eurobarometer (April 2007) suggests the Czechs are among the more lukewarm EU public towards the Euro, but a small majority (47% – 41% is in favour). However, the likelihood of one is slim as it would require the legilsative co-operation of the opposition Social Democrats who slyly say they will agree if there is also a referendum on the proposed US radar bases (which the Czech public opposes by a margin of about 2:1).

Meanwhile, Christian Democrat Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek says the target date in 2012. However, the Czech National Bank’s analysis suggests that the Czech economic cycle is, for ODS, conveniently out of synch with that of Western Europe. Bank analysts cited by aktualne.cz are sceptical of ODS anti-Euro arguments, arguing that the Czech economy aint’t Sweden and that its vulnerabilty to currency fluctuation makes rapid Euro adoption something of a no brainer.

>Populist Czech Christian Democrat leader is no Lepper

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Aktualne.cz notes the parallels between the position of the minority centre-right Czech and Polish centre-right governments in managing junior partners mired in corruption allegations. Polish PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski can happily give populist Agriculture Minister and Deputy PM Andrzej Lepper the boot, whereas Czech PM Miroslav Topolánek has to hang on for dear life to Christian Democrat leader, Minsiter of Local Development and Deputy PM, Jiří Čunek. Despite the general respectability of the Czech Christian Democrats compared to Lepper’s radical Self-Defence party, Čunek (a former mayor elected to the Senate last year) is one a of a new breed of Czech populists with a background in communal politics, who have discovered that brutal remarks directed towards the Roma minority are something of a vote winner – perhaps because with the collapse of the Czech far-right as a national electoral force whose stock in trade they were they have lost their taboo status. The Czech Republic’s having safely joined the EU probably adds to this as well.

However (the Greens aside) it is the police investigation into Čunek’s alleged acceptance of a backhander as mayor seems to make him more of a political liabilty than his views on ethnic minorities. Sadly, for Topolánek such is the weakness of his government and the unhealthy state of the polls – the Czech Social Democrats, who have been slowly rising from the political dead since 2005, finally overhauled him – that he not only cannot pulled the plug of Čunek, but needs to maintain him politically. Whereas, the Kaczynskis’ Law and Justice party can bid goodbye to the radicals of Self-Defence and the League of Polish Families and seek the mainstream embrace of the liberal-conservative Civic Platform, the Czech right is painfully short of allies. As a seminar discussion on the CEVRO thintank site makes clear, the Czech Christian Democrats despite Čunek’s dose of populism are a stagnating rural Cathlic niche party with a static socially conservative electorate somewhat out of step with the more centrist and market-oriented oreitnation of its leaders.

>Paddy power

>And amongst of the BBC’s mini-treasure chest of documentary pods is Winning the Peace, the series on nation-building and international intervention presented by former Lib Dem leader and UN High Representative to Bosnia, Lord Ashdown. The series, which coincides with the release of Ashdown’s book on the same subject includes episodes on the Allied post-war occupation of Germany, el Salvador, Bosnia (which frustratingly, won’t download but can be streamed) and Iraq. There’s a slightly know-all, even sanctimonious edge to Ashdown, but he’s articulate, to the point and clearly a high calibre politician who knows what he’s talking about. Best Foreign or Defence Secretary we never had. His conclusions – plan ahead and for the long-term; compromise with technocrats sullied by the old regime; establish rule and law and market first, do democratic elections later – seem pragmatic and sensible. Such nation-building scenarios with their multiple tracks, resource and time limitations and unpredictable outcomes strike me as ideal topic for some kind of coumpter-based political sim – a thought that has occurred to others – but alas there doesn’t seem to be any…

>BBC documentary archive: Thank pod for that…

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BBC radio has an excellent online listen again feature, but is distinctly stingy with downloadable podcasts. Happily, there is however an archive of has some terrific documentary pods to listen to as the train wobbles and snakes it way to Kingscross Thameslink, including a series covering the fringes of the EU and the prospects for further enlargement: Turkey and Ukraine emerge as the big areas of strategic and political interest with Serbia and Montenegro merely a tough but digestible morcel.

>New EU states: Czech open door finds few takers

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The same bulletin reports large increases in the number of Bulgarian and Romanians working (legally) in the Czech Republic (71 and 65 per cent increases) since January. However, the two new EU states’ nationals make up a mere 2.5% of the 209, 300 foreigners (EU and non-EU I presume – not sure if that includes Slovaks) working legally in the country. Unlike the UK, the Czech Republic imposes no restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens working in the country, assuming (seemingly correctly)that bureaucracy, limited existing contacts and the language barrier would prevent any large influx.
According to a recent World Bank report on ageing populations, however, the Czech Republic needs – amongst other strategies – relatively high levels of immigration, mainly because of high existing levels of employment of over 50s and pensioners. The Bank suggests Central Asian states of the FSU as a logic source of such migrants (relatively young populations; proximity and knowledge of Slavonic language (Russian) presumably being the rationale). The report doesn’t, however, address the political feasibility of such migration, which, I suspect, would in a Czech context be low and diminishing.

>Total recall in Prague?

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Radio Prague online news (22 July) reports that the Czech President and the speaker of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka will meet shortly to consider nominations for the seven member Board of the soon to be established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR) created under legislation passed in May. The Board will be responsible for the new Institute’s strategic ‘plan of work’ and will able to appoint and dismiss its Director. Two nominations are to be made by the lower house of parliament, one by the President with (unspecified) associations of former resistance fighters and former political prisoners and bodies representing historians, archivists and human rights advocates supplying (an unspecified number) of additional nominations – an interestingly corporatist touch and normally the kind of thing that would make ODS’s blood boil. Nominations close at the end of August after which an ‘electoral commission’ drawn from the Czech Senate will, it seems, select the Board. Full details of the nomination procedure can be found here (in Czech). Although normally, fairly politically balanced, as one third of its members are elected ever two years, the Senate is currently dominated by the right.

As the ‘totalitarian’ tag in it name suggests ÚSTR’s will link together work on the 1938-45 period of Nazi dominance (including the 1938-9 rump Czecho-Slovak state; and the Slovak State of 1939-45?) and the communist period. Oddly, and rather unhistorically this omits the 1945-48 interregnum of ‘People’s Democracy’, a sort of Putinesque ‘guided democracy’ but with very strong party structures, widely considered to have paved the way from one form of totalitarianism to the other. Interestingly, the ‘National Memory’ tag used in similar institutions in Poland and Slovakia was fianlly dropped in favour of a role couched in terms of transparency and openness: improving collection, analysis and accessibility of documents relating to totalitarianism. The (remaining) records of the communist era secret police and other intelligence agencies will, however, be managed by a separate Security Agencies Archive subordinated to ÚSTR. The overall logic seems to be one echoing that in debates of 1990s over lustration legislation: that the truth (is there only one?) not so far revealed through the lustration process will finally out and when it does be public life will be improved by the consequent discrediting and squeezing out dodgy communist-era collaborators and empowering citizens oppressed by communism.

Although Sobotka and Klaus are both ODS politicians they have rarely seen eye-to-eye in the past, Sobotka being a rare public ODS critic of Klaus’s tirades against multi-culturalism and the EU Constitutions. Although Klaus has moderated his anti-communist rhetoric of the 1990s (always rather pragmatic and directed mainly against the supposed crypto-communism of the social liberal centre and social democratic centre-left) ÚSTR should prove a rather controversial topic. Indeed, interestingly it is now the liberal centre, well represented by various micro-parties and independents in the Senate, which has taken the radical decommunization demands (banning of the Communist Party and the lustration+ logic of the new ÚSTR) with greatest gusto. Tellingly, the journalist and human rights activist Jaromír Štetina, elected as a Senator for the Green Party a couple of years ago, is one of the prime movers in the latest wave of liberal centrist anti-communism, heads a Senate Committee investigating the legal status of the Communist Party and helped put together the “Don’t Talk to Communists” petition back by a series of rock-against-communism style events and a competition to design an anti-communist t-shirt competition. Looking at some of the entries (see illustrations opposite and above), anyone not recognising the parade of Czech liberal and cultural worthies associated with the project could perhaps be forgiven for assuming they had stumbled over some blood-and-honour style skinhead site.

>The New Right in the New Europe

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My book on the Czech right-wing politics The New Right in the New Europe is published next week. The last leg in the whole authoring process, it seems, is an email exchange with the someone in the RoutledgeCurzon marketing depatment. It’s just over nine years since I first put pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard, about a bizarre and exotic creature called ‘Czech Thatcherism’ and about four years since I decided to turn this particular academic interest into a book. Having become one of the UK’s biggest Czech politics junkies, it’s probably is time to move on. My wife routinely turns any books she finds about the house with Václav Klaus’s picture on face down. Even I found it mildly worrying when I had to explain to our six year old that the familiar face on the computer screeen was someone “a bit like a king who lives in Czechia in a Castle”.
RoutledgeCurzon prefer typographical (i.e. blank) book fronts, so there is no cover illustration, although in my mind’s eye I would probably put on a photo of the mega-hoarding of Klaus put up by ODS by Prague’s Letna during the 1998 local election campaign. A giant statue of Stalin stood in the 1950s and later in the Havel era a giant metronome. Apart from being a striking image in itself this bold but outrageous piece of electioneering sum up the appalling but impressive chutzpah of Klaus and his party. The accompanying slogan”We Think Differently” is also, at several levels, a rather neat encapsulation of the politics of the post-1989 Czech national-liberal right.
As it is the book comes in pictureless and with the standard academic hardback price tag £75.00 ($150) Review copies, it seems are being sent to Perspectives on Politics, Political Studies Review, Europe-Asia Studies, Slavic Review, East European Politics and Societies, West European Politics, Democratization, Czech Sociological Review, Slavonic and East European Review and Central European Political Science Review. So any suitably qualified academic readers who fancy some summer reading should free feel free to click through to their favourite book review editor.

>Andy little analysis

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A useful article in OpenDemocracy.net by my SSEES colleague Andy Wilson updating the argument of his book Virtual Politics the in Russia and Ukraine in the wake of Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution: Ukrainian politics is (up to a point) more normalized and less ‘virtual’ than to greater media openness and more open political competition – although this does make it necessary to be quicker on the draw with kompromat – Russian politics, by contrast, is ‘tauter’ and more over-controlled with ‘democratic’ façade of political dramturgiya about to collapse into cruder authoritarianism, partly through force of habit on the part of Kremlin PR-chiki.

>Poland’s LiS: a fox driven to ground

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Well, a better informed colleague tells me, the LiS grouping is more of a fox driven to ground than a powerful populist predator likely to gobble up the voters of more mainstream parties – the League of Polish Families has dire poll ratings of 2-3% and Self-Defence is poised uncertainly over the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament. The whole project is more of a short-term electoral bloc in the best traditions of Polish pre-election hocus pocus than a true party merger. Both parties will apparently keep their own organizational structures and simply bolt on some kind of co-ordinating bodies. This given that both party leaders are also likely to keep their egos intact, suggests they will probably not keep the whole show on the road for very long.
Seems I have myself fallen into that the trap I often warn other people about of wishing powerful anti-market forces into existence, when the real story – in Poland as elsewhere – seems to be the political strength of more mainstream populists such as the Law and Justice party (Pis) able to hold a gun to the head of its erstwhile coalition partners by threatening them with early elections and probable political oblivion. Boom, boom, as Basil Brush would say.

>I think therefore I spam?

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Logging in, I was surprised to discover that Blogger’s automated robocops had blocked me from posting further entries as Dr Sean’s Diary was (shock, horror!) suspected of being a spam blog. “Spam blogs” (aka ‘splogs’ ) are apparently the a threat to civilization as we know, clog up search engines and Blogger’s helplink brutally informed me “can be recognised by their irrelevant, repetitive or nonsensical text”. So, there you have it…
Notwithstanding all this, Blogger Support responded fairly snappily and unblocked it the next day