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>Any tax you can do, I can do flatter…

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The Sofia Weekly carries the following story about the GERB party of Sofia’s mayor Boyko Borissov, suggesting that free market fiscal populism centring on flat taxation as magic bullet for all economic woes is alive and well in SE Europe. The package seems an attempt to outbid the current Socialist/centrist-liberal coalition’s recently passed 10% flat tax package. Despite Sofia’s chronic rubbish disposal problems, Boyko Borissov seems set to romp home in the poll to run the nation’s capital ahead of a Socialist, far-right and centre-right unity candidates- the latter just agreed by the largest two squabbling remnants of the old Union of Democratic Forces. It will be interesting to see whether GERB can repeat the trick in national elections with flat tax as their main selling point. So far the tactic has garnered large but ultimately insufficient support for centre-right parties trying this tack in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Bulgaria’s GERB Party Wants 7% Flat Tax

Bulgaria’s self-proclaimed centre-right party GERB presented on Wednesday its ambitious economic agenda for the 2009 parliamentary polls, which includes a 7% flat tax rate and massive privatisation of state assets.The party of Sofia mayor Boyko Borissov, who styles himself as the biggest opponent of the country’s ruling three-way coalition, was founded last year and previously had no cohesive economic programme. In addition to arguing for a lower flat tax than the 10% that the current cabinet plans to adopt starting next year, the party’s plan includes a monthly tax-exempt minimum of BGN 1000. The average monthly wage in Bulgaria in the second quarter of the year was BGN 406.Should GERB win the elections and complete its four-year term, its policies can bring a doubling of monthly wages, which could reach as high as BGN 1500-2000, party economist Stoyan Mavrodiev told reporters.Another key feature of its economic agenda is privatising all state assets in which the state has a majority stake, which includes a bank, the postal company, coal mines, several power stations and tobacco monopoly Bulgartabak, among others. Furthermore, key parts of infrastructure, such as motorways, airports, ports and bridges over the Danube should be given out on concession, while the state should step out of health insurance and healthcare, which should become private, according to the programme.That would allow the cabinet to reduce the annual budget to the equivalent of 30% of gross domestic product (GDP), as opposed to the current 40%.”

>Poles set to surprise at the polls?

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Polish politics moves so fast. One minute the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families are allying with populist Self-Defence (PiS), the next thing they have teamed up with dissident MPs for the ruling Law and Justice party and – my SSEES colleague tells during a breath of fresh air during out staff awayday – the notionally liberatarian Union for Real Politics. As in 2001 the election is a ding-dong battle between populist inclined conservative nationalist PiS and the centre-right Civic Platform (OP), who are liberal-conservative bloc loosely in ther mould of the Czech ODS (although this time they are keeping stum about that belief in flat taxation, it seems, and stressing PiS authoritarian leanings and apparent abuse of the anti-corruption agency and police. Opinion polls going up and down with OP and PiS variously in the lead with each getting (usually) around 30% of the poll. Small parties have been squeezed. The remnants of the once mightly post-communist left have formed a Hungarian style left-liberal coalition (LiD) with the Democrats, descendants of the ex-dissident Freedom Union who crashed out of parliament in 2005. This grouping seems set to hang on in parliament as a minor party with around 10 per cent of the poll. The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) also seem set to do badly, with polls I have seen reported putting them on 3-5 per cent, suggesting they could go the same way. Indeed, in one poll, they were reportedly barely ahead of the National Pensioners Party (KPEiR) which registered a respectabe 3%. There is also a Women’s Party standing (1.6%). Both the result and the government seem, frankly, anyone’s guesss and, as ever, Polish elections seems set to generate surprises. Who knows it might even be worth putting a few zlotys on the Pensioners.

>Bulgarian centre-right develops, weekly

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The Sofia Weekly’s online news update (15 September) reports further developments on the fractious Bulgarian centre-right. The political equation both in Sofia and nationally is also complicated by the existence of the declining liberal-centrist/reformist bloc headed up by heir to the (notional) Bulgarian throne Simeon Saxecoburgottski currently in office and in coalition as a junior partner of the Bulgarian Socialists. As they have just introduced a 10% flat tax, as ever, the centre-right seems confined to anti-communism and faction-fighting over electoral alliances.

“Bulgaria’s UDF Faces Split in Sofia over Mayoral Race

The decision of Bulgarian rightist party Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) to endorse Martin Zaimov as its candidate in the mayoral race in capital Sofia is threatening to split the party’s supporters in the city.

After unsuccessful talks with incumbent Boyko Borissov, the party teamed up with the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) to back up Zaimov, who oversaw Bulgaria’s currency board regime for six years in 1997-2003.

But one faction came out against Zaimov on Monday, pledging its support to Borissov’s GERB party by signing a coalition agreement.

The faction, who calls itself the UDF National Discussion Club, claimed Zaimov’s nomination was a ploy on behalf of DSB leader Ivan Kostov to “bury UDF”.

UDF party leader Plamen Yurukov hit back at the rebels, downplaying the threat of a split within the party’s ranks.

“I don’t think there is a split in UDF. The [club’s] ringleaders are dependent on Borissov through their positions in the boards of municipal companies, but they won’t confuse our supporters,” Yurukov said.

The faction now face exclusion from the party, although it was up to the local party organisation to decide on the issue, he added.

Bulgaria’s Rightists Want Collaborators Out of Parliament

The right-wing hard-liners from Democrats for Strong Bulgaria called for kicking out of parliament the nineteen MPs who were exposed to have been agents and collaborators to the secret services.

The demand was voiced from the parliamentary rostrum by Vesselin Metodiev, deputy chair of the parliamentary group of Democrats for Strong Bulgaria.

At the beginning of September a special panel released the names of 138 agents and collaborators to the secret services, who have been members of Bulgaria’s parliaments since the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

On the list were the names of president Georgi Parvanov and 19 current members of parliament, including ethnic Turkish party leader Ahmed Dogan, deputy parliamentary speakers Yunal Lyutfi and Petar Beron, chair of the parliamentary group of the Bulgarian People’s Union Krassimir Karakachanov.

Bulgaria‘s Former President Petar Stoyanov Quits Parliament

By Milena Hristova

Former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov gave up his seat in parliament months after stepping down as leader of the biggest right-wing party the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF).

A day earlier Petar Stoyanov tabled his resignation as MP, which was approved Friday morning with 119 votes. Four MPs voted against and another four abstained.

“Despite this fact I have the deepest respect for Bulgaria’s parliament and its MPs and wish them success in their future work,” Petar Stoyanov said in a statement, circulated to the media.

Petar Stoyanov is one of the emblematic figures of the Union of Democratic Forces and Bulgaria’s transition to democracy.

Stoyanov’s political career took a flying start in 1990 when he became UDF spokesman in the second-biggest town of Plovdiv only to be appointed two years later Deputy Minister of Justice in the first non-communist government of Bulgaria since 1944. He resigned in 1993 after the dismissal of the UDF government.

On 3 November 1996 Stoyanov was elected President of the Republic of Bulgaria by winning 2,502,517 votes equal to 59.73 % of the votes cast. He swore in as President of the Republic on 19 January 1997 and stepped down in 2002 after a defeat by current Socialist President Georgi Parvanov.

In February 2004 Stoyanov was nominated for right-wing leader of UDF, but gave way to Nadezhda Mihaylova. He took over UDF leadership in October 2005 after Mihaylova stepped down, citing lack of support as the main reason for her withdrawal.

Stoyanov resigned as party leader after UDF, once the dominant centre-right party in the country, failed to win a single seat in the European Parliament elections in May.

UDF has been in a steady decline since 2001, when the party lost the general elections following four years of needed, but painful reforms.

It never recovered from the shock, splitting into three smaller parties since then, progressively losing ground in public opinion polls, which show it could fail to make it into the next parliament altogether.”

>A post-communist Costa in the making? Western expats enter local politics in Bulgaria

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The excellent online Sofia Weekly newsletter reports that – post-EU enlargement a German, UK national are likely to run for municipal councils in the central Bulgarian town of Gabrovo on the ticket of the centrist populist/centre-right GERB party founded and unofficially led by Sofia mayor Boyko Borissov, which seems to be making the running in re-uniting the fractured Bulgarian centre-right. As ever local elections serve as a testing ground and laboratory for alliance-building that the CEE centre-right needs to do regularly and in spades. Given the vogue in Western Europe for buying holiday and retirement homes in Bulgaria and Romania – endlessly featured in how-to-a-buy-second-home-and-escape-to-the-sun programmes on TV in the UK – I begin to wonder whether in 10-20 years these countries will develop the same large pockets of expat West and North Europeans as France, Portugal or Spain. Given their EU voting rights in local elections UK and Dutch voters are already a significant voting bloc in local politics on the Costa del Sol, with their ‘community leaders’ sought after as another element in clientelistically-assembled local political alliances. There is, I believe, already some pretty serious sociological research on the expat British minority in Spain undertaken by social geographers, but as far as I am aware nothing by political scientists.

Meanwhile back in Gabrovo, the German reportedly owns a furniture factory in the picturesque mountain town, while the Briton has bought a house in the are. Polls suggest GERB will do well in the October local elections

>Lofty reform ambitions won’t insulate Czech right, says Respekt

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Council contractors are due to put in 30cm of subsidized insulation in our roof space later this week and father-in-law has come over from the Czech Republic. His idea of a family visit and a bit of help clearing the loft is it turns out is buying a job lot of timber and immediately setting to work raising the joists. “You’ll need a team of chippies for that, guv, don’t bother” the guy from the insulation firm had told me, but what’s that to an active pensioner from a country famed for its ‘golden hands’. And, as my wife points out, as I can hardly hammer a nail in straight who am I to object?

Between listening to a story about a Moravian relative who bought a pub in the 1990s and discovered valuable porcelain hidden under the floorboard – unclear, apparently, if it was secreted there by ‘transferred’ Sudeten Germans in 1945-6 or by some member of the soon to be expropriated Czech bourgeoise in the late 1940s, but valuable anyway – and some thoughts about minorities (“And just why do we have to call Gypsies Roma?”), emptying the dishwasher and keeping the kids away from dangerous carpentry equipment, I get briefly to drink some coffee and peruse the Czech news magazine Respekt.

Here Marek Švehla comments that the recent reform package passed by the minority centre-right government is less about lower or flatter taxation – not really necessary in the Czech Republic anyway even according the liberal Švehla, as investment is still rolling in with highest, uneven taxes and tax collection is efficient. He is, however, critical of the centre-right Civic Democrats for their outrageous populism claiming (pre-election and, more foolishly, with a watered down package post-election) that their planned tax and fiscal reforms would benefit everyone and produce bulging wallets all round.

Instead, says Švehla they should have focused their appeal on a nascent Czech middle class, the natural social constituency of any party of the reformist centre-right, as a group of voters able to understand that their would be a longer term payoff and weather short-term losses. Alas, the rather anaemic version of their flat tax revolution, rather clobbered the middle class and the trade-off and compromises triggered factional infighting motivated by personal animosity and vested interests in the party disguised as an ideological and policy argument. Civic Democrat leader Miroslav Topolánek has reckons Švehla, probably blown the next election. Meanwhile, sidelined ODS Finance Spokesman and political rival Vlastimil Tloustý declares himself to be a loyal, but frustrated flat tax purist in an interview with right-wing monthly Politika. Lofty ambitions.

>Bulgarian centre-right stirs?

> Today’s online edition of the Sofia Echo carries the following reports about centre-right politics in Bulgaria suggesting a degree of recuperation and realignment:

“BULGARIA’S RIGHTIST PARTIES RENEW SOFIA COALITION NEGOTIATIONS
11:50 Tue 28 Aug 2007
The Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB, met on August 27 2007 to discuss the upcoming municipal elections in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. New UDF leader Plamen Yurukov and DSB head Ivan Kostov met to discuss a joint nomination for the upcoming mayoral election. The two leading right-wing parties plan to create an electoral coalition. They also plan to prepare a common list of candidates for municipal councillor, according to Focus news agency. Since 2001, rightist parties have performed poorly in elections, a streak that culminated with a defeat at the elections for European Parliament in May 2007. Though there have been bad relations in the past among some of the politicians in UDF and DSB, it is still possible that their co-operation might lead to a successful campaign. “

“OPPOSITION IN BULGARIA WANTS PURVANOV’S IMPEACHMENT
10:38 Tue 28 Aug 2007
Opposition parties in Bulgaria’s Parliament launched a sign-up list for the impeachment of President Georgi Purvanov. Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria MP Neno Dimov initiated the list, mediapool.bg said. Bulgaria’s constitution envisions two possibilities of impeachment of the president, in the case of high treason or in the case of a violation of the constitution . According to the opposition, Purvanov committed both, as it was proved that he had co-operated with the communist-era secret services. The president committed high treason, discrediting Bulgaria before its allies in Nato and the EU and before the world, opposition members said. He made the country look like an unreliable partner and even an instrument of foreign interest. The opposition also claimed that Purvanov violated the constitution by breaking the oath to obey the law and to be led by the people’s interests in all his actions. The president hid his collaboration with the former secret services in his own interest. The second constitution violation was that the president failed to serve the whole nation, and on the contrary, separated it. “

>Klaus thinktank newsletter warns of ‘Islamicization’

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Czech President Václav Klaus’s Centre for Politics and Economics (CEP) thinktank has, like the man himself, staked out some interesting and provocative political territory since its foundation in 1998. Although it’s right-wing remedies are not universally to everyone’s taste (not universally to mine in fact), it has at least proved itself reasonably forward thinking in picking out important issues facing the CR such as taxation reform, the future of the EU, population policy, migration and assembling an interest range of academic and political expertise at its conferences. Recently, however, it’s begun to turn plain batty. Having belated signed up to climate change denial at most right-wing politicians have began to realise that it’s scientifically established rather than a left-wing conspiracy, CEP’s recent newsletter – in the person of Lukáš Petřík, editor of the right-wing Czech website EUportal.cz – tackles the question of migration and multi-culturalism in a manner reminiscent of the wilder shores of the oddball far-right.

In a Czech and Central European context issues of (im)migration and migration are both essentially hypothetical questions about the extent to which post-communist democracies like the CR should follow a Western model. There are few culturally distinct ethnic minorities in the CR with the exception of the Roma who are historic minority rather than the product of international migration (unless you count migration within Czechoslovakia in 1950s) who form a thoroughly marginalized ethnically defined underclass. Those migrants are from culturally and geographically proximate states like Slovakia and Ukraine and – as the previous post suggests – rates of inward migration remain low. A smallish Vietnamese minority, pigeonholed reasonably prosperously in commerce and retail, seems the most culturally distinct group. Migration and multi-culturalism are, however, potentially on the long-term agenda of an open liberal European society that the CR had become.

Václav Klaus naturally spotted this early and from 2000 onwards weighed in arguments against Western style multi-culturalism and in favour of tough integration policies designed to make migrants fit in as (he imagined) East European immigrants to the US had done in the 19th and early 20th century. Cultural homogeneity was also good for business he reckoned and promoted civic trust – a sort of market version of the ‘progressive dilemma’ argument about national homogeneity enabling high levels of welfare, as it were. These went down to a mixed but largely lukewarm reception from the Czech political class – including many on the Czech right. Post 9/11 Klaus naturally chucked in an argument about migration and security, but basically (heterodox and mercurial as ever) downplayed the ‘clash of civilizations’ angle as (horror of horrors) a powerful civilizational or even Al-Qaeda threat could serve as a justification for greater EU integration in justice and home affairs. Beside, he thought, Al-Qaeda was just another form of collectivism the same as the Socialist International or Greenpeace.

Petřík’s piece in the July 2007 issue of the CEP Newsletter, however, offers striking different and much darker set of arguments which takes us in quite different territory. It begins by warning readers of that proposals to move towards common standards in EU asylum and immigration policy will lead states with more predictive policies to lose their ‘competitive advantage’ of those with a more generous regime. Moreover, he claims the EU will introduce a quota system directly sharing out asylum-seekers and refugees, forcing those states with low numbers to take more. This he claims is because ‘states like France, Germany and Great Britain after the inevitable failure of the policy of multi-culturalism, political correctness and mass migration…[are] flooded…’. And to cap it all, pressure for a standardized European social policy will have a similar effect.

We then move on to a darkly paranoid depiction of Western Europe so crude, not to say downright odd it is perhaps worth citing at some length. “Immigrant communities in some states”, he told “are taking over whole towns, beginning to apply their customs like Sharia law and through a demographic explosion in their populations, thus increasing the weight of the immigrant electorate and trying using electoral process to introduce elements incompatible with liberal democratic values”. This, he claims, is similar to the situation in Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis abused the electoral process to gain power and introduce a totalitarian regime. Then, changing tack slightly, we discover that a second burning of the Reichstag (Houses of Parliament, Elysée Palace etc) is not around the corner after all. Instead, we are told to watch out for insidious processes in which indigenous citizens in Western Europe, he claims, are gradually becoming ‘second class citizens’ because of political correctness and the insistent pressing of immigrant interests: ‘Britain is gradually becoming New Pakistan, Germany a New Turkey and France a New Arabia’.

For West Europeans this is all straight out of the lexicon of the British National Party, the Front National, Northern League or any other far-right populist party you care to think of. However, this being the Czech President’s thinktank, they don’t get a mention. Instead the British-Israeli writer Bat Ye’or’s Eurabia gets name checked, although the version presented seems to owe less to the odd and esoteric arguments of her book that the EU (and especially French) foreign are deliberately promoting Islamicization to create a ‘Eurabian’ French-led anti-US bloc in world politics than a dark bloggers’ fantasy about the demographic and cultural decline of the West.

This being the Czech right, however, we also get a quick nod towards anti-totalitarianism. Indeed, the references to ‘abuse of the electoral processes’ and Nazis are perhaps the weirdest bit of the whole piece, both because they contradicts the usual arguments directed against Muslim communities in the West and show an almost total disconnection from the realities of Western Europe: the issue more usually highlighted by critics and commentators of all shades opinion in this part of the continent, after all, is the disengagement of Muslims from civic and political life in some cases a deliberate turning away inspired by radical political Islam, not the formation of Nazi-like parties with sufficient votes to subvert democracy. Indeed, where they have engaged in electoral politics, immigrant groups and home-born Muslims have generally not formed distinct parties to enter the electoral fray, still less totalitarian ones, but in time honoured fashion have accommodated themselves with and integrate with established political parties. This may in some cases make for a slightly Chicago style urban politics with various communities leaders trying to deliver an ethnic bloc vote, but really existing democracy can hack that.

Back on Petřík’s ideological ghost train ride, we move back to the theme of Czech membership of the EU and the countries forthcoming integration into the Schengen travel zone for the final shiver down the spine – the prospect that Petřík foresees that ‘the European Union might order the Czech Republic to accept immigrants raises the danger of terrorism or ethnic conflicts for the Czech Republic and with efforts by immigrants to introduce their own customs as has occurred in Western Europe our democratic political system could be threatened.’ (Apart from a rather creative view of the likely development of the EU acquis, this confuses (supposed) EU efforts to co-ordinate the management of asylum seekers and control illegal immigration with migration generally, but let that pass…). We then finish with a spot of Czech integral nationalism. “History” Petřík tells us

‘… has shown several times that where there are citizens on the territory of a state who are citizens of that state, but do not feel part of the political nation…and do not feel loyalty to that state, it can be a great security risk for that state and there is a possibility of disintegration or external interference. This was shown in the case of the Sudeten Germans… Similar problems could be caused today by mass immigration and multi-culturalism…’

We then shudder to a halt on rhetorical question:

‘Do we want the Czech Republic to be dominated by immigrants from a hostile civilization as will be the case in forty years or so in some West European states?’

Such ‘Islamicization’ arguments are, of course, the purest bunkum, basically a genre of political science fiction with a dash of conspiracy theory. There may be arguments to be had about the relationship of Islam and liberalism, or the demands and expectation of Muslims in Western societies, quick glance at the UK census, for example, tells us that, even if they were so minded and coherently politically organized, Muslims are in no position to take over anything as 2.8% minority of the population concentrated only in a few poor urban areas. Similar comments apply to the Muslim minority populations of other West European states, which are generally somewhat larger (8-9% in France, where fear of the Muslim minority among the general population is , interestingly, the lowest in the EU, 5.6% in Holland, 3% in Sweden and so on).

But in the Czech context – even leaving aside the final crude confusion of geographically concentrated historic national minorities like the Sudeten German with the more complex and diverse patterns of settlement that mass migration really brings – these arguments about imaginary migrants and imaginary Muslims are extraordinary.

What is the wider interest of such a piece? Perhaps the most striking and surprising things that an outfit with intellectual aspirations (and contacts with Western Europe) like Klaus’s CEP should have aired such a crude rant. It does, however, fit with a slower, generally more subtle drift on the Czech right towards conservative forms of national liberalism highlighted by the usual paradox of being in favour of global free movement of capital, but not of labour – backed by the sweeping assumption that migrants are economically inactive seekers after social benefits. For followers of the hubble bubble of Czech right ideology it is also interesting in linking stock anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic positions centring on a critique of multiculturalism with Czech right-wing forms euroscepticism and historic traditions of Czech integral nationalism.

A PhD student of mine recently in Prague mentioned to me that there was ‘a nascent Czech middle class of young right-wing (some far right) intellectuals’. Petřík’s poisonous but strangely laughable rant is, I suppose, is part of the same phenomenon. The more interesting question is perhaps just how much of interchange there will be between the neo-fascist fringe and the more conventional ‘liberal-conservative’ right. Petřík, who also heads up a Prague-based organization called the Young Right (Mladá pravice) which split a few years ago from the better established, ODS-aligned Young Conservatives (Mladí konzervativci), seem to be trying to bridge the gap, using the rather semi-detached status of the Czech President and CEP to retain contacts with the mainstream. The Mladá pravice website, naturally, proudly displays a photo of Klaus together with Petřík, who is standing just to the President’s right.

>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.

>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.

>Czech right needs Cameron style greening says commentator

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The following rather interesting commentary on the future of the Czech civic right appeared in Lidové noviny on 15 May under the headline “The Civic Democrats and green class consciousness”. (The Czech original can be found here.) Bored stiff, I (freely) translated when my train broke down for 40 mins outside Redhill the other week when reading about theories of party formation just got too much. Although there is an element of cod political sociology in it, as CVVM’s latest polling on Czech environmental attitudes confirms, its basic supposition about the Czech’s left is less than post-material and the only greenest part of the Czech public is to be found in its nascent middle class -is correct, although as in Britain there’s widespead support for environmental measures that cost little or nothing or are done by someone else (‘the government’ say left-leaning and poorer Czech respondents). The article is also an interesting counterpoint to other commentaries suggest the Civic Democrats future lies in moving towards the rural, socially conservative electorate by embracing the Christian Democrats as well as a rather revealing about the Czech right.
“The British Conservative Party has been the Czech Civic Democrats’ one great European ally. But under its new leader David Cameron the party has started to go green. Anyone opening the website of the recent winner of Britain’s local elections might at first have the impression that it was an English version of the Czech Greens’ site. David Cameron is seen walking showily among people planting trees and his political vocabulary is peppered with phrases like ‘quality of life’, ‘the fight against global poverty’ and ‘getting more women into politics’. His slogan ‘Vote blue, go green’ says it all.
Cameron’s Conservative Party stresses the same issues as the Green Party or ex-President Havel in the Czech Republic. The Tory leader says that the European Union should focus on the economic challenge of globalization, the ecological challenge of climate change and on the moral and security challenges of global poverty. The Conservative Cameron would also like to lower CO2 emissions with higher taxes on air travel, a tax which would impact most on frequent flyers. In an interview with the newsmagazine Týden in early 2007 Václav Klaus declared that the ‘greening of the right’ – which is not just observable in Great Britain – was ‘unbelievably unfortunate’. According to the Czech President, who is now profiling himself as a harsh critic of the theory of global warning, the Greens stand ‘squarely on the other side of the ideological barricades’.
How can we explain the greening of the British Tories? Is it an unacceptable ideological deviation, surrender to the enemy? Or simply populist opportunism, which will lead to short terms success, but come back to haunt a conservative party in the long term? This is party true, but the main explanation lies elsewhere. The ‘greening of the right’ is the logical outcome of the development of Western societies, which sees ever great emphasis on ‘post-material’ values.

And this stress is understandably most widespread among the middle class, people with higher education and higher incomes, who are among the traditional vote of the right. In the last German parliamentary elections it emerged that the German Greens had an electorate with essentially the same social composition as the ‘bourgeois’ FDP. Moreover, the German Greens’ voters had a higher average income than those of other parties.
I am not a Marxist, but Marx is often an unusual source of inspiration. As in this case. ‘Green ideology’ is simply the current ‘class consciousnesses of the Western bourgeoisie, or definitively the greater part of it. Of course, it is an ideology we can – indeed should – intellectually polemicize with. Nevertheless, a practically minded election planner must legitimately ask themselves what social classes a right-wing party should seek the support of when its erstwhile clientele is so unattracted by free markets and flat taxation or is mainly interested in reducing greenhouse gases, wind- and solar power, healthy lifestyles and, being wealthy, is willing to pay a premium for them in green taxes. If the right loses the bourgeoisie, it will die out and the current bourgeoisie is and will probably for a long time to come be at the very least. Indeed, it will probably get greener and greener. And this is true in the Czech Republic, where the post-materialist trend is as yet not as strong as in Western Europe.
The biggest election ‘loss’ was suffered by the Civic Democrats in 2002 when [then Social Democrat leader] Vladimír Špidla managed to appeal to appeal to sections of the Czech middle class. Under Stanislav Gross and Jiří Paroubek the Social Democrats lost this catch and but for the success of the Czech Greens a Communist-Social Democrat coalition – either overt or in the form of Communist support for a minority government – would be governing the Czech Republic – the nightmare warned against in the Civic Democrat election campaign.
In my view one clear imperative for the Civic Democrats flows from this: if they want to be successful they must win over the Czech middle class, either directly or through coalitions with its representatives (or representatives of the most important and influential sections of the Czech middle class). And Czech Green Party is precisely such a representative. The Greens are in a Czech context on the right as regards their negative attitude to the communist past and especially in the social composition of their electorate, but some aspects of its programme and views put them on the left, the balance of these two trends being a position in the political centre.
The greening of the European right is a challenge for the Czech right comparable to Cameron’s ‘challenge of climate change’, one with which it will have to come to terms in a much more fundamentally and sophisticated way than it has so far. Opportunistic rebranding or parroting some of the arrant nonsense uttered by Czech and international “environmentalists” would be as unfortunate as complete dismissal of environmental issues or the problems of Africa accompanied the oft-repeated mantra that the market is panacea for us.

Josef Mlejnek jr. (
josefmlejnek@seznam.cz)”