Czech Republic

Prime Minister’s Political Purge – Michal Chmela on Babiš

While negotiations about a government with the confidence of parliament are still running, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been busy removing people who posed potential problems.

Five months ago, Prime Minister (having resigned, probably no longer wanted by the police, given the situation) Andrej Babiš’ government failed to pass a vote of confidence; in a civilized country, this would lead to a resignation, elections, and the re-shuffling of his party. Alas, this is the Czech Republic and we are perfectly happy to ignore the safeguards of democracy, so the lack of confidence from the Parliament happened to be utterly meaningless and, to his great advantage, Babiš’ people are free to run amok in what remains of the Czech political system.

Once upon an election…

In order to understand the latest peculiar series of ousted politicians and officials, we need to go back to the Parliamentary elections of November 2017. Babiš’ populist party, ANO, (policy: we’ll make things better, never mind how) managed to score a fairly solid 29% of the votes, which would normally be perfectly sufficient to build a coalition with a willing accomplice. Only this time, the accomplices were not exactly willing; the rest of the votes ended up scattered between an unhealthy mix of conservatives, communists and lunatics, leaving very little common ground to build a coalition on. Even Babiš’ former allies, the social democrats (policy: not very social or democratic) and the Christian democrats (policy: we’ll go with literally anyone), grew disillusioned by his brave new PR strategy of claiming every popular measure made by the government for his own and blaming the unpopular ones on his coalition partners.

In addition, the parties who would like to keep calling themselves democratic have announced that they absolutely refuse to co-operate with Babiš on account of his (now effectively buried) trouble with defrauded European grant money, leaving him with two options: the communists (policy: Stalinism never got old) and the xenophobic-fascist SPD (policy: boo, immigration!). Neither of which seemed very savory at the time, not to mention both parties categorically demanding to leave the EU which Babiš saw as much more profitable to rob. So he proposed a minority government which got more or less laughed off the stage; at that point, prosecution for financial fraud still seemed a distinct possibility and no one was willing to get behind a (well, publicly) criminal PM.

Normally, in this situation the President steps in and appoints the runner-up in the election to give them a shot at building a government. Sadly, lacking a runner-up, we have to make do with whatever demonic entity brings Zeman’s corpse to life, and that unholy abomination decided, Babiš gets another try – and he will get one as long as he wants one.

Five months later

Which brings us to today. Babiš is a Prime Minister in everything but the title, running the government as if nothing  ever happened. The Parliament can complicate passing laws but ANO still has the quiet support of the communists and the SPD (who apparently became a lot less unsavory as time went on) as well as the occasional spark of stupidity, usually courtesy of the Pirate party (policy: what did I just vote for?). While negotiations about a government with the confidence of the parliament are still running, most notably with the freshly replaced higher echelons of social democrats (pictured: vice-chairman of the party politely explaining to an activist that Stalin was a pretty cool guy), Babiš has been busy removing a lot of people who posed potential problems.

The most obvious and publicly alarming change was the replacement of the Defense Minister (having resigned, obviously). The relatively inoffensive puppet Martin Stropnický, whose biggest contribution to the country was in ANO PR by virtue of being a popular actor, got the boot and was replaced by a woman who thinks Hitler started World War One and considers posing her poodle on a memorial a fitting tribute to fallen soldiers. And while the idea of a woman, physically incapable of deciphering a NO DOGS ALLOWED sign, having to make decisions regarding defense contracts does possess a certain nihilistic appeal, the chances are she will not last long either. Never mind Hitler and doggies, what could really break her back is constantly using an airport VIP room and paying for it with state money.

This change is indicative of the values preferred by a Babiš government. Competence, insight and literacy are very much discouraged in favor of loyalty to the Great Leader, as evidenced by another curious disappearance: the former Minister of Justice and widely regarded as the “decent face of ANO”, Robert Pelikán, who left the party last month citing opinion differences regarding collaboration with the communists and the SPD. There cannot be differing opinions in ANO.

Investigation? What investigation?

Another completely coincidental case of a sudden reshuffling hit the police and intelligence structure. The General Inspection of Security Services (GIBS) was under fire in connection with – surprise! – investigating Babiš’ fraud case; the non-PM has been putting public pressure on its Director Michal Murín to resign for several months, eventually succeeding at the start of this month. Now, GIBS is actually a fairly powerful institution which supervises the actions of the police and has the capability to slow down ongoing investigations as well as remove people from them – now why on Earth would a person investigated for fraud want to interfere with that?

And then there’s the civil intelligence service and the sudden removal of its director Jiří Šašek, which the Interior Minister (having resigned) sprang after supposedly having received information indicating irregularities in its accounting (curiously enough a reason used to discredit GIBS as well – the fact that Babiš was the Finance Minister with influence over just who gets audited and when was, obviously, a curious coincidence). The reasons were supposedly disclosed to the Parliament at a closed, confidential meeting. Oh, and there is a new spymaster around – Radek Musílek, a longtime acquaintance and supporter of Babiš.

To put it in context: the Czech Republic boasts three secret service organizations. One, BIS, reports to the government as represented by the PM, meaning Babiš and never mind the law. Two, the military secret service, reporting to the Defense Minister, the illiterate dog-lover and Babiš’ trusty lickspittle Šlechtová. Three, the civil intelligence service, now in the filthy paws of a great friend of the PM, Musílek. About the only good thing that can be said about this purge is that as far as we can tell, Babiš does not have a comfy gulag prepared for those who perpetrate the truly horrid crimes of disloyalty and disagreement. Not yet, anyway.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.