PC Press Digest

Weekly Press Digest – October 30

Political Critique's weekly selection from the Eastern European press.

Michal Chmela’s selection

The results of last week’s elections are already showing their ugly face when the favorite of sub-80 IQ voters everywhere, fraudulent fascist finagler Okamura put forward his first suggestion for the to-be-established parliament: the formerly public Czech TV was to be put under state control, a move comfortably familiar to the denizens of dictatorships everywhere. For now, it has been dismissed across the political spectrum, but keep in mind that this is a delicate time with negotiations about the shape of the new government still taking place: it would just not do to be outed as a wannabe dictator right before being actually put in power.

Speaking of power: a fourth scenario for the setup for the next government has emerged. The unthinkable has happened and parties stuck to their pre-election promise: no one seems willing to accept a coalition with the winning ANO. Andrej Babiš has therefore decided to fulfill his dream of turning the state into a privately-owned company by announcing his willingness to run a minority government supported by a few carefully selected non-party “experts”. Last time that happened, we ended up with a cabinet chock-full of Zeman’s drinking buddies so naturally our beloved President, may he rest in peace as soon as possible, is all for it.

Until then, he’s continuing his ongoing campaign of running the Czech Republic to the ground through the pettiest means possible. The annual awarding of state medals to the worthy and supportive has been a laugh ever since Zeman got the function but this year he has outdone himself: apart from the usual ragtag bunch of has-been celebrities who appeared in his campaign, heroes of communist labor who contributed money for it and artists willing to improve his rapidly deteriorating public image, he managed to toss an award to two especially notable personages: the professional disinformator and Russian propaganda star Petr Žantovský, presumably as a consolation prize after the Parliament showing a rare case of sanity and refusing to let him anywhere near the Czech TV, and writer of approximately sixth-rate historical fiction Vlastimil Vondruška. This may seem typical Zemanic pandering to the lowest common denominator (which, in Zeman’s case, is really low), but Vondruška’s real value lies in repeatedly spewing xenophobic propaganda in mainstream media with the authority of a historian. He is a prime purveyor of seductive scientifically sounding bullshit and the recurring disembowelment of his theories by the rest of the academic community does little to curb his enthusiasm.

Oh, and the President of Slovenia got the award too. What for is really anyone’s guess.

Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.


Anna Azarova’s selection

Two weeks ago, rights advocacy organisations were banned from Hungarian prisons, including the Helsinki Committee (HC), which had been working with prisoners for 18 years. According to the state penitentiary authorities, there’s no reason for their work anymore, as prisoners’ rights can be ensured even without them. This week, the prisons started introducing mobile phones instead of the old landlines, apparently so that prisoners wouldn’t have to queue for the limited number of phones – sounds good at first. But these new phones are much more expensive, even though all once can do with them is call (they can’t be called back or receive texts). I, for example, pay 25 forints per minute (€0.08) – prisoners have to pay almost four times that; and if they want an invoice, they are charged €16, a service which is free for average customers. But harshest of all, in order to receive a phone at all, they have to pay €115 – which, if you don’t have wealthy relatives, can take years to save up. The old landlines will be completely replaced: if you can’t afford a mobile, you’ll lose even the weekly 30 minutes you had before. For more bleak facts about prison life in Hungary, here’s a short little quiz by HC.

Also last week, CEU practically fulfilled all conditions demanded by the government, which is now refusing to sign the agreement, without which the university, regardless of having complied with its conditions, would have to close. When asked whether Hungary needs CEU in an interview this week, government spokesman Kovács said, that although it’s important for a country to have high quality educational institutions, it is rather questionable if there are certain institutions, whose ideology has proven to have nothing to do with reality. This is especially juicy coming from someone who got their MA and PhD from CEU, and went to Oxford on a Soros scholarship, just like Orbán himself. On Thursday, however, the government announced an agreement with a Chinese university authorised by Orbán personally; and on Friday, an agreement with a Thai university, apparently very hastily signed.

Kovács also thought that the “national consultation” on the “Soros Plan” is an “excellent” tool to “find out” what the citizens’ “opinion” is. Meanwhile, when the Minister for the Prime Minister’s Office Lázár was asked about the oppositional referendum initiative to tighten the regulations on politicians’ assets declarations, he said it was a “demagogic incitement.” And anyway, the citizens are not to have any opinion on this: the parliament should decide. Never mind that in the past couple of years, all oppositional parties submitted related proposals, and Fidesz voted against all of them.

Anna Azarova is a graduate student in Budapest and a freelance translator.


Roman Broszkowski’s selection

It’s been a quiet, but windy week in Poland, with most of the important news already being covered by international outlets. So today the big stories are simple. First a potential cabinet shake up and second; the continued evolution of the doctors’ strike.

Government Shake Up
On the 24th, Prime Minister Szydło announced that there would be a cabinet reshuffle around the middle of November. This comes after weeks of media speculation surrounding the electoral future of the PiS government. Although the ruling party has reached an all-time high approval rating of 44%, it is still deeply divisive and remains (obviously) opposed by more than half of the country. The opposition is however, hopelessly divided, which is not a big asset in the fight against authoritarianism. The link between the party’s poll numbers and the proposed shake up seems to be a desire to drop the most unpopular figures from the cabinet before the 2018 Polish local election season. Rumor (and Reuters) has it these unlucky souls will probably be Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and Environment Minister Jan Szyszko. There has also been speculation that Szydło herself might be ousted and replaced by PiS leader Kaczyński.  She has publicly said that this is unlikely, but that she will be talking about the details of the reshuffle with Kaczyński. It makes very little sense for Kaczyński to come out of the shadows and take official control as he is a widely disliked figure in Poland and becoming Prime Minister would open him up to even greater attack. Kaczyński is already in complete control of his party, the Prime Minister, and to some extent the President. The only reason for change could be if either the Prime Minister starts to stray to far or if the President bites Kaczyński again like he did by vetoing the original judicial reform bill. However, there is always a chance that Kaczynski’s ambitions will get in the way of cold calculating control and he will leap at the opportunity to become head of state. In fact, Gazeta Wyborcza places the odds of Kaczyński becoming PM at 75% so perhaps they know something we don’t. We can only wait and see.

Doctors’ Protest
For the last month, some two dozen doctors in residence have been participating in a hunger strike in a Warsaw hospital. Today the official doctors union, OZZL, announced that the hunger strike had ended, but the protests surrounding demands for better pay, hours, and government investment would not. Since the protest started on October 2nd, hundreds of doctors have joined satellite uprisings around the country in major cities such as Wrocław and Kraków. The protesters have claimed that doctors are leaving Poland en masse due to excessive red tape and paltry salaries that don’t accurately compensate them for the work that they do. Their main demands have been a immediate doubling of salaries and a promise to increase government health spending to 6.8% by 2021. While they have gotten a response from the Ministry of Health, the government has only promised to increase spending to 6% by 2025. With the hunger strike over, however, OZZL has lost a vital bargaining chip and if the momentum is not saved, the whole movement might fizzle.

Roman Broszkowski is an undergraduate International Politics student from New Jersey. His area of study is Eastern Europe and the Middle East.


Featured photo by Adam Olszański via Flickr.