Czech Republic

Czech Local Elections: a sharp turn to the right

Last weekend’s Czech local elections brought a sharp turn in the political discourse towards the alt-right when even the established mainstream “conservative” parties embraced a rhetoric of hate and racism. Aside from about a million ethical quandaries, the main question is – did it work?

Probably the sharpest, most explicit messages showed up in the northern parts of the country, namely the city of Most – a peripheral area devastated by heavy industry (and subsequent job loss when the coal mines closed) which suffers from a prolonged housing crisis caused by real estate brokers tied into local politics. Curiously enough, it is the party most intertwined with the poverty business that fans the flames driving proper the proper, good folk into a racist frenzy: the Mostians for Most Association (SMM) were openly advocating segregation, establishing locations excluded from housing social support and, yes, building “scum villages” to which they would move the “rabble”. As for determining who exactly the “rabble” is supposed to be, the procedure is not exactly clear but one can assume it will involve a color filter.

See, while “rabble” is a new term in the Czech political discourse; the established “correct” codeword for the Romani minority was – up to now – “maladjusted”; while SMM made sure to make no direct link between rabblishness and ethnicity, their plans for “scum villages” by some strange turn of coincidence count with people living in socially excluded locations inhabited almost exclusively by the Romani. This level of sophisticated disguise ended up typical for a legion of more- or less- racist parties that popped up all over the country and even managed to get the attention of British media.

SMM did not win the elections in Most, but they came third; enough to leave a mark on the city’s future (un-)social policy. Their campaign did, however, echo with that of the party which came fourth – the traditional, conservative Civic Democrats (ODS), a party that has been a determining factor in Czech politics since the nineties and has fallen on hard times with the advent of mass populism. Undeterred, they got the message – ODS has been promising Zero Tolerance To Foreigners (this particular slogan coming from Mladá Boleslav – a city whose economic lifeline happens to be foreign workers from the Škoda automobile factory) and scoring great successes with it; if there is an overall winner to this election, they are it. What the hell?

Social housing? No thanks

Of course, the most widely watched elections were the ones that took place in the two biggest cities in the country – Prague and Brno. Prague is a mess of its own, but Brno got attention by virtue of being part of several interesting developments during the last local government’s tenure. Having started as a joke protest party and eventually made it into the City Hall, Žít Brno („To Live Brno“), the only social and progressive party on the menu, ended up in unmitigated disaster. And yes, their politics brought plenty of issues, there were a couple scandals, it became impossible to park a car in the city center and their road-use and car-use policies managed to paralyze Brno’s traffic more effectively than an elephant tranquilizer shot in the backside, but they were also responsible for the only social housing project in the country that a]actually took place b]worked.

Rapid Re-housing started as an experiment trying to determine whether providing flats to families without homes was a valid way of helping integrate into society. They were offered support keeping the flats and social assistance as long as they did not break the contracts with the landlord and paid the rent on time. Shock and awe, it turned out housing actually is a gateway to a better life – and 96% of them managed to keep their flats for more than a year. By all accounts, it was a success. Then the people have spoken.

The definitive shape of the coalition forming at Brno’s City Hall seems undecided still but between ODS – whose local leader spoke out against the project in a way that would make your average koala seem a genius – “Work first, then housing,” claims the smug cow, elaborating on how you cannot mix the homeless, vast majority of which are drug addicts and prone to suicide, with the decent, working, paying tenants – and the populist ANO that, while perfectly happy to take credit for the project in the past, will not let that get in the way of a coalition, whatever is going to happen to this unique project is likely to be very definitive and very painful. Much like trying to find work without having a home, coincidentally.

Capitalist capital

And then there’s Prague. The elections in the capital were essentially a race for the most crooked candidate. The populist ANO fielded a loan shark with slogans emphasizing that he will make Prague rich; the irony having apparently been lost on the party’s PR department. ODS countered with a truly brilliant campaign “order against anarchy” that attacked squatters, the homeless, people who sleep in public transport and also apparently drug users although it is hard to tell from the video that asks good, decent Czech folk if they’d let this guy decide the elections for them. Funnily enough the last one was open lie since the man does not live in the Czech Republic and the video was actually used without the author’s consent. Nothing says “order” quite like stealing.

This part of the campaign was intended to discredit the Pirate party; given their second place in Prague, it seems to have been an extremely case of an utterly idiotic political statement not working. There is no reason to celebrate, though; no matter what shape the coalition in Prague will take, it will consist of some mix or conservatives, populists and whatever the hell ODS has turned into in its chase after alt-right voters.

Good news? Yeah, there are good news. Andrej Babiš’s ANO scored much less than originally expected, with ODS narrowly beating them in larger cities. Upon finding out, Babiš and the leader of ODS Fiala immediately accused each other of being left-wing; if that is the case, one shudders to think what they would consider far right.

The xenophobic SPD ended up with a disaster, with only 155 representatives across the whole country.  Their leader, famously fearmongering fraudster Tomio Okamura, promptly amended his previous statement of expecting “hundreds of SPD representatives” to “I meant a three-figure sum”. His people were a lot less phlegmatic, though; “enjoy your immigrants”, tweeted a failed SPD candidate in Prague. And for all the horrible things to be said about the results in Brno, the openly neo-Nazi party Decent People flunked the election hard.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.