Czech Republic

Puppies, Witches and Mentally Damaged Cameras: the Czech Approach to European Elections

All in all, the vast majority of pre-election posturing and propaganda is utterly meaningless. All that is really left for us is to sit back and enjoy the show.

As usual, election time in the Czech Republic presents a wonderful opportunity to open the floodgates of common sense and let all that sweet, swelling idiocy out into the open in one big deluge of an election campaign. The fact this concerns an election very few people care about, even fewer know anything about and almost no-one is able to make any kind of informed decision anyway only serves to underscore the pointlessness of it all – but hey, the election to the European Parliament is here!

Spectacle over Substance

Before we start examining some of the parties involved and their strategies in detail, one thing should be made abundantly clear: in the Czech Republic, no one ran an election campaign on issues that could actually be affected by electing their party to the EP, or even at all. The reason is very simple: very few Czechs can tell the difference between various layers of the EU’s structure and their respective purviews, which is why parties get away with some rather interesting claims: for example, the current PM, patriotic populist and chicken seller Andrej Babiš’s party ANO claims they would push for a Europe where most Union-wide decisions would have to be unanimously accepted by the European Council. Obvious attempt at a power grab aside (the council consists of Heads of State after all), such a shift would have precisely nothing to do with the European Parliament, whose role in discussing the issue would be purely formal at most.

The second, even more obvious misinterpretation of how the European Parliament functions is the complete absence of its faction system from the electoral debate. Every single participant in the race, be it a member of a well-funded party or a village idiot with a photocopier, boasts a bunch of popular, patriotic and powerful statements about changing the EU for good (even if it is towards non-existence). In reality, the chances of fulfilling such claims are suspiciously nearing zero, as our enterprising political elite would have to push them through from inside a larger faction – and even then, they would have to move it the top of their faction’s agenda – a rather daunting task, since they refuse to even admit which faction they would join, if elected (am I right, Pirate party?).

All in all, the vast majority of pre-election posturing and propaganda is utterly meaningless. All that is really left for us is to sit back and enjoy the show.

And Calliope Wept

There is something special about the moment when a politician starts singing: the combination of the grim realization that that there is nothing else left to try, and indeed nothing left to lose, if one has to resort to it; the creeping dread when one begins to marvel at  the kind of electorate this is supposed to pander to, and the apparent inability to memorize six verses of lyrics (so the video needs multiple takes, even though it is only 27 seconds long). The final result is this exquisite concoction presented by the Communist party.

Zpívejte s námi a volte číslo 9, KSČM – Česká levice společněRoman Blaško – kandidát do Evropského parlamentu

Opublikowany przez Nenechme to tak Niedziela, 19 maja 2019

Those gifted with exceptional hearing might even – by the end of the video – recognize the tune this little ditty is sung to (most get there around the time he mentions taking a mallet to the heads of European bureaucrats); the rest of us can only wonder why the camera used to shoot all this happened to develop a dissociative identity disorder. We feel for you, unknown camera!

A smarter way to handle singing when nothing else seemed to be working was discovered by the SPD (alt-right, anti-immigration, led by an immigrant) candidate Robert Vašíček, who uploaded the “SPD Anthem” to his rather hyperactive YouTube channel.

Upon careful examination, discerning listeners may realize that said anthem relies on the stark contrast of stock dramatic music and droning on about “democratic genocide” to a video of what one could fairly assume would be its future perpetrators (given the fact the footage is taken from the recent meeting of European far right in Prague). While Vašíček was so confident of the video’s success that he disabled comments on it, I for one would love to see this performed at every single one of their rallies, if only to see if the author of the background music they used would eventually sue them.

Vašíček is a real Renaissance man of pre-election bullshit: when he’s not too busy stealing music, he raises awareness of women constantly being raped by immigrants across the whole Western Europe by manhandling a figurante, apparently to stop her from blowing her brains out (a completely understandable reaction to being in the man’s presence).

And when he is not too busy trying to prevent suicide by promoting homicide, he can still find the time to mutilate the English language in one masterstroke of dramatic speech, reused music and video footage.

Lately he was seen campaigning among the prematurely senile with issues based on “actual facts”, such as thousands of churches across Europe being burned to the ground (yes, Notre-Dame gets a mention), blaming parties that did not exist until the late 2000s for thirty years of theft, and threatening to gouge someone’s eye out when his shirt finally cannot take it anymore and lets the buttons fly. He should, however, be credited for bringing a superior intellect to confront him in this video – the dog barking at 4:03 provides a much-needed voice of reason, and the appearance of puppies in the finale brings the collective IQ of the cast to a respectable two-digit number.

Trite and Stolen

All right, one may object, these two may represent parties that hold some seats in the Czech Parliament, but they are just nationalist crackpots with home-made videos, right? There has to be a serious spot dealing with real issues somewhere! How about the ruling, popular parties? They have the budget to afford more than this amateurish nonsense, right? Right?

Well, let’s talk ANO. The most powerful party in the country, led by a billionaire PM who fuels his businesses by creatively diverting EU grants; they even disclosed plans to pour 35 million Czech crowns into the campaign – a reasonable estimate, given the size of their PR machine. What, one may ask, was their idea? What do they stand for?

In short: Trump-inspired hats (Strong Czechia!).

It just as well that this particular video does not include the candidate talking any actual issues apart from what a pleasure it is to have a photo session with the PM; all the wild, android-style  gesturing, manic glare implying constipation and the final words of “it will be LIKE THAT (gesture), I said we will do it like THAT” sum up ANO’s campaign more than any of the actual issues they tried to bring to the table. (And let it not go unsaid that ALDE, the faction they are currently in, is dissolving, and it is dubious whether ANO will become part of any new form it assumes after the election.) Hence hats, hence the PM and hence videos that consist of Messenger exchanges trying to raise anti-German sentiments.

The other big parties went for huge doses of boring table talk spiced up with trite and tired soccer metaphors. A special mention goes the Pirate Party who, apparently aware of just how irrelevant and boring their clip was, thoughtfully provided an alarm clock for the viewers’ benefit.

So far we got the offensive and the irrelevant out of the way; now let us take a look at the truly bizarre.

Planes, Pitchforks and Astrology

One thing shared across the whole Czech political spectrum was the anti-campaign: targeting not solutions but shortcomings of other parties and political personalities. Half of the right-wing parties dedicated a nontrivial amount of time and money to defaming PM Babiš – not a bad investment per se, but the means were sadly not thought out very well. Take the aerial bombardment video, produced by the libertarian Svobodní party.

The idea conveyed by the voiceover is that they are looking for partners to reform Europe from within, their slogan is “leave (Europe) without paying” – and, putting aside the rather obvious contradiction here, they apparently blame the EU for allowing Babiš to defraud its money (by building a resort which Babiš using strategically diverted grants). So, their logic is as follows: Babiš is stealing from the EU, therefore the EU needs to be reformed, therefore the Czech Republic needs to leave it. Take that, Aristotle! One also cannot help but suspect they steal music from the same source as SPD.

Klára Samková is rather infamous in Czech politics; she is a lawyer known for her anti-Islamic activism, most notably when she publicly cursed the Turkish ambassador to die without honor in 2016. Now she is back and in better form than ever, as evidenced by her video – her party, Alternative for the Czech Republic as inspired by the German AfD, runs the garden variety anti-immigration propaganda, but there is a very interesting bit near the end where she promises to solve issues in the traditional Czech way, by “throwing a pitchfork at the EU”.

The meaning of the idiom is sabotage, and while chances of anti-EU factions gaining the power in the European Parliament are still higher than ever, one cannot help but admire her rising to progressively more direct means of interference: when propaganda fails, resort to magic; when magic fails, well, here come the pitchforks!

Speaking of magic, another interesting point of view was presented in a video by Antonín Baudyš, former Christian Democratic politician and currently full-time astrologist; his main argument of “The EU wants to be in a One Ring To Rule Them All situation” would certainly deliver an extremely poignant point if one had any idea what he meant.

Still speaking of magic and incomprehensibility, there is the witch video. Note that speaking the language is no help at all if you want to get the point of the whole thing. In short, an evil witch runs the country, but a man of the people rises and cooks up an Elixir of Good (yes, really) to bring back smiles to people’s faces. That’s it. Apparently, the party leader is a cook and the list of things he considers most important in politics consists of “water, air, food and national pride”.

And then there is this guy. Obviously a parody, correct? Surely you cannot run a campaign on promises of subsidized beer, regular sex for all and teaching the European Parliament to pronounce the Czech “ř”, right? Right?

Given the rest of the bunch, I wish I could say that for certain.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.