After 30 years – “Velvet Revolution” style protests resume in Prague. Why was social justice missed?

Last Sunday, Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, experienced the biggest protest since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. 250,000 people protested against Andrej Babiš, the country’s prime minister and also one of its most powerful oligarchs, against his obvious conflicts of interest and demanded respect for the rule of law. One day after he was charged with fraud over an EU subsidy, Babiš replaced the Minister of Justice, the person who will decide on the appointment of prosecutors and other significant circumstances during his investigation and trial.

These protests showed that civil society in the Czech Republic is not only still alive, but is even stronger and more powerful than anybody expected. “We don't want to let it go as far as in Hungary!” was heard many times in speeches during protest.

The crowd of 250,000 people on Letná – an iconic site connected with the 1989 Velvet Revolution - was impressive, but Babiš  still has a very high level of support among electors - constantly around 30% of the votes. Most of his voters unfortunately have not realised yet that he entered the political scene just and only to enrich his businesses and himself. Most of his at first sight socially sensitive steps such as the increase in pensions or fare discounts for seniors and children are only empty populist gestures.  The major beneficiary of the state subsidised fare discounts for seniors and children is Radim Jančura, the owner of the biggest private carrier in the country and “surprisingly” a friend and supporter of Babiš.

All of Europe across countries and political parties is now concerned about the environmental disasters linked to climate change, and is trying to limit carbon emissions, but a coordinated solution in the European Council was last week blocked by Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. “Why do we deal with something that only happens in 2050?”, said Babiš two days before the demonstration. Organisers of the protests and ecological activists reacted promptly – and a big panel discussing environmental topics was presented on stage.

I´m really grateful for that, but I have to ask: “Why does nobody speak with the same urgency about social justice?” I noticed just only one very cautious speech about “social cohesion” “people in debt traps”. Why have we left all those unprotected people, with serious concerns about their daily livelihood to the mercy of the oligarchs and populists? Traditional parties have failed and the Czech Republic is waiting desperately for a new progressive political party or civic movement.

 

Zuzana Schreiberová, executive director of MKC Prague, SOLIDAR board member