In case you’re wondering what in tarnation is going on in Czech politics and why cops are arresting current politicians, former politicians and the biggest names in lobbying this small nation can produce, here’s a pretty good schematic.
The woman in the center is basically the right-hand of the prime minister, Peter Necas (to her right), whose role in the whole matter (if any) isn’t clear yet. Though it seems impossible that his government will survive. You’ll note that the city of Prague has done its reputation no favors at all in this growing scandal, but this will come as no surprise to Czechs or to long-term veterans of the market.
We’ll wait until things become a bit clearer, as we don’t really have time to follow the blow by blow unraveling of the story (the NYT has a pretty good summary). Suffice it to say that anti-corruption detectives seem to have mapped out how large flows of public money were being siphoned off and divided among Parliamentary deputies, government ministry officials, state-owned companies, city of Prague politicians and lobbyists (i.e. underworld power brokers). It’s nothing short of breathtaking. If there’s an upside to it, it’s that the police are actually free enough to carry out such an investigation in the first place. More cynical commentators (and by that we mean well-informed ones) are saying it simply demonstrates the incompetence of the primary actors, and their inability to control the situation.
Update: Fun “fact” from the country’s least reliable newspaper, Blesk: Police raided 31 homes and recovered CZK 150 million in cashs along with 10 kilograms of gold.
The days of constant criticism of the European Union from the office of the Czech president are coming to a close, as the CTK news agency says that none of the candidates to replace the eccentric Euro skeptic Vaclav Klaus next March is nearly so virulently opposed to the grouping.
In fact, that’s putting it mildly. Not surprisingly, the only candidate with anything that borders on an interesting or unique view of things is former prime minister Miloš Zeman. He envisions greater cooperation between the less powerful voices in the EU sticking together more to avoid domination from the big countries. Fight the man…At least it’s a decent premise.
But things go downhill from there. Another former PM Jan Fischer says that Czech national interests shouldn’t oppose EU interests, saying that security and economic prosperity are the most important issues.
And it doesn’t get any better.
Foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg’s patriotism goes only as far as the rather obvious goal of preserving the Czech nation and language, and he performs logical somersaults by insisting that EU membership is the only way to achieve this. Meanwhile, the non-descript Premysl Sobotka espouses an unintelligible belief in controlling the national economy and foreign policy, in coordination with EU partners. This kind of inane babble makes watching paint dry on a wall sound exciting. Or vote for this guy.
In other words, as difficult as it is to say: Klaus will be missed (at least by journalists), and the era of interesting Czech presidents looks to be over. Which is perhaps as it should be.
Much as we hate to start the year on a downer, 2012 looks set to begin with considerable international media coverage of Hungary. All last year, when Greece was grabbing headlines any time Italy managed to fall off of them, we kept thinking how fortunate it was Central Europe wasn’t (directly) involved.
It is now. We know how sensitive people can be about jumping on the bad news bandwagon, but you’ll have to send us some feel-good story ideas. Otherwise, we’ll be left with news about the falling forint, and with this sort of commentary from FT Alphaville (quoting Nomura’s Peter Attard Montalto)
The government thinks it has enough cash to last it through any short term difficulties and take it to the other side of the Eurozone crisis. That is not the case… That is the catalyst. We are here because of bank deleveraging caused by Hungary’s own policies alienating the banks, by its anti-growth policies that have alienated FDI investors, by its unsustainable fiscal policy with a budget that hides a huge underlying deficit this year of close to -8%, policies around MNB independence etc, and above all investors scratching their heads and questioning the government’s credibility. That is why we are here.