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.
The Czech daily newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes is running with a front page picture of former Prague mayor Pavel Bem, and a headline that reads, simply “The secret calls of Pavel B.” It makes for great reading if you’re a scandal monger, while others who consider themselves a bit more in the know will simply be nodding their heads, wondering why it took so long. Bem was caught on tape by the country’s secret service because they were tapping the phone of an influential lobbyist named Roman Janousek.
In case you’re wondering why you should care, another Prague kingpin named Peter Durica is alleged to have been recorded as well, discussing quite freely with Janousek about everything from city jobs, to master plan issues and questions about which pieces of land should be sold to whom.
What gives this story its extra kick is that these recording found their way into the private security agency ABL, whose former director Vit Barta eventually became Minister of Transportation for a junior coalition partner to Bem’s party, ODS.
If you’re not based in the Czech Republic, this will all seem a bit confusing. Suffice it to say that if you’ve been following the corruption scandal that brought down the Slovak government, this looks like another story that will run and run. The Czechs may have found their own gorilla.
We won’t bore readers with politics on a regular basis. But we can’t help noticing that in the Czech Republic, you have a president who thinks environmentalists are worse than Communists, and a former prime minister (an alleged “social democrat” named Paroubek) who just said this:
“It’s not good to employ people from other cultures, they stay here after that. They learn the language, they have children and then there’s an ethnic problem.”
In our oblivious naivete, we hadn’t realized our children were the beginning of an ethnic problem…