Anti-Babiš protests reach fresh heights – but what real impact can they have?

Photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

An estimated 50,000 people attended the latest, and biggest, in a series of protests against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Tuesday evening. Demonstrators condemn his appointment of Marie Benešová as justice minister, fearing that move could influence a criminal case of alleged EU subsidy fraud involving Mr. Babiš. But how much impact can these protests actually have? That’s a question I put to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

Photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

“I don’t think that the protests will have an impact in the short run.

“I think, however, that they are changing the atmosphere in Czech society.

“Because the mere fact that these protests have not subsided – and in fact the number of people who protest keeps growing – is in itself a message that in the medium run can have some effect on how political preferences develop.

“And also they may change the perception of Mr. Babiš.”

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Luboš Vedral / Czech Radio
How do you think he views these protests?

“Mr. Babiš says that he is not concerned about these protests.

“He says he’s gotten used to them, which is I think is not exactly how he feels about the demonstrations, simply because he is a genuine populist.

“He says that his movement ANO is here for everyone. So when he sees at least a part of Czech society to be so actively against his policies and him personally, it must be worrying for him.

“I think that he is not happy with these protests and he also knows that there is the potential for even larger demonstrations, should he try to interfere in any way with the Czech judiciary.

“Or if, for example, there were some attempts by him or the president to influence certain decisions that are made by the Czech courts or state prosecutors.”

Photo: Martina Schneibergová
The organisers have already called more protests. There’s one next week outside Prague and then in two weeks again back in the capital. How long do you think they can continue?

“I think they may continue until the beginning of the holiday season, which is the beginning of July. I don’t think we will see many demonstrations in the summer.

“But I think that the protests have served their purpose.

“They have sent a message that there is an active part of Czech society which is not happy with the way that Mr. Babiš behaves and the fact that the Czech Republic has a criminally prosecuted person as its prime minister.

“So at least these protests show that if Mr. Babiš oversteps his boundaries they will continue in the fall and may become even stronger.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
“I personally see these protests as the growth of Czech civil society, or of bigger confidence on the part of Czech civil society, and that is certainly important.

“If you look at Slovakia, we know that a few years ago there were large protests against the Fico government because of the so-called Gorilla affair.

“At that point nothing happened, but civil society got mobilised, ready, and all that was needed was a trigger, in the form of the murder of a Slovak journalist, to bring about major changes in Slovak politics.

“So I think that this is a process, the whole process has its own dynamics and the dynamics of this process is certainly not something that is favourable for Mr. Babiš.”