Czech public is desensitized to xenophobic statements by politicians, says analyst

Michal Babák, photo: Filip Jandourek

Michal Babák, an MP and a deputy chairman of the Public Affairs party, responding to a question about the new Finance Minister Jan Fischer on Czech Television and attempting to criticize his predecessor Mirsolav Kalousek, made a provocative statement. He said: “No Jew can be as bad for the state coffers as Kalousek.” It is important to note that Mr. Kalousek is a Catholic, while Mr. Fischer is Jewish. Although a number of politicians have distanced themselves from Mr. Babák’s statement, which he has since defended, no serious repercussions have followed.

Michal Babák, photo: Filip Jandourek
I discussed the situation with political analyst Petr Just and began by asking him if similar kinds of statements about various minorities, which crop up once in a while, are simply attempts by Czech politicians to gain popularity among a certain demographic. Here is what he said.

“I think it’s more based on the personal beliefs of the politicians, because I don’t think these statements would somehow help the politician to gain popularity; definitely not the statements against Jews or homosexuals. Though maybe statements concerning the Roma minority might have some broader impact. But I don’t think that statements about Jews or sexual orientation can be influential or may affect the public and the decision-making of the Czech voters.”

Nevertheless, there hasn’t been a very strong response from the media or the public. On the other hand, foreign correspondents in Prague made very strong statements saying that what Mr. Babák said was unacceptable and he should at least apologize. Why do you think that the local public and media have not responded in a similar way?

Jan Fischer, photo: archive of the Czech Government
“Well, I think it is based more on the culture of the society. While in western European countries or in the United States if this happened the politician himself would realize that he went too far and usually resigns and does not have to be called on by the media or by his or her colleagues. But in the Czech Republic, the political culture, I would say, is ignorant toward such statements. Usually it’s left up to the politicians.

“On the other hand, I have noticed some quite displeased reactions of some Czech journalists. But it is true that from the public there haven’t been any calls, for example, for him to leave politics or making any other statements of apology. And the journalists probably didn’t cover it enough, because they thought this would be quite short-lived, and they expected that Mr. Babák will apologize himself, but so far he hasn’t.“

He certainly hasn’t apologized and his party hasn’t asked him to resign or show regret in any way. Do you think this less-sensitive culture that you are talking about will change eventually, or does it have to do with something bigger, with the culture of this country in general?

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: Filip Jandourek
“I would say that this is generally the culture of post-communist countries. This has a lot do with the fact that former Czechoslovakia was under a totalitarian regime, and whatever politicians said at the time in public could not be criticized. And people therefore did not care very much about what politicians said and if politicians took responsibility for their statements. So these are all the remains of the post-communist political culture and I think this will take one or two more generations for the situation to change and for the level of political culture in the Czech Republic to become similar to western European or American political culture.”