Defence minister slammed over remarks made by his TV show character

Martin Stropnický in Afghanistan, photo: archive of Czech Army

Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnický has come under fire over his role as a detective in a popular TV crime show. An actor by profession, Mr Stropnický has remained on the cast of the series even after he was appointed minister. But his character’s investigation of drug smuggling by Czech troops from Afghanistan in the show’s latest episode has sparked a lively debate in the lower house on whether this is an appropriate part to play for the defence minister.

Martin Stropnický in Afghanistan,  photo: archive of Czech Army
More than 1.1 million viewers tuned in to the latest episode of the TV crime series Kriminálka Anděl on Sunday night. They saw Defence Minister Martin Stropnický in the role of Colonel Tomeček cracking a drug smuggling case.

In the episode, a soldier is murdered just before departing for another posting in Afghanistan. Investigation reveals that he and some of his colleagues ran a drug operation, smuggling opium from Afghanistan to the Czech Republic. One particular line uttered by Mr Stropnický’s character has come under criticism.

“We have 20 kilos of raw opium that got here via the army’, says Colonel Tomeček as portrayed by the defence minister. “We have a dead officer who was hiding the opium under the floor of his home. If we go public with this, not even the General Staff will be able to cover it up. With all respect, I don’t give a damn about some international reputation or the rotation of the Afghan mission.”

Jana Černochová | Photo: David Sedlecký,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0 Unported
The first to react to the controversial episode was the speaker of the lower house Jan Hamáček of the Social Democrats, a coalition partner of Mr Stropnický’s ANO party. “This was a spit in the face of all members of the army. It’s incredible that the defence minister would consent to something like this,” Mr Hamáček wrote on his Facebook page.

On Tuesday, the issue reached the lower house where several opposition MPs asked Minister Stropnický to apologize. Civic Democrat deputy Jana Černochová also came up with some words of advice.

“I think that in the future, Minister Stropnický should only act in fairy tales rather than films which hurt the reputation of the Czech Army in such a terrible way. I am asking Mr Stropnický to apologize.”

The embattled defence minister then addressed the MPs, trying to explain the difference between real life and fiction. He also said he had only agreed to continue filming the show, which first aired in 2008, to make sure other members of the cast and staff do not lose their jobs.

His words might have fallen short of convincing the opposition. But some actual army veterans believe the argument is not much more than political bickering. Lumír Němec served for three years as the head of the Czech army’s Special Operations Group in Afghanistan.

Bagram base in Afghanistan | Photo: Jan Kouba,  Czech Army
“I saw the episode and I just thought, ‘a silly screenplay and a silly director,’ and that was that. What happened in Parliament is I think just the opposition trying to create some sort of a media commotion to divert attention from their failure in the Senate and local elections.

“I think that for the soldiers, it is much more important that the minister makes sure their salaries grow and that they get the equipment they need rather than whether the minister acts in some silly TV shows.”