“The only solution is political” – Organisers of major anti-government protests in Czechia announce plans for the future

Photo: Martina Schneibergová

Million Moments for Democracy, the anti-government protest movement that brought hundreds of thousands of Czechs onto the streets last year, has set its sights on helping traditional democratic parties opposed to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who is under criminal investigation, win the next parliamentary elections. At a press conference in Prague on Tuesday afternoon the movement’s leaders announced a new concept for the organisation called Million Moments 3.0. I asked its deputy head, Benjamin Roll, to define what it means and explain their new strategy.

Benjamin Roll, photo: Ben Skála, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
“It is a new level of our activities.

“We started off as a petition against the prime minister because of his conflict of interest and his prosecution. Then we added the activation of civil society and the mobilisation of people from the whole country to our goals.

“Million Moments 3.0 now includes a new goal. Namely, that [traditional] democratic parties win in the next election to the Chamber of Deputies that take place in 2021.

“That is quite soon so we hope that civil society can help spread information about the problems of Andrej Babiš and that the [traditional] democratic parties can react to this activation with a new way of thinking in politics and win the elections.

“It is important, because the only solution to our problems will be a political one in the future years to come.”

You say you don’t want to run in elections as a movement, but what will you do if this so-called democratic opposition does not unite or surge in the polls? The prime minister’s ANO party is still far ahead in voter preference. Is there a backup plan?

“Our role in civil society, as I see it, is bringing together people who care about democracy.

“Therefore, we need to create an environment in our society that will push [traditional] democratic parties towards some sort of activity. That means also being harder on them if they do not react to this public demand.

“However, this is just me speculating about future. I still believe that they are capable of some sort of action or activity.

“I also believe that it is possible for them to win in elections, but the main thing is that they acquire a winning mentality.

“I think they are still just trying to survive and are not psychologically ready to win when in fact it is really important for the people to see that these parties do want to win.

Anti-government protest on Letná plain, Prague, June 2019, photo: Hynek Moravec, CC BY-SA 4.0
“The parties on the other hand need to realise that it is in their own interest and that of the whole of society, because although they may have some issues they are democratic parties after all.”

What other topics then asking the prime minister to resign do you want to bring attention to?

“There are lots of issues that need to be solved.

“For example, the poverty of some regions and districts in the country really is a huge problem. We need to start to care about this problem, at least show that we care.

“I think this is one of the reasons why populists are winning, because lots of people thought that previous politicians did not care about them.

“That is why I believe it is so important to show that we care.”

Can you give me one or two specifics about what these topics are?

“For example the many social problems like the fact that there are nearly one million people threatened by property seizure.

“That is really terrifying, because, if you add in their families, that is something like a third of the nation being in a really bad situation and does not believe in the system.

Anti-government protest on Letná plain, Prague, June 2019, photo: Martina Schneibergová
“I think that is very dangerous for the future and we need to solve this.

“Another example is that through our president we are unable to be clear about our position in global politics, about our attitude towards Russia and China.

“This is the big global political question we need to solve.

Are you not worried that some of these topics may be too divisive and have the opposite effect?

“In the following months we will be active in the country’s regions and district capitals asking people what troubles them.

“We will note their main issues and then confront politicians with them saying: ‘This is what the people really care about, so will you do something about it?’

“We will not be creating any topics or problems ourselves. Rather we will be in a dialogue with the people and hope that it will work.”

In a tour titled “Relay for democracy” (Štafeta pro demokracii), Million Moments plans to hold some 200 meetings and discussion panels across the Czech Republic in 2020, focusing specifically on one of the country’s 12 regions every week.

“Regional cities are only the beginning”, vowed the organisation’s leader Mikuláš Minář. He says Million Moments will “crisscross the whole country” by June 2021, the year when the next elections into the Chamber of Deputies are set to take place.

Mikuláš Minář, photo: Martina Schneibergová
Asked about the many small Czech communities abroad who have taken part in the protest, deputy leader Benjamin Roll said that they help to raise awareness about the prime minister.

“I think it is really important for foreign countries to see that we in the Czech Republic care about or state and our future. I think that people who live in these foreign countries can help in that too.

"It is really important that the image of our prime minister is changing in the eyes of foreign, for example western, countries. That puts more pressure on him and I think it is really important for the future.”