“People are afraid of the future”: Expert on anti-govt. protest in Prague

Saturday saw tens of thousands of people demonstrating on Prague’s Wenceslas Square against what they see as government mishandling of the energy crisis. Among the attendees were also members of hard left and hard right parties, many of them carrying banners with anti-NATO and anti-EU slogans, as well as calling for an end to pro-Ukraine measures. I asked Otto Eibl from the Department of Political Science at Masaryk University in Brno why he thinks the turnout was so big.

“Well, the simplest answer is that many people are afraid of the future.

Otto Eibl | Photo: Masaryk University Brno

“It is true that the government could be more efficient and transparent when it comes to the energy crisis, but we must realise that they only have limited options.

“The biggest issue for the government now is to find a connection with those citizens who are not represented in Parliament.

“In this regard we should remember the results of the last Parliamentary elections. More than a million votes were lost. To a large extent, the political representation of these voters overlaps with that of the organisers of Saturday’s demonstration.

“These voters feel that they have been abandoned and they convince themselves of this every time they see the energy prices, the prices in the grocery stores, or when they read about their government’s generous support for Ukraine.

“These are the main reasons why they came to Prague and why they protested against the government.”

Photo: Daniel Ordóñez,  Radio Prague International

Prime Minister Fiala said of the organisers that they are pro-Russian and that their interests are not those of the Czech Republic. His statement has since come under criticism from political scientists as well as some members of his party. Government ministers have also vowed to better communicate with the public. How do you think that he should navigate through this situation, what options does he have?

“This is a really difficult question and I am not the one who should advise the prime minister.

“He was right about the organisers of the event, because they are pro-Russian and anti-Czech. But many critics took the opportunity and twisted the meaning of Fiala’s statement a little bit. Now it seems that he was talking about the participants of the event.

Petr Fiala | Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

“But was he really? I think that he was talking only about the organisers. However, we live in a time when it is important how things look and not how they actually are.

“The prime minister has therefore found himself in a tricky situation. I think and I believe that there will be some clarification soon from the prime minister and his team.

“However, there is one general recommendation in political communication. When a politician is misunderstood and starts explaining what he actually meant, it never works.

“Things get too complicated and he may make even more mistakes.”

To someone looking from outside, who has seen that Czechia has been among the main supporters of Ukraine within the EU, how significant is this anti-Nato, anti-EU component in Czech society?

Photo: Jana Stuláková,  Czech Radio

“We have to realise that there was only a small fraction of Czech citizens there and not all of them were protesting against NATO, against the EU, or against supporting Ukraine.

“Many people were there because they are afraid of the future. They are afraid that they will not have enough money to pay their bills.

“I believe that this was the main reason why they were there. The pro-Russian, anti-NATO, anti-EU sentiments are only marginal in the context of the whole of Czech society.”

Are these types of protest something that you can see recurring going forward into this winter and, perhaps, the presidential elections period as well? We know that the former prime minister, Andrej Babiš, may run for president. Current opposition parties, such as ANO, faced these sorts of mass demonstrations themselves a few years ago. Do you think that they will want to use this protest momentum and keep it going?

“Yes, definitely. The protests and their media coverage will affect the upcoming elections, whether they be local, senatorial or presidential.

Photo: Jana Stuláková,  Czech Radio

“I believe that the opposition will use the opportunity to show how the government, in their opinion of course, isn’t working.

“Mr Babiš has been saying this story for a couple of months now. He has now got a reason to repeat it even more. Some voters will listen and vote for these parties, but that is only natural.

“We are talking about elections of the second order and in these kinds of elections it is only natural that the support for governmental parties drops.”

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