Uproar over appointment of ultra conservative as ministerial adviser

Ladislav Bátora, photo: CTK

Minority and human rights groups in the Czech Republic have sent an open letter to Education Minister Josef Dobeš over his decision to appoint a controversial ultra-conservative politician as an advisor. Ladislav Bátora once stood as an independent candidate for the now-defunct far-right National Party, and is now head of the Eurosceptic movement DOST.

Ladislav Bátora, photo: CTK
In a much-quoted passage from his autobiography, Mr Bátora describes conservatism not as an ideology but as a way of life, saying a conservative would always choose Confucius over Rousseau, nation state over civil society, goulash over McDonalds, and the Czech crown over the euro.

“I am”, he says, “against Europeanism, human rightism, genderism, multiculturalism, feminism, ecumenism, environmentalism and homosexualism...” and the list goes on. So when it was first announced Mr Bátora was to be employed at the Education Ministry, there was a chorus of disapproval from Prague’s political and intellectual elite. Opponents weighed in with angry editorials. This, says Mr Bátora, amounted to a co-ordinated plan of character assassination:

Josef Dobeš
“I myself call what I’ve had to go through ‘lynching by media’. There have been dozens of newspaper articles written about me, in which various things about me have been repeated like a mantra, things which must seem hoary and trite by now even to those reading them. They’re empty words, nothing more. The objective, of course, is simple: to prevent me – due to all this speculation - from taking up a position in the state administration. That’s what I call a lynching.”

Some, however, flocked immediately to support him, including the country’s eurosceptic president Václav Klaus. He described the opposition to Mr Bátora as yet another case of the dictatorship of political correctness, something Mr Klaus himself has long railed against. The president’s heartfelt support led to claims he had personally lobbied for Mr Bátora’s appointment; he’s not confirmed the claims, but on Monday Minister Dobeš did confirm the appointment was suggested by the president’s office.

Václav Klaus
But it’s Mr Bátora’s political past, rather than his conservative views, that has alarmed many. In 2006 he stood - unsuccessfully – as an independent parliamentary candidate for the far-right National Party. Three years later the party contested the European Parliament elections with a serious of blatantly racist campaign ads targeting immigrants and the Roma minority.

Mr Bátora points out that he’d long left the party by the time these ads appeared, and anyway he’d only stood as a candidate as a protest against the mainstream centre right party, the Civic Democrats. The National Party has since been disbanded, but critics say Mr Bátora’s fleeting involvement with it disqualifies him from holding any public office. A group of NGOs signed an open letter to Minister Dobeš voicing their concern, including the Czech branch of Amnesty International. Director Dáša van der Horst denies Mr Bátora is the victim of a conspiracy.

“I mean it’s his opinion, but what I’ve said already is that if you are a candidate number one for a party which has certain ideas, then I think you must know about these ideas and you must agree with these ideas. Again, I repeat, it’s not a lynch of Mr Bátora, it’s just that I don’t think that he should be in the post. Otherwise he can think whatever he thinks.”

Mr Dobeš later downgraded Mr Bátora’s proposed appointment, saying he would serve as an economic adviser, not as a deputy minister. He initially told the Pravo newspaper that he would make the appointment on April 1st, and no, he said, it wouldn’t be an April fool. Friday’s press conference announcing the appointment was postponed at the last minute; the minister, said a spokesman, had a fever. When confirmation of Bátora’s appointment finally did come, it was buried under a mass of unrelated announcements during a rather tedious press conference.