Veselin Vackov, Prague Journalist: Czechs Voted Against Graft, Thrift

Interview |Author: Milena Hristova | October 30, 2013, Wednesday // 09:56|  views interview with Veselin Vackov, regional director of the leading Czech media group MAFRA, publisher of the daily newspapers MF DNES, LIDOV? NOVINY and METRO and operator of internet portals, TV and radio stations. He has a background in journalism: he served as the editor-in-chief of the oldest Czech daily LIDOV? NOVINY from 2000 till 2009. Born in Bulgaria, he was educated at the Charles University in Prague and the University of Oxford.

Even before the Czechs headed to the polls to decide the composition of the new parliament in Prague, it was clear that the snap elections will put the Social Democrats to the test. What does the final election result reflect in terms of voters' sentiments? Who are the real winners?

The message is clear: the Czechs are deeply disappointed by the so called “big” parties that ruled the country since 1989. They are fed up of corruption scandals and the selective rule of law. Plus, they voted against the restrictive economic policies of the previous right-wing government.

Which is the biggest surprise of this election? Was it expected that Andrej Babis will emerge a kingmaker?

Surprisingly, there are no big surprises. The final results were predicted by the polling agencies. Andrej Babis’s success came as the result of a very professional and focused campaign. It responded to a public demand reminding the mood that brought to power Boyko Borisov and the GERB movement in Bulgaria in 2009.

What is your explanation for the strong showing of protest parties? How should mainstream parties react to their rise?

The first explanation is the economy: the Czech Republic went through six quarters of recession. The second is that the politicians did not respond well to the bad economic times: they ordered thrift to the people and did not fight graft. The Czech Republic was one of the last Eastern European countries with a relatively stable political system built around two big parties: the conservative Civic Democrats and the leftist Social Democrats. The last elections were devastating for both and I do not expect their recovery soon.

How long and difficult will be the period of political haggling the country faces? What are the different scenarios as parties scramble to form a government?

The day after election, the Social Democrats split. They narrowly won the vote but the result was far behind their expectation. One of the wings in the party is under heavy influence by president Milos Zeman, who wants to oust the party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka. This makes the situation extremely messy and unpredictable. To cut the long story short: there will either be a kind of coalition between Social democrats, Christian democrats and Andrej Babis, or a new vote next year.

What is the profile of the Communists supporters? Why did they perform so well despite all the suffering they brought to the Czechs?

The Czech Communists Party is in fact a protest party. The transition from socialism to capitalism produced losers that remembered “the old times” with nostalgia and voted for the extreme left.

Do you agree with those who say there is a growing feeling that the revolution of 1989 did not deliver on its aspirations?

The Czech society is split along economic lines. Prague and the other big prosperous cities are dissatisfied with the politicians but not with the system. In the rest of the country, the dissatisfaction is deeper. But it rarely goes against the whole post-1989 social and economic system as such.

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Tags: coalition, Bohuslav Sobotka, ANO, populist, elections, Czech Republic, Communist Party, Social Democrats, Petr Necas, Andrej Babis


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