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Czech elections: “a flick” on EU’s nose and moderate dislike for Russia

Euroskeptics have won a landslide victory in the Oct 20-21 parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic. This has become a challenge for the EU. As regards Russia, the Czech parliament will have both pro- and anti-Russian forces, but the latter will still prevail.

Czech politicians are quite active in Europe. Both former and current presidents of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus and Milos Zeman can be frequently seen in the headlines of European newspapers. Both are strongly critical of the West’s sanctions against Russia but neither of them are too strong to be able to influence their pro-western government.

The peculiarity of the Czech Republic is its political diversity. Here you can find leftists, rightists, Euroskeptics and Eurooptimists, Russophobes and Russophiles. The new Czech parliament will have as many as nine forces. The Czech Republic is also the richest of the former Socialist republics and enjoys the highest respect in Europe. Its government is also influential, so, it is important for both Europe and Russia to know who will be in it.

The Czechs are not as Euroskeptical as the British are, but they have always backed up forces who are not too much pro-European. The Czechs were very critical of Brussels’ decision to distribute the Middle Eastern refugees all over the EU. As a result, they have shown absolute non-confidence in the EU, Germany and their own Eurooptimists.

The winner of the past elections is ANO 2011 led by billionaire Andrej Babis. The party has polled 30% of the votes and has all chances to form the new ruling coalition. If Babis becomes prime minister, both the Czech Republic and Europe will have funny times as Babis can call an idiot a journalist just because he asked him a question did not like.

Babis is a Slovak and the son of an outstanding Communist bureaucrat. In May 2017, he was removed from the post of finance minister on suspicion of having stolen 2 billion EUR provided by the EU. His opponents tried hard to find some proofs of his cooperation with the special services of the Socialist Czechoslovakia. They have found a lot of dirt, but it turned out to be useless.

The program of Babis is a mixture of the leftist and rightist ideologies. He advocates a cut in taxes and a raise in pension. He does not want the Czech Republic to further integrate into Europe and to adopt EUR but he is not going to break away from the EU. “They call me a challenge for democracy but ‘democracy’ as it is seen by our traditional parties is nothing but corruption,” Basis said in a recent interview. The Czechs believed him, and no scandals were able to mar that belief.

For the EU his victory is not good news. In Dec 2016, Babis said that the terrorist attack in Berlin was the result of Angela Merkel’s migration policy. He rejects the EU’s refugee quotas. “It is for us to decide whether to receive refugees or not,” Babis said during his campaign.

As regards Russia, Babis is often compared with Berlusconi and Trump. His political rivals even call him “Babisconi.” They mean mostly his wealth and his attitude towards Russia. But if we analyze what Babis says, we will see that he is not pro-Russian. But he is not anti-Russian either.

His program advocates the need to observe the international law. It supports Ukraine but also urges it to build new relations with Russia. Babis criticized Russia for Crimea but recently he supported Zeman’s suggestion that Russia might compensate Ukraine for Crimea with gas or money.

ANO 2011 has a number of personalities who do not like Russia. Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky has even blamed Russia for the migration crisis in Europe. Babis has never been pro-Russian, but he is against the anti-Russian sanctions as they are causing a lot of damage to Czech exporters.

The former leader, the Social Democratic Party, led by Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, has failed. It has received just 7% of the votes. This party does not want to give shelter to refugees from Asia and Africa but is ready to provide assistance to their countries. They are all but Euroskeptics.

Their approach towards Russia is ambiguous. Zaoralek has repeatedly said that one must not forgive Russia the “annexation” of Crimea and that the sanctions must be prolonged, but they do not want tougher sanctions and advocate the need to build strategic relations with the Russians. Their representative, President of the Czech Senate Milan Stech has even said that the sanctions should be lifted.

So, in general, the Czech Social Democrats are not bad partners for Russia, unlike the conservative Christian Democrats, who have polled 5.8% of the votes. Their leader Pavel Belobradek believes that the anti-Russian sanctions must not be lifted until the Minsk agreements are fulfilled. For his force Russia is not a priority.

The Czech Christian Democrats highly value their EU and NATO memberships and are ready to raise their military spending to 2% of GDP. But there is one thing that they don’t accept – multiculturalism: they do not want to see Muslim refugees in their country. So, if they are problematic for both Russia and the EU.

The Mayors and Independents Party has similar values. That force also supports the anti-Russian sanctions even though it admits that they are causing damage to the Czech economy. The Mayors and Independents advocate limited immigration and see migration as a threat to their country. But they have polled just 5% of the votes.

The Civic Democratic Party, who ruled the Czech Republic in 2006-2013, is Euroskeptical. This time, the Civic Democrats have received 11% of the votes. They are not against the EU, but they object to deeper integration into Europe. They insist on the Czechs’ independence in migration policy. On the other hand, they support the initiative to raise military spending to 2% of GDP.

The Civic Democrats are one of the most Russophobe forces in the Czech Republics. They advocate even tougher sanctions against Russia. Their leader Petr Fiala sees Russia outside Europe in one camp with China and the Muslim world. He does not reject contacts with Russia, but he believes that first Russia needs to be pressured. So, it would be quite inconvenient to deal with such a partner.

TOP 09 is openly Russophobe. Its leader is former Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who advocates tougher sanctions against Russia and military assistance to Ukraine, who regards Russia and China as challenges for the world. Unlike their rivals, they advocate support for the pro-Western Russian opposition and change of government in Belarus.

They respect the EU and NATO and are ready to spend more on defense and they see some positive aspects in the inflow of refugees from Asia and Africa. As a result, they have received just 5.3% of the votes.

The newcomer is the Czech Pirate Party. This is the third time “pirates” have gotten into a parliament in Europe: the first time was a “pirate” force in the Icelandic Althing, the second time was a couple of Swedish members in the European Parliament. The Czech “Pirates” are advocates of free internet, limited royalties, restricted powers for European officials, direct democracy and minimum interference in private life. This attitude has given as much as 11% of the votes and the third place in the race – a real sensation.

The leader of the “Pirates” Ivan Bartos regards Russia as a threat, while some of his deputies have taken part in pro-Russian actions. The “Pirates” are critical of the United States and the European Union. As far as migration is concerned, they are against extremities. Only time will show how they will act in the Czech parliament.

The most pro-Russian force is the Communist Party. This time, it has polled just 8% of the votes – the worst result in 20 years. The Czech Communists are worried about growing Nazism in Ukraine. They insist on demolishing NATO or at least on the Czech Republic’s withdrawing from it. They urge the EU to lift the anti-Russian sanctions as they are causing damages worth billions of Czech korunas.

They are moderately Euroskeptical. They are not against the EU but against its “liberal” policy. They are tolerant towards refugees and are ready to integrate them into their society. But their result has shown that few Czechs share this attitude.

On the other side is the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party. Despite its name, that party has nothing to do with the “Pirates.” This is a purely nationalist force, whose slogan is “No to Islam!” and whose key priority is a ban on immigration from Asia and Africa. Its leader is Tomio Okamura (his mother is Czech, his father is half-Japanese, half-Korean).

The party is very critical of the United States, the EU and NATO and refuses to spend more on defense and to send Czech soldiers to the Russian border. The Czech Nationalists are tolerant towards Russia and want to see the anti-Russian sanctions lifted. In contrast, they slate their Ukrainian counterparts for Nazism. Their 11% has become a real breakthrough and now they are the biggest pro-Russian party in the Czech Republic.

The new coalition will hardly comprise the Communists or the Nationalists. The office of prime minister may well be given to some other ANO 2011member as Babis is not a very desirable candidate for the other forces. The new coalition may well comprise the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. If this happens, current Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek may retain his office.

One more scenario is a coalition of Babis and Civic Democratic Party. Their common ground is their Euroskepticism. Such a coalition would be bad news for Russia as its most probable Foreign Minister is Petr Fiala, a strong Russophobe. For the EU this scenario would also be a problem.

Here we also have a couple of alternative combinations, for example, a coalition of all against Babis, the Communists and the Nationalists. But the six parties that can form it will hardly get along together for long. One more scenario is if the winners receive support from some small force backed up by some other back-room forces. Should this happen, we will see a minority government…

We will hardly see a government that will insist on the lifting of the anti-Russian sanctions. But nor will we see hardcore Russophobes in the new Czech Cabinet. The Czech Republic is more likely to stick to the moderately anti-Russian camp: in its new parliament, Russophiles will have 20% of the seats, while Russophobes will have no more than 30%. The Czechs do not like Russia, but they do not regard it as a threat.

The EU will also have problems with the new Czech authorities. The Czechs have shown a very critical attitude towards the Union. As a result, pro-European parties have polled just 23% of the votes. The majority of the new Czech parliament is Euroskeptical. So, the last vote in the Czech Republic has become a flick on the EU’s nose.

Vadim Trukhachev, Candidate of Science (History)

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