Political scientist: If the government reacts, the demonstration can be a rare memory

Political scientist: If the government reacts, the demonstration can be a rare memory
Political scientist: If the government reacts, the demonstration can be a rare memory

At Saturday’s demonstration, where, according to police estimates, 70,000 people gathered, people expressed their disapproval of the government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS), which they called for his resignation.

The organizers called the demonstration because of rising energy prices and inflation, but speakers who called for withdrawal from the European Union or NATO, or spoke against vaccination against covid, also spoke at it.

The prime minister himself responded to this by saying that “the demonstration was called by forces that profess a pro-Russian orientation”, for which he earned criticism not only from the demonstrators.

According to Miloš Gregor, a political scientist at Masaryk University in Brno, Petr Fiala was factually right, but he gave his opinion in an unempathetic manner and did not realize that his statement could be distorted.

“I perceive this as a lack of caution on his part,” says Gregor, who in the interview also evaluates the possible influence on the upcoming municipal elections, or suggests what the government should do to prevent the protests from returning with much greater force in the spring.

The conversation took place even before the Prime Minister repeated that he stood by his words.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Fiala angered some demonstrators with a statement about pro-Kremlin forces. Was it a bad wording on his part?

He hasn’t actually said anything we can disagree with. It is indeed true that the demonstration was organized by pro-Russian and pro-Kremlin forces who have long been trying to subvert the Czech political scene in favor of the Kremlin and are advocates of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.

On the other hand, the way the statement was made, he was not very empathetic towards the visitors. Because the organizers are one part of the event and the visitors are the other part. Then it was only a step before disinformation channels and organizers took his statement and began to twist it so that the prime minister condemned all the demonstrators as pro-Kremlin. Which, of course, would be a big mistake on the part of the prime minister. The fact that he did not realize that it could be twisted in this way, I see as a lack of caution on his part.

Let’s not laugh at the people from Václavák

In his gloss, the editor of Seznam Zpráv Jan Stránský reflected on the motivation and interests of the people who came to demonstrate on Wenceslas Square on Saturday.

Can this statement affect the outcome of the upcoming municipal elections?

I would not completely connect Saturday’s demonstration with municipal elections. In large cities, national politics permeates the municipal politics noticeably, but we still have to realize that there are 6,500 municipalities in the Czech Republic. And in approximately six thousand of them, national politics is not decisive in municipal elections, because these are municipalities where people know politicians personally and make decisions accordingly.

There were similar demonstrations recently because of covid and vaccination, but in the end everything died down. In your opinion, will this initiative also succeed or – considering that the energy problems are probably not over yet – can it become a greater driving force in society?

This is very difficult to predict in advance. If you look at those faces, for example, the organizer Ladislav Vrabel is a person from the Bloc against Islam, he was very involved against covid measures. Suddenly he is someone who at the beginning of the year was defending the Kremlin and the war in Ukraine, now he is devoted to energy issues.

She has been a similar group of people for many years, changing the topics according to how emotional and burning they are and tearing society apart. They don’t care what the topic is, the main thing is that it is polarizing enough and they can score their points on it. Some outright collect money from their sympathizers.

When we had Islam in the Czech Republic, we don’t want it, around 2015 it looked like it could transform into a relevant political party that would be successful in the elections. But that didn’t happen, the movement disintegrated, discredited.

Will something similar happen now?

At the time it was at its peak, there was probably a legitimate fear that it would become a relevant political force. It didn’t happen that way.

Now it may happen that if the government reacts adequately – really prepares support programs so that people feel that it is not leaving them in the lurch, and manages to present it to them in such a way that they understand it, the demonstration will remain a unique memory in history.

But if this does not happen and the government continues to overstep, and at the same time the opposition works on it – it is good to say that the SPD and ANO, which stir up hateful emotions in society, play a strong role in this – the demonstrations can be back in the spring and in much greater force.

How it looked on Wenceslas Square on Saturday

Report and photo gallery from Saturday’s protest against the government and its fight against the energy crisis.

It can be seen from the photos that absolutely ordinary people who do not look like radicals, but are just troubled by the current situation, came to demonstrate. Are these people in danger of being caught by the aforementioned groups?

I can’t quite guess this. On the one hand, yes, we have already heard from people who have no ties to extremist associations that they will go to this demonstration because they are worried about the coming months or because they are dissatisfied with the government.

But what struck me as the most warning sign was that even these people who said that their motivation was to express dissatisfaction, then actually chanted and applauded when demands for withdrawal from the EU or cooperation with the Kremlin sounded on stage. At that moment, I doubt if those people will really stay only with dissatisfaction with the government and concerns about expensive energy.

The demands that sounded from the stage were absurd. I don’t know how withdrawing from NATO is supposed to help with expensive energy, it’s just a cover. But from a political point of view, if someone takes part in an event where he does not know who the organizers are and what their intentions are, he has the possibility to react on the spot other than by enthusiastically applauding the radicals and extremists. And if we look at the footage, this was happening in a big way.

Miloš Gregor

Currently, assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University in Brno. It mainly focuses on political marketing, but also propaganda and disinformation. In his academic work, he devoted himself to election campaigns. Last year he helped with the campaign of the Spolu coalition, he is not a member of any political party.

The article is in Czech

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