Monday, June 11, 2012

The spitting image of democracy

A few days ago in Prague, someone spat on the Finance Minister, Miroslav Kalousek. What follows is a translation of a press release from ProAlt, an activist group (their name is short for “pro alternativu,” or “for an alternative,” and their subtitle is “initiative for a critique of reforms and in support of alternatives”).

I encountered the press release on the website Britske listy, which bills itself as a "journal about everything which isn't much talked about in the Czech Republic."

The video of the slapping incident (see the link below on the text for "incident from September 21st, 2011") is worth watching. It comes from a security camera, and in February it somehow made its way to Blesk, a tabloid that bills itself as "the most entertaining news portal. From there, of course, it made its way around Czech media. (The narrator of the attached video says that Kalousek paid a fine of 1000 crowns--about $50--for the slap.)

They've come a long way from the heady days of November '89.

Position of ProAlt on Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek being spat upon
Kalousek was intentionally provocative
Press release
Prague, June 8th, 2012
During the course of yesterday’s blockade of the Finance Ministry building, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek stepped outside, where he was spat upon. He later issued a press release in which he says, among other things, “A coward hides in the crowd, shouts, and is afraid of arguments. There is but one conclusion: Jaroslav Zavadil, the chairman of ČMKOS [the main Czech labor organization] brought only cowards to the Finance Ministry today. I don’t blame him, as he’s got no other choice. He no longer has a following among decent, brave people.”
We would add the following concerning the event and the press release:
1.    The blockaders didn’t come to have a discussion with the finance minister. The blockade was an expression of fundamental disagreement with the contents of the government’s “reforms” [of the social insurance system] and of the way in which they are being implemented. And disagreement with the fact that serious debate isn’t happening where it’s supposed to (that is, in Parliament, in the Tripartita [an entity joining representatives of the government, of entrepreneurs, and of unions], in the media, in adequate public forums). As even Minister Kalousek in our opinion knows quite well, you can’t have a reasoned debate out on the street. Kalousek clearly stepped out of the ministry building in order to provoke the blockaders.
2.    It’s hypocritical for the minister to react in a theatrical manner to a gob of spit on his suit, when he doesn’t shrink from slapping a citizen on the street (incident from September 21st, 2011) and even boasted of it as an educational act. The violence and suffering of a great many people (damage to health, to property, to life prospects), which are caused by the current reforms, are incomparably more serious than the symbolic violence to the person of the minister in the firm of dirtying his suit jacket.
3.    The minister of finance, presenting himself as a brave man who doesn’t fear standing face to face with protesting citizens, was surrounded by a group of non-uniformed police officers. Those are the limits of his “courage,” about which he kept silent.
4.    The minister of finance either makes a mistake of judgment or engages in purposeful manipulation in so far as he generalizes the action of one participant onto the whole protest movement.
5.    It’s the current government which, by its policies and manner of governing, is pushing people into hopelessness and into the manifestations of hopelessness, such as was the spitting and shouting at the minister.

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