Monday, November 19, 2012

Differing visions of the 17th

November 17th is an important day in Czech history. That was the day in 1939 that Czech students demonstrated against the Nazi occupation that had started in March of that year. Many of the student leaders were executed, and the Czech universities were shut down for the rest of the war.

It was also the day in 1989 that a student march from Vyšehrad to downtown ran into a wall of riot police, resulting in an incident that touched off the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.

This past weekend there were conventional commemorations of the day, featuring the president and prime minister (the pictures that follow are from here):
President Klaus (to the soldier's left) and Premier Nečas (in the plaid scarf) at a wreath-laying
But there were other responses as well. The picture at the top of the post shows an anti-government demonstration that filled the upper portion of the square (organizers claimed a turnout of 20,000). Some more humorous messages for the rulers:

The 1989 Vaclav is Havel, who helped lead the overthrow of communism.
The 2012 Vaclav is Klaus, the current president.

The picture on the right is T.G. Masaryk, Czechoslovakia's first president, with his advice for how his compatriots could preserve their country:
"Don't be afraid, and don't steal."
On the left is current Czech president Klaus, with the words, "Don't be afraid to steal!"

Among the speakers at the demonstration was the economist Ilona Švihlíková, whose remarks I've translated. (Text [in square brackets and italicized] are my explanatory comments.)
Speech at the demonstration on Wenceslaus Square, Nov. 17th, 2012
Ilona Švihlíková

We live in a country where the rule of law and legality have become a buckling façade, behind which a mafia-like network operates. Even the Cosa Nostra wouldn’t be ashamed of it. What are we to think when the state’s chief prosecutor says that the law allows lawyers to entirely intentionally misuse the criminal code and if they don’t uphold basic legal regulations, there’s no point to either the police or the state prosecutor’s office?

We live in a country where a usury mafia operates in a way which would be unthinkable in any civilized country. [See my post on Return of the Wild Wild East.] We live in a country where laws are made to order for groups whose goal is to destroy the public sector.

We live in a country where European grants which are “controlled” by the Ministry of Finance are stolen a la mafia.

We live in a country where, on the anniversary of White Mountain, an abhorrent package of laws was passed, including a “gift” to the churches, especially the Catholic church. [White Mountain was the battle in 1620 at which Protestant forces were defeated, leading in a few years to the forced recatholicization of the country. Parliament recently passed a "church restitution" law, handing lage amounts of property over to various churches.]

This all leads to a situation where our wealth, which we create by our labor, gets into the hands of a narrow group which has literally privatized this state to itself.

But let’s not forget that we have to carry out cost-cutting reforms—after all, we’re living beyond our means! I’ll borrow a slogan that first appeared in Serbia: Excuse us that we don’t earn as much as you steal!

It wasn’t that long ago that we managed to fill Wenceslaus Square. [A demonstration in the spring brought out more than 100,000 people.]

We hear that there’s no point in protesting. But that’s not true. Here we are, together, we feel how strong we can be— if our energy is aimed correctly, we draw strength from each other.

It would be true [that there’s no point in protesting] if the protests were merely supposed to stir up our anger, for us to then go back to “normal.” But that won’t happen to us, right?

In the spring the Alliance of Labor and Solidarity (Spojenectví práce a solidarity; SPaS) joined up with the broad platform Stop the Government when we agreed that our goal would be:

Halt the reforms, the resignation of the government, and early elections.
SPaS has not changed its position.

As citizens we face an important presidential election. Let us carefully consider who we should vote for. Let’s not be swayed by just a pretty face but rather consider, for instance, who opposes so-called church restitution.

Accurate information has to reach citizens. We can’t expect much in that regard from the media, so we have to make use of the internet and foreign news services, we have to distribute and translate foreign and domestic information. Do you really think we’ll live to see detailed reporting about the accounting audit of European subsidies, in which we’re the worst country of all 27? [As a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic receives subsidies from the EU. Since it's poorer than average, it gets more than average. There have been famous cases of corruption surrounding these funds.]

We citizens must organize. That’s our next task as citizens. Coming together on the square every once in a while won’t lead us to our goal. We need structures that will be able to carry out an inventory of our country, structures that will be able to create proposals for turning back the steps of the Nečas government and pointing our country in the right direction.

Let us acknowledge that the greatest threat facing us is neither Kalousek nor Nečas but, paradoxically, we ourselves. [Kalousek is the finance minister, the most vocal advocate of changes to pensions, health insurance, and other social spending. Nečas is the primer minister.] The only thing that can defeat us is passivity, defeatism, opportunism, or betrayal. If we can avoid that, we must triumph!

A word in conclusion:

You don’t bargain with bastards. Bastards get punished.

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