Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

The need for a naked Topolánek

09. 06. 2008
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek thinks that while he is taking his regular vacation, and he is eligible for such a vacation by law, no one is supposed to stick their nose into his vacation affairs and other such matters.

This is not exactly the way things should be. No one can say for sure what is right or wrong, but the public has a right to information, especially in the case that someone was paying for this vacation and when Topolánek took part in working and “business” meetings as part of it.

If one decides to be a politician or, moreover, a prime minister, one implicitly agrees that they will remain “naked,” and this principle certainly cannot be overridden if someone else has indeed contributed to one’s vacation costs. The fact that someone is paying for the vacation of a prime minister is not a problem in itself, but the public has a right to know about such a contribution. Topolánek's vacation was being paid for by Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček and it was supposed to cost a million crowns.

It is also not necessarily a problem if a politician meets business people while vacationing, but in such a case he is obligated to tell us the reasons for each meeting, who they met and what was discussed. Otherwise, any shabby deal can simply be hidden under the vacation veil.

Given all of this, Topolánek should reveal why he met with ČEZ CEO Martin Roman, why he met with Dušan Palcr of investment group J&T and what topics were the subject of talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. If he does not do so, he can expect plenty of unpleasant speculation to go into circulation.

Berlusconi is well-known for his friendly relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. There is a chance that Alitalia could merge with Aeroflot. Might the two air carriers be interested in picking up Czech Airlines and the operator of Prague Ruzyně Airport in the coming privatizations?

Eventually, the prime minister’s office officially disclosed that there have been talks with Italian authorities about energy security. But wasn’t this supposed to be a vacation? This is interesting because it is well-known that Řebíček is a good friend of former communist secret police officer Igor Střelec, who has a strong connection to the Russian secret services and who brought Řebíček to the Russian Orthodox Church. We can have legitimate doubts on whether someone like Řebíček would have a chance of receiving the national security credentials that all the top bureaucrats in this country must obtain, with the exception of, unfortunately, ministers.

The Blob, Mrs. Paroubková, is already paid for

Petra Paroubková, the wife of Social Democratic leader Jiří Paroubek, organized a press conference with Vlastimil Ježek, the director of the National Library who is also a candidate for the Senate. Paroubková wants to organize a national fundraising drive for the construction of the proposed new futuristic national library, the “Blob” building designed by architect Jan Kaplický. She compared her proposal with the successful countrywide appeal that took place for the construction of the Prague National Theater in the 19th century.

Well, these days the situation is different. Back then the size of the state was quite limited, especially when measured by overall taxation against GDP. It did not even amount to 10 percent. These days we give half the money we earn to the state (and politicians). The government has enough money to finance things like libraries and it should do just that. Let us leave “national collections” for matters such as special social situations, like floods. Or let us limit the size of the state (but this is not going to happen).

There is one more myth. National fundraising was not the only source of finance for the National Theater. The state and the emperor himself provided a lot of resources, but Czechs love to be silent about this.

Tottering gov’t to totter and … totter?

How long will this government last? Even though there are headlines nearly every day about the ruling coalition being split asunder, there is a great probability that it will survive the Czech presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year. There might be an attempt to make the coalition smaller by pushing out the Greens (SZ). The Social Democrats (ČSSD), it is said, might allow a smaller “nuclear coalition” to survive for some time. But that would mean experienced Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg having to step down before the EU presidency began, and this is also not very probable.

Another reason that might keep the government in place for some time is that the ČSSD, as might be expected from a major opposition party, is not interested in overthrowing the government before the regional and Senate elections or before the elections to the European Parliament. Only after the European elections will there be a chance for calling early elections, but constitutionally it is not very easy.

Some centers of power might also have negative goals. We cannot exclude the scenario in which President Václav Klaus is actually wishing that the Czech Republic will not approve the Treaty of Lisbon and the chances of it failing to gain approval will rise if the government falls—and let’s not forget that Civic Democrat (ODS) “rebel” Vlastimil Tlustý is actually a close ally of Klaus. But we can have doubts about what real power is connected to the president. Therefore, nothing is actually going to happen until at least the European elections.

And a related question: Are there any more reforms that can realistically materialize before then?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

In an article in Lidové noviny, ex-President Václav Havel harshly criticized the situation in Prague, especially with regard to financing the cultural sphere, the lack of vision, irrational urban planning, the bad transport policy, and so on. Havel also asked people not to vote for the party which is responsible for all of this. He clearly meant the ODS.

Therefore, it should be mentioned that the ČSSD was jointly responsible for Prague until the last municipal elections one and a half years ago. They never criticize anything the ODS does, and they are still backing the current City Hall ruling coalition.

Indeed, until Jiří Paroubek recently embraced the ‘Blob,’ there were no real differences between the two.

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