Jan Macháček

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Czech Business Weekly

Topolánek’s government: some good intentions, unclear results

21. 07. 2008
Pavel Šafr, currently an editor of a weekly Reflex and former editor of Mladá fronta Dnes weekly, published a comment June 9 titled “It is time to defend Topolánek.”

Is it worth analyzing a month-old article? It is. First—nothing important has changed since the beginning of July. Second— Šafr’s argument perfectly demonstrates what I do not think. His article serves as a perfect tool to clearly explain some topics I consider important.

According to Šafr, it is suspicious to say that some government is likeable because the fashion is to criticize and not say anything good about anyone. Therefore, he could not resist. To Šafr, this is the best government after many years. And even though it is a weak government, it has already done a lot of good and right things.

Šafr comes with these arguments: This government is improving public finances, destroyed by the socialists. Lowering the taxes for those who earn a lot is not the same as helping the rich. It helps responsible people and it helps the middle class.

The government supports an American radar station in Brdy, which is not popular, but is important to be done because we cannot let the Russians think that Czech Republic is within their sphere of influence.

Also this government has supported restitution of the church property, which is a rightful and moral thing to do. According to Šafr, this government is doing things that are on the hate list of all Marxists.

Journalists must be critical

It should be considered a credo of any serious journalist to enjoy any government as a target. Journalists should keep their distance from any government. Journalists, above all, columnists, are intellectuals—or a least they should be intellectuals—and they should be focused on critical, analytical thinking. Therefore it is their role, and not any kind of fashion, to be critical.

It does not mean that when politicians do something positive, it should not be emphasized. But these moments are quite rare. But let’s go back to “issues.”

First, it is too simple to say that public finances were destroyed by socialists. In the era of the opposition agreement, three budgets were approved with help of opposition Civic Democrats (ODS). It should also be emphasized that the government of Social Democrat (ČSSD) leader Miloš Zeman’s took over the country in a recession, which is not a good time to try to balance the budget. Also, in the 1990s Klaus’ government did not produce any deficits on paper although hidden deficits (losses) of banks equaled hundreds of billions of crowns. This was inherited by Zeman’s government, which had to deal with it.

Before the last elections, MPs from all the political parties, including the ODS, and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Petr Nečas (ODS) and current Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (Christian Democrat, KDU-ČSL) increased the budget deficit by “gifts” that equaled around Kč 40 billion.

It must be noted that the fiscal policy of Zeman’s government was far from good. Above all, the most worrying development was regular spending of privatization proceeds. A rational rule is that extra proceeds should be used only for extra purposes.

But what is this government doing with that? The first year of the reform package meant that overall taxation was going up, not down. Public debt is growing, not falling. Deficits are getting smaller, but it has to do more with higher than expected economic growth. It is a shame that this country does not have a budget surplus when it is achieving quite dynamic and certainly better than expected economic growth.

The government has introduced a flat income tax and definitely helped those who earn a lot. This is certainly welcomed by those who earn a lot, but it can hardly be called “healing of public finances.” We are still waiting for major reform steps.

Radar and church

It is surprising when politicians do something unpopular. The American radar base is unpopular but it does not mean that this government is pushing it only because it wants to help allies or defend the country against Iran. It also has domestic political reasons. The radar base serves as an instrument to polarize politics and society. Those who oppose it are portrayed as old fashioned, pro-Soviet socialists.

Politicians are evaluated according to their results, not their intentions. If the radar issue fails to make it through the Parliament, the government will badly serve its intentions and badly serves its allies. Support of the radar base is not now guaranteed. Only after it is can we judge.

In case radar support is being bought, it will largely devaluate the whole idea. The country, which tolerates such methods, is getting closer to a Russian style of governance.

The radar base is supposed to protect us from places like Iran, but politicians and namely Prime Minister Topolánek speak about limiting Russian influence. Nothing against limiting the Russian influence, but why not say clearly that the radar is here because of Russians?

Church property restitution is certainly good, but what was proposed by the government coalition is not restitution and it is not called restitution. It was a financial settlement. Restitution is defined by the law and it exactly defines the property being restituted.

But is it, and was it, a right method to negotiate such a settlement in daylight and without public discussion? Settlement with the church also should not be a subject of dirty political deals like arranging the re-election of a president. This is ironic for people like Cyril Svoboda, who were arranging these deals, that Klaus is in the Castle and the settlement is not on the horizon.

Similarly, as with the radar case, we should not judge intentions but results. For these we have to wait, and the chances are unknown.

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