MP and finance minister trade insult, finger gesture

No topic has been more heated in the Czech parliament of late than mandatory health fees – defended, to varying degrees by the government, but reviled by the opposition. In some ways, the issue has brought out the worst in politicians. On Wednesday, the parliament floor witnessed the shadow health minister David Rath and the finance minister Miroslav Kalousek trade insults: the former in words, the latter, using “the finger”. The antipathy between the two was lost on no one.

It was a less than a grand gesture by the finance minister, one that seems to be all too common on the Czech political scene nowadays. In 2007, the prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, raised his middle finger in the lower house, which saw him come under a barrage of criticism, giving many the view that the prime minister was politically uncouth. Now Mr Kalousek has done the same. Inexcusable? Perhaps, although some, such as political analyst Bohumil Doležal, suggest the gesture was not entirely unexpected.

David RathDavid Rath “Of course, I don’t think anyone should behave that way. But it can be difficult to judge from the sidelines. If anything, I blame the prime minister and the finance minister for allowing themselves to be provoked by members of the opposition like Mr Paroubek or Mr Rath, who introduced rhetorical styles that are aggressive and vulgar and all too reminiscent of the Bolsheviks.”

Prior to his “flipping the bird” on Wednesday, Mr Kalousek was openly mocked by the shadow minister David Rath, who attacked him with the comment that he was “proof” that the Czech health care system did not properly care for its “choromyslný” – its mentally ill. Mr Rath, a doctor himself, made the comment despite appeals several years ago by the Czech psychiatric community for politicians to not use medical terms as insults in politics - inconsiderate to real patients suffering from real illnesses.

Meanwhile, observers expect this scene will be far from the last. Political analyst Bohumil Doležal once again:

“In my opinion [Wednesday’s incident] reflects practically two years of political deadlock. A stalemate in which the opposition has been unable to bring down the government - and the government has been unable to push anything through.”