Several hundred protesters with taped mouths gathered on Prague’s Old Town Square on Tuesday for a silent protest against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. They accuse him of lying, undermining the independence of the police, conducting a purge in the state administration and cooperating with extremist parties.
There was no booing or chanting at this demonstration in the centre of Prague on Tuesday night, but the message was clear – people held up banners reading “Enough of Babiš”, “Will you investigate yourself?” and “We’ll be better off without you”. Babiš’ critics protested against the fact that the country has a prime minister charged with EU subsidy fraud, a government which failed to win a confidence vote in parliament yet undertakes extensive personnel changes and far-reaching decisions and a government-in-the-making which will have to rely on support from the Communist Party.
The silent protest, organized by the initiative A Million Moments for Democracy, was in reference to the prime minister’s alleged refusal to answer their questions in the presence of journalists and was meant to symbolize those who were being removed from office or prevented from speaking.
After one of the organizers gave a short “silent speech” with the help of banners, the crowd made its way to the office of the government, swelling to around a thousand people as it reached its destination. There the protesters spray-painted their message on the wall opposite the government building and dispersed in silence. The initiative A Million Moments for Democracy, which wants to collect a million signatures in support of “a decent prime minister” is organizing another protest – this time a vocal one – on Wenceslas Square in early June.
The Office of the Government has denied that the prime minister was not ready to talk to the protesters saying that Mr. Babiš was in contact with the organizers, who had rejected several offers of a planned meeting, and a date was still being negotiated.
In the meantime, Mr. Babiš has come closer to forming a second coalition government with the Social Democrats and tacit support from the Communist Party, and neither the charges against him nor the arguments of his critics appear to have undermined his strong public support. So what is behind Mr. Babis’ unswerving popularity? A question I put to sociologist Jan Hartl.
“Andrej Babiš speaks in a way that people can understand, he does not address abstract, general issues, he speaks concretely and to the point and when he explains his position he gives many practical examples and this is the kind of communication that people understand.”
And he has been promising handouts. Is it to do with economic expectations as well?
“Yes, he is perceived as a successful businessman and the good economic results of our country are attributed to his skills. Whenever he can he gives examples of how the previous political administrations were incompetent whereas he achieved very good economic results.”
So people believe he will look after their interests, better than anyone else?
“Yes, yes, that’s it exactly. And as far as the accusations of fraud are concerned people do not trust the judiciary too much, the police and state attorneys, and this is linked to the fact that the Czechs perceive their politicians very critically. They think that politics is a dirty business, that the majority of politicians are crooks and that there are scandals linked to all political parties. So the public does not see this as a strong argument against Babiš.”
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