Protest, Like It's 1989
Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, is facing criticism for allegedly misusing EU funds. Prague is currently overflowing with angry protesters in numbers not seen since the 1989 Velvet revolution, which led to the fall of communism in the Czech Republic. Some protesters have even said Babis reminds them of the communists, so the comparison goes a long way. The only difference is that in 1989, Europe and the rest of the world actually cared about Czech protests.
In case you’ve never heard of Babis, he’s worth about $4 billion, made his money in agriculture (probably why you see so many farmers driving Lamborghinis) and owns two of the largest Czech newspapers. He presumably got tired of ploughing fields, so he became a billionaire politician before it was cool. In 2011 he founded the ‘Action of Dissatisfied Citizens’ Party’, a name the organisation is certainly living up to. The Party’s aim is (?) to fight corruption and other ills of the Czech political system. If you can’t beat them, join them.
The recent unrest is caused by a leaked report from the European Commission, which claims Babis is suspected of subsidies fraud and accused of having a conflict of interest with his business. Even before the Commission report, Babis was suspected of illegally receiving €2 million for a farm subsidy by the Czech police. But, when the recommendation to bring Babis to justice came out, he fired the justice minister before any of that could happen. For scale, you don’t see Angela Merkel stealing €500 from her local supermarket.
The EU is yet to respond to the matter, but this could be a crusade they want to avoid. Unlike some of his fellow Visegrad neighbours, who insult the EU on a regular basis and slowly revoke all human rights domestically while still cashing EU checks, Babis has been a pro-EU voice in Central Europe. Besides, it’s not like being corruption free is a pre-requisite for being in the EU – how else could Bulgaria or Belgium possibly be in it?
So far, Babis’ response, presumably while hidden away somewhere, has been that Brussels hates Czech laws, that they are interfering in domestic affairs and that this is an attack against the Czech Republic. The oldest trick in the book, but unfortunately for Babis, the protesters didn’t suddenly defect to UKIP and have stayed put. In response to the report, which suggests that the funds will need to be returned if they are deemed to have been distributed illegally, Babis says none of it will be returned. While this is nothing new or surprising, it’s refreshing to see the Czechs can still be bothered to protest about a billionaire stealing a few million.