US media: Can anti-Babis protesters save democracy?
Last month, on June 23, in Prague’s Letna Park, more than a quarter-million people assembled, this time calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis. It was the largest mass protest in the Czech capital since the 1989 Velvet Revolution elevated former dissident Vaclav Havel to the presidency in 1990.
Both then and now, the mass protests have been organized by civil society activists who acted against governing elites perceived as self-serving and corrupt. The Velvet Revolution protests pursued liberal democracy. Today’s activists seek to defend it against populism. When populism undermines democracy, mobilizing civil society may be the last firewall in its defense.
Babis campaigned for election in 2017 on the idea that politics could and should be approached in a businesslike fashion. He proposed to run the state as a firm.
His approach is consistent with what political scientists Lenka Bustikova and Petra Guasti have called “technocratic populism,” an anti-elite ideology that merges the appeal of technocratic expertise with populism, rejecting traditional parties and arguing that experts should be in charge to solve problems apolitically. As a political strategy, it relies on persuading people to remain passive, leaving politics to the experts. Once in power, technocratic populists work to increase the executive’s authority, placing it beyond the reach of parties, courts, the legislature and the people.
In the Czech Republic, that technocratic appeal hides corruption and fraud
But behind Babis’s technocratic language lie corruption and fraud. He relied on state and European Union subsidies to build his company, and used political power to weaken his business opponents — and increased his worth from $49 million in 2010 to $3.8 billion in 2019.
As a result, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the Czech police have been investigating Babis for fraudulent use of government and E.U. funds. The European Commission has accused him of widespread conflict of interest because his business empire placed in trust funds continues to benefit from E.U. subsidies while Babis is in office. Babis controls a substantial stake in many media outlets, including the two largest daily newspapers, making it difficult for the news media to report on his conflicts of interest.
The entire article can be found at The Washington Post