Sunday, October 12, 2014

Czech elections: evaporation of political thought

Between Friday 2 pm and Saturday 2 pm, Czechs were voting their local representatives and 1/3 of the senate, the upper chamber of the Parliament.

It's simple to describe whom I voted for. In Pilsen as well as the city part Pilsen 4, Klaus-founded center-right ODS, the Civic Democratic Party, received my votes "without further detailed refinements of the candidates", and I also voted the ODS' candidate for the senate. Well, more precisely, he is a shared candidate of ODS and Czech Crown, a party trying to restore the monarchy. ;-) This sounds extremely colorful but the candidate and his program actually looks extremely uncolorful.

Mom, dad, I have to tell you something... I will vote for ODS! – Father screaming all over Pilsen (probably inspired by Proletarians of all nations, lick your aßes): What is the right choice for you!? :-) I only saw this hilarious video by "Pilsen is different" on Sunday morning.

It doesn't mean that I am happy about what the ODS has become. But in the Euroelections, I voted for Mach's Euroskeptics (and it was successful, Mach got to the European Parliament) but it didn't seem to me that they had anything coherent to offer for the local (and even senate) elections so I returned a decade or two ago when a vote for ODS was common sense.

It turned out that Pilsen became the last bastion of ODS! With some exaggeration, Pilsen's role is analogous to what it was in the 15th century when it turned into a Czech stronghold of conservative Catholics in the era of Hussites and protestants of many sorts. Why is that? I don't think that some intrinsic special feature of the Pilsner folks explains the slightly superior results. Instead, the Pilsner city hall – that has been under more or less uninterrupted control by ODS since the Velvet Revolution – has managed the city very well and it even seems to me that there is some consensus about the point (it's partly about the things like the new theater, the only new big theater in Czechia in 3 decades, new stadiums and other things that have been built, including all sorts of lanes for bikers and details of the sort; they plan kindergartens up to 6 pm and free Wi-Fi throughout the public transportation stops, aside from lots of other similar things).

So the votes for ODS here are points for a good management. To some extent, I think it is a legitimate consideration that affected me, too. The local politicians don't really affect the "big ideological questions" and the mundane management of everyday affairs (for an amount of money whose size and origin they can't really affect much) is inevitably a major part of their job.

So on the Pilsner city hall, ODS almost won but not quite: the billionaire's ANO got 17.9% and ODS got 17.6%. In any cases, it is the best result of ODS in all of Czechia. It's much worse in the Pilsen's city parts – where the results don't seriously deviate from the typical results in Bohemia. The only exception is Pilsen 2 (Slovany) because the Czech Crown-ODS guy I have previously mentioned worked as a mayor of Pilsen 2 and must be very popular there so he turned ODS into a winner in Pilsen 2, and got 1st-2nd result in the senate (there will be a rematch of the top two, including a social democrat, next week).

If the results of the Pilsner city hall (and maybe even the worse results in the Pilsen-City district) were copied in the whole Czechia, it would actually be great. What's great about the Pilsner results isn't just ODS – which I am not thrilled by in general these days – but especially the fact that "Pilsen is different" because we actually saw lots of positive votes. However, the actual results in Czechia as a whole are extremely different.

Look at the map at, the local elections. Moravia and Southern Bohemia – the typical "rural" places – is mostly yellow which is the centrist Christian and Democratic Union, the Czechoslovak People's Party (yes, it kept this name). These folks would have annoyed me but thank God for that, kind of. There are just 3 city halls etc. with ODS at the top – Prague's city hall and two more spots in Northeastern Bohemia.

Otherwise there is a dozen of crimson districts with the communists at the top and two dozens orange ones with the social democrats, some black ones with ANO, the billionaire party, and grey ones with unreadable coalitions, not to mention lots of colorless apolitical candidates that sort of dominate nationally and the color map doesn't show them at all.

It's a messy map and it clearly shows that the large parties, especially the readable ones and especially the (at least slightly) readable conservative ones, have nearly disappeared. Maybe one shouldn't demand clear colors in the local elections to the city halls, as I have mentioned.

But look at the senate elections. The tiniest (by territory) colored district on the map is Pilsen and indeed, it's also the only place where the ODS (plus Czech Crown) senate candidate came at the top. There's a dozen of orange social democratic victories and otherwise roughly one from TOP, one from Zeman's SPO ex-friends, two or three ANO, one or two KDU, and so on.

There should be many right-wing victories but there are about two. Such results are completely pathetic.

One aspect of these results is the amazing speed of change of the people's tastes. I mentioned that outside Pilsen, ODS did very badly. But they actually celebrate because they expected even worse results. And what's remarkable is that the new "rising star" right-wing party, TOP 09, really got even worse results. Note that TOP 09 is the party of the failed but powerful presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg, the aristocrat. Suddenly, his charisma seems to have evaporated – his politics was presented as so hot just a year or two ago.

TOP 09 has won almost nothing at all. It was safely controlling Prague in recent years but it failed to win even in Prague: ANO came at the top although TOP 09 wasn't far.

ANO, led by the billionaire Babiš, became a very successful movement or party of whatever it is (and it overshadowed even the social democrats in cities) even though its gains are not quite visible on the colorful maps. Because the leader is an entrepreneur, one could say an oligarch, you may think that it can't be anti-capitalism. But it can still be bad for many other reasons.

At the end, I think that the success of ANO represents the Czech population's return to the era of nationwide candidates of the National Front during communism. Such candidates are being elected by people with no knowledge about politics or interest in politics because they're the geniuses of mediocrity who get a "stamp" from the powerful – Babiš, in this case. Of course, the communist logos have been removed, along with some communist items in the program, but otherwise it's the same kind of low-quality, intellectually vacuous cr*p.

Such randomly changing results dominated by some kind of apolitical candidates and parties and movements is a testimony of the current era of post-democracy and post-politics. People no longer seem to have the energy or ability or desire to think about political questions analytically or to compare ideologies. They're sheep controlled by content-free fads. There's some real sense in which the Velvet Revolution was "unnecessary" if people tend to vote in this way. If the communist party got a little bit less Marxist – and indeed, it was gradually losing its excitement for Marxism during the decades – its (and the "National Front's") current candidates etc. wouldn't look too different from those that are being elected.

I am not really upset about these results and trends at all. They're just disappointing. Similar trends exist almost everywhere although their character is different. The American society is also losing political ideas but I would still say that the "fads" that the voters routinely buy are more repulsive than ours. But relatively to what we had in the 1990s and what the West had in the previous decades, the visions, ideas, and quality candidates and knowledgeable voters have more or less evaporated.

I won't proofread the text above because similar texts usually have a small number of readers.

Update Sunday evening: ex-president Klaus said that the result of the elections means that all of us have lost while the apolitical oligarchy has won. I think it is a sort of apt description. He is sad that well-defined parties that stand for something, some values, and have a record have gradually lost and voters are facing a large incomprehensible list of bizarrely named groups and formations that promise to fight for marginal topics such as making Prague greener or bluer etc. He only came to vote to Prague-Kobylisy to please the journalists who would otherwise be frustrated not to meet Klaus after elections.


  1. Hi Lubos,

    I know animations are to be taken with a grain of salt to say the least, but I think this one looks so nice that I would recommend it.

    It depicts DNA replication, RNA to protein and some other stuff

  2. It's amazing. When I was 10 or so, I defined the "perplantine of n-th order" which is a spiral made out of a spiral made out of a spiral, and so on, "n" times. It just looked like a cool idea. It's very contrived to invent it - but Nature uses such things naturally, it seems. Sort of incredible. There is some self-similarity, discrete scale invariance, and one should understand why in a more conceptual way.

  3. Klaus is quite right.
    Politics is probably the most difficult human endeavor.
    Creating a social framework that allows a large group of quite disparate individuals to cooperate effectively on a sustained basis is extraordinarily difficult. Entities that have managed this feat should be treasured, not trashed. Unfortunately, we no longer teach much history, so there will be lots of relearning,
    with the Ukraine just an introductory lesson.

  4. Thanks for the answer :-).

    I don't know what will be possible, but there is definitely still a lot to learn in (and from) biology. Yes it is very amazing. It would be cool if we were able to attack it with brute force use of the Schrodinger equation. Seems almost hopeless, its difficult to know which simplifications will keep its essence. The power of math is really to capture a lot of data in shorter simpler ways and tell you how to get any information you may wish in any setup, and I think simplifications may quickly become "destructive to the phenomenom" in biology.

    I believe there is a kind of intelligence early on; it does indeed look contrived without it. We know there are intelligent biological machines in the universe, *ourselves* for example. And it isn't too much of a stretch to believe there is actual computation earlier on. Seems plausible that it occurs very early on at the molecular level, (considering all the carefully orchestrated structure) and that it has access both to randomness and feedback mechanisms so it can exhibit the adaptability we see.

    Look at this *real* video of a single celled organism (a white blood cell that we have within) actively chasing a bacteria.

    Of course sperm cells are good chasers too ;-), but their target doesn't move much.

    No nerve systems in these small "creatures".

    I often wonder how connected we are to ourselves and how many complex feedback systems there actually are. Consider how amazing it is that (yes, silly sometimes) complex instincts are possible. Just recognizing a situation or a beautiful woman to make it simpler with such ease and instantly be guided in what to do. Indeed we inhered much 'knowledge' "directly". The information really seems small with 3 billion base pairs. Definitely better than a zip-file! I think its more like, RNA-friend, do the computation this way...

    (slight topic change)

    Because I have had surprising holistic experiences myself, where it *felt like* my consciousness flowed into the surroundings and expanded to a ridiculous degree (simply a much more conscious state, much more *simultaneously experienced* data, its very different), I am curious about how expansive or delocalized (if that word even make sense for more spiritual experiences) a consciousness can be. I have only been able to find one other person giving a description that seem to match these experiences. This woman, Jill bolte Taylor, who descriped her experiences when she had a brain tumor. Her TED talk can be found here, if interested

    The right brain-left brain thing have been somewhat discredited but it remains true that very different mental states are possible and that they have very different talents, insights and viewpoints. The more "holistic" state (its a feeling or experience in a sense) don't like organizing, sorting, categorizing and language based generalizations, which are often important in science, it wants more direct sensations (not necessarily based in the senses though)

  5. There is an essay by Blaise Pascal on two government systems: in one, the rule passes to the oldest son who had been groomed (and educated) to govern. In the other one the person best skilled to make promises gets to rule. The first system clearly looks much better.

    The trouble is, it does not work that way. I am not sure why.

  6. Thanks for this. Czech politics is mysterious to me so your English commentary is most helpful.

  7. You're kind.

    I understand it's mysterious but the chaos resulting from elections such as those in the recent 3 days isn't even too interesting so it's probably OK if one ignores it.

  8. It is difficult... There had to be situations in which the feudal systems may have been superior.

    I think that the arrival of capitalism with the mobility and dynamical choice was progress. Of course that the "optimum" system promised by democracy is that the "objectively best" guy becomes the leader. The problem is that in practice, there can't be any "objective measures" of the quality, so at least to some extent, the choice gets reduced to one of your systems or a few others (or their mixture).

  9. All the same, until my Czech language is improved, your musings are helpful. :)

  10. You're a hero if you are really learning Czech! ;-)

  11. Ha ha ha! I know enough to almost make myself understood. I guess that to reserve a table for 4 at 7 o clock I would say something like "mozny rezervovat stul pro ctyry od sedm hodin". The next step - the hard part - is learning the correct endings for everything and actually speaking Czech properly. :) However, thanks for your encouragement!

  12. Dear Neil, you're right - that would be comprehensible if you pronounce it rather normally, too. But all the endings are tough if one wants to be kosher.

    So the sentence would be

    Mohu/můžu rezervovat stůl pro čtyři od sedmi hodin?

    Mohu/můžu is "I may" (or "may I") and it's a verb. "Možný" is an adjective and that doesn't make sense.

    "Čtyři" is the official proper Czech for "4" but most people tend to say "čtyry", indeed. And the ending for "sedm" was "sedmi", the 2nd case of declension (genetiv).

    So in some sense, it's just 2 clearcut small errors which in this case wouldn't ruin the comprehensibility. There are many cases in which the wrong endings seriously lower the comprehensibility and lead to confusions.

    But have you already concluded that the pronunciation is, in some sense, very simple and regular?

  13. Thanks for that. I've been told my Czech pronunciation is actually quite good. Perhaps that was someone being kind! :) I understand that Czech pronunciation is very regular. At least some of the language is easy. :)

    A (Czech) friend of mine told me recently that many Czechs in fact have tuition to speak their own language correctly. I don't know if he was being serious or not!

  14. Good to have a pleasing yet well-deserved feedback.

    I doubt that Czechs would pay *any* tuition ;-) and I am not sure what this could refer to. The grammar etc. is of course being taught as an important subject at school, for years, but many/most people get it almost entirely.

    To be a writer of Vančura's or Čapek's caliber is obviously rarer.

  15. One of my (longer term) goals is to be able to enjoy some of the fine literature and culture the Czech republic can offer in its native language. My shorter term goal is to not appear to be an ignorant foreigner / tourist in a country where I intend to spend more time. I just bought a holiday flat in Prague and intend to spend a considerable amount of time there each year.
    Anyway, this is most definitely not on-topic for this blog so I'll stop now, but thanks again for the comment and the blog post itself. :)

  16. On the contrary, it is on-topic here. ;-)

    You probably haven't missed the Czech as spoken by the U.S. embassy, have you? ;-)

    Incidentally, the ambassador was just replaced by a classmate of Obama's weeks ago.

    They're pretty good. I think that some of those who sound "really Czech" may have some comparative advantage in their background, or something...