Saturday, November 17, 2018

Velvet revolution and discarded flowers

Today, Czechs and Slovaks celebrate the Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy. On November 17th, 1989 i.e. 29 years ago, we kickstarted the Velvet Revolution. I surely count myself among the top 1% of the nation that should be credited for those changes. Yes, at some moments, I had hoped that folks like me would be appreciated for the changes – that have already increased the wealth of the nations by an order of magnitude, among other (sometimes more important) things – but as you can guess, it has never materialized and the very basic heritage of the Velvet Revolution is at stake, too.

The same 17th November is also the International Students' Day, the only international holiday whose origins are purely Czech. In 1939, exactly 50 years before the Velvet Revolution, the Czech students clashed with the Nazi law enforcement authorities after the rallies on October 28th (anniversary of Czechoslovakia) and the funeral events for a student of medicine, Jan Opletal, who was injured and died. The Nazis decided to close all Czech universities for 3 years – the actual plan was a permanent closure of the universities and the complete liquidation of the Czech elite and intelligentsia. In November 1939, Hitler was angry and complained that the Czechs hadn't been treated as the Untermenschen on par with the Poles. Due to our decision not to fight, we were gradually reclassified as semi-Untermenschen. One-half would have been eradicated (including the whole intelligentsia etc.), one-half of the rest would be moved to Siberia or Patagonia, and the mostly blue-eyed blonde rest would be Germanized. Those were just plans. Thankfully, no one knows what would be the exact outcome of those long-term plans – the 1000-year-long empire only got some 6 more years after it started the world war.

In 1989, students in Prague commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1939 events and they expressed some dissatisfaction with the communist regime, too. The rally was permitted by the regime but the students were violently treated, anyway. It wasn't brutal violence but it was enough to make lots of parents and other Czechs and Slovaks seriously pissed off. These days, there is also a disagreement about the relative importance of the two holidays, how the day should be called, and so on. You may imagine which kind of political groups prefer which of the events. The 1939 events are surely highlighted by communists and similar folks who have a problem with the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Like Trump in the U.S., the Czech president Zeman and Czech PM Babiš have greatly divided the Czech society. The apparent efforts of Mr Babiš to silence his son as a hardcore psychiatric patient have added a new level to the divisions in the Czech society, of course. Zeman is still supporting Babiš unequivocally and Zeman's voters like me start to see something greatly pathological about that support. Note that Babiš's and Zeman's supporters are highly unequivalent groups, despite the cooperation between these two politicians.

I still think the divisions are worse in the U.S. But the tensions exist at many places of Czechia and the 17th November memorial events have shown us some examples.

OK, there's a place at the National Avenue in Prague (close to the National Theater) that has been accepted as the ultimate holy spot of the Velvet Revolution – some specific interactions between the cops and the students took place over there. I think it's largely a coincidence that this particular place is being worshiped as the "candles-and-flowers center of the Velvet Revolution" in this way but it's simply the case.

Last year, PM Babiš only came there early in the morning, to put some flowers, in order to avoid his critics. He didn't quite avoid them, anyway. This year, he came there 10 minutes after the midnight. The Czech PM cannot really walk on the streets of Prague during the day. He must move these events to the night, or walk through the sewerage system. Under certain conditions (well, if you are a rat of several types), being a dollar billionaire isn't a sufficient condition for liberating yourself out of the sewerage system.

These flowers were placed there at 0:10 after the midnight. Early in the morning, perhaps around 5:00 am, a man describing himself as a member of the "Rebels" activist group – incidentally, I later learned that it was Holland-born Otakar van Gemund who has lived in Czechia for 30 years (and who has made some less decent Femen-like stunts in the past) – has thrown the flowers to the nearby trash bin (see the 3rd video on that page). That was also the fate of additional flowers from Babiš's pals in the political movement that he owns, as well as the social democrats who are playing the role of the useful idiots in the formally "coalition government" which is de facto a government doing everything to treat Babiš as a dictator (while he has the duty to accept some communist policies – because the communist party is a de facto member of the coalition). Flowers from President Zeman and nationalist SPD leader Okamura were thrown away, too.

As you can imagine, such a removal of healthy roses is an emotional act that creates additional controversies. It doesn't look nice when nice flowers are being thrown to a trash bin. Just to make you feel nicer about the event, the police behaved professionally, they took all the flowers from the trash bin, and moved them to a police station. The owners of the flowers have the opportunity to demand a compensation for the flowers. So Mr Babiš who is worth over $3 billion has the opportunity to get some $100 for the flowers that didn't stay there.

The removal of the flowers is a symbolic act. The man has explained that flowers with the names of people like Babiš – a product of the communist regime that was ended there, a former snitch of the communist secret police, and an ex-member of the communist party, of course – just shouldn't contaminate the holy place connected with the Velvet Revolution. The man is ready to face the consequences. Well, if I had known that the compensation for the price of flowers were the only possible punishment, I would have removed them myself, too.

On the other hand, you have the people – Babiš' supporters but not only Babiš's supporters – who denounce the man who dared to remove Babiš's flowers. It was a reverential act, people shouldn't do any stunts during there, it is barbarism to throw the flowers, and so on. I think that one-half of the anti-Babiš opposition politicians have spoken to indirectly defend the "throwing to the trash" man, the other half has denounced him.

I obviously agree with the guy who removed the flowers. It's really a matter of the freedom of expression. It is extremely important to know whether such acts – which are so likely given the divisions in the society and the hatred against Babiš that is felt by so many people including your humble correspondent right now – are considered serious crimes or at most minor offenses by the law. And be sure it is the latter. And I am convinced that it is a damn good idea for the legal system to treat such acts as minor offenses because no real big harm is being made and a ban on such acts would really be a rather severe restriction of the people's freedom of expression.

So what happened was simple. Babiš wanted to associate himself with the 1989 events – which are still politically popular among most people, but sadly, not an overwhelming majority of the people – and he placed some flowers to an informal holy place symbolizing the Velvet Revolution. Another citizen thought that it was utterly inappropriate for flowers from such a man to be there – at a place symbolizing the revolution against the arrogance of power and the very people similar to Mr Babiš including Mr Babiš himself, I would claim – so he removed them.

The laws say that the police should try to moderate such situations. They moved the flowers to the police station and they will make sure that the side that was damaged – because it bought flowers that didn't play the role they should have – may be compensated by the offending party. That's exactly how it should be.

So I am highly annoyed by the people who would love to demonize if not criminalize the guy who threw the flowers to the trash – simply because the justifications they are using seem like a straight return to the totalitarian system to me. Most people, including most Babiš's critics, I think, wouldn't throw away Babiš's flowers. But people differ from each other and some people would – their number may still be high and their reasoning may still be highly ethical and rational.

At the end, I think, the dispute boils down to the question whether folks like the prime minister – whose movement got 30% in the recent elections to the lower chamber of the Parliament – may be criticized. I think it's absolutely crucial that the answer is Yes. As far as I can say, the two men must be treated as equal. In fact, the critic who threw away the flowers was a participant of the first 1989 Velvet Revolution rally – while Babiš was just enjoying his stay in Morocco as a top-tier communist cadre working in international trade with chemicals – so the freedom of expression of the critic of Babiš seems more important than the freedom of expression of Babiš himself, at least on that place and at that time.

More precisely, the question is whether by winning the elections and becoming a prime minister, the politician acquires the right to rewrite the history and to take over symbolic places such as the holy place of the Velvet Revolution. I think that the answer must be a resounding No. No one has the right to rewrite the history and regimes where the government are assumed to have the right are sick regimes that lead the whole nations to misery. Giving these "extra rights" to the party that got some 30% of votes is exactly how Czechoslovakia became a communist totalitarian system in 1948!

Babiš's movement only got 30% but even if he had gotten 70%, he still cannot change the historical fact that the Velvet Revolution was a series of events whose goal was to restore freedom in Czechoslovakia – and it was a series of protests against the arrogance of power of a very similar kind that Babiš symbolizes today, and in fact, against the party whose member Babiš was. It was a revolution against him and his lookalikes. So as a legitimately elected prime minister, he just doesn't "own" the Velvet Revolution and he doesn't "own" its brand, its symbols, and the symbolic places, either.

This is really the key point that defines the people's attitude to this question. I think that all the people who want to criticize the critic of Babiš implicitly if not explicitly assume that by becoming the prime minister, one really becomes the owner and ruler of everything in the country. But it's just not the case. The government is just a manager of the public sector which is a small fraction of the GDP and it mostly includes fields that aren't among the most prestigious ones. By becoming the prime minister, no one becomes the owner of every last symbolic historical place, the owner of the historical events themselves, or the owner of the truth. A system where the prime minister is assumed to have these extraordinary powers is clearly a totalitarian system, the same kind of a system that was ended in 1989.

Some people really want everybody to worship guys like Babiš. I am sorry but the track record of systems where this is expected from the citizens is extremely bad. When I was 8, someone vandalized the official portrait of the communist president, Dr Gustáv Husák, in our classroom. I hadn't understood the acronym StB yet but we were told it was very serious and someone special – I think it was StB, the communist secret police – was actually investigating it. At the end, we were told that nothing much had happened. That could have been a lie as well – the kid and his family could have been completely destroyed. I was never told who the "culprit" was and what his or her fate was.

Husák was a more decent and courageous guy than other commies – for example, he had actually been sentenced to death as a "Slovak pro-capitalist nationalist" by some other commies after the war ;-) – but there were some extremely sensible reasons why his portrait should have been decorated by some extra bad teeth, horns, and other supplements back in the early 1980s. Some tough regimes severely punish everyone who mocks the ruler in such a way. I think that civilized people simply don't want their country to be like that. And in fact, I think that we weren't this uncivilized even in the 1980s.

We live in democracy where the winner of the elections doesn't become an omnipotent ruler. He just temporarily acquires some very specific rights and powers that are described in the constitution and other laws. That's it. As long as the system is democratic, people are totally allowed to dislike the current government and it's actually being expected that they're working to beat the ruling party or parties in the next elections! Much of this work may be rather peaceful. But when they're obliged to be totally peaceful and respectful in all situations, including the government acts that cross the red lines, it means that they're not genuine opposition anymore. And if there's no real opposition that legally works, the system is no longer democratic.

People aren't obliged to like him or worship him. Like millions of other people, I will always mostly despise folks like Babiš – and for very many reasons. He just belongs to a class that is not classy at all. he doesn't argue honestly, he prefers emotional and demagogic outbursts over arguments, he thinks that screaming at other people (and brutally harassing all critics) and enforcing some "unity" is enough to be a great politician, and he is mostly preferred for his vices by the folks whom I often consider jealous rabble – because they mostly and rather demonstrably are jealous rabble. Aside from his incompatibility with freedom and full-blown democracy, I have problems with lots of his other minor characteristics. For example, I have a problem with his inability to use a computer. I have very little respect for his company, too – he didn't really built anything substantial from scratch. He mostly transferred a communist company to himself and allowed it to grow in a way that any other company did. You just can't expect me to become his fan. I almost certainly never will. Neither will millions of other Czechs.

Despite his being a billionaire for some weird reasons, he is still a politician of a very similar type as the communist politicians between 1948 and 1989. He clearly seems to be a politician who always tries hard to be liked by the lowest classes. I would have despised – or at least considered as seriously inadequate for top political spots of a Central European country – almost all of them, and so would dozens of percent of other Czech citizens (who may very well be responsible for a large majority of the Czech GDP, among other things). They must live with it. Assuming that at least the basic results of the Velvet Revolution are still alive, we no longer live in the system where the working class as defined by Marx is omnipotent and has the ability to punish everybody just for refusing to consider the working class and its representative as the natural elite of our nation in every conceivable situation.

I sincerely hope that this basic result of the Velvet Revolution won't go away – especially because I see many tendencies that many people would love to erode these fundamental and crucial achievements of the Velvet Revolution. Sadly, the politically correct cultural neo-Marxists are doing such things globally. On top of that, Mr Andrej Babiš works hard to preserve his cult of personality and build a primitive dictatorship of the Central Asian type. Yesterday, he childishly screamed – acting as a spoiled child Hitler wannabe – that "he would never, ever resign, and everyone has to remember that". With these enemies in several directions, can the basic principles of freedom and democracy survive?

Meanwhile, PM Babiš wants to visit his son in Switzerland – after some 1.5 years – during the weekend. This is unquestionably an effort to influence a key witness in the purported criminal activity in which Babiš has been charged by police (and there are lots of worries that Babiš Sr wants to blackmail and/or murder his son) and he should be taken into custody. Everyone else would already have been. But while Babiš Sr is going to influence of blackmail or kill his son, a key witness, and the whole nation watches it online, the police is doing nothing and it is investigating a rose in a trash bin.

Some aspects of the rule of law have already died. But we simply cannot allow the number of these "exceptions from the rule of law" to exceed a critical threshold. And everyone who demonizes a man who just removes the symbolically unacceptable flowers from a powerful StB agent is contributing to the further, accelerated erosion of our democracy.

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