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Brexit: ODS, most Czechs oppose EU's efforts to humiliate U.K.

I want to say something about the Czech attitudes to Brexit. Well, for Czech political junkies, Brexit is quite a topic for discussions – for many reasons.

First, Czechia is the EU's most Euroskeptic nation, beating even the U.K. itself, which is why it's very natural that the British stories are a template what could be faced by us. We could be solving the same challenges as the Britons soon. Brussels could try to blackmail us or hurt us in analogous ways. The messy Brexit experience could be a reason for us to vote "Stay", after all, and so on.

Second, Czechs went through the Velvet Divorce of Czechoslovakia and most of the curious people ask Why the Brexit can't be as smooth, fast, and rosy as the dissolution of Czechoslovakia? To summarize my detailed answer on Quora, the answer is that the stronger side in the negotiations was decent in the Czechoslovak case (Czechs were nice and pragmatic) but they (politicians in Brussels) are just classic arrogant jerks in the Brexit case.

Paloma Faith, Make Your Own Kind of Music, over 3 million views (beating the Mama Cass original). There aren't too many touching successful full-blown songs that are really car TV commercials but this Škoda video is one.

Third, we're still a nation that has visible enough ties with the U.K. and we don't really want to break them. In particular, Britain is Czechia's 5th most important export market (after Germany, Slovakia, Poland, France), getting about 5% of the Czech exports. In particular, the old communist small Škoda cars were the real target of all the British car jokes. Now, Škoda repeatedly wins the greatest number of prizes and surveys in the U.K.

Check e.g. the recent What Car? (U.K.) awards. Škoda won about 5 out of 15 categories. Or read a yesterday's review of Superb Sportline at AutoCar.Co.UK and the mostly enthusiastic comments underneath. Or watch a 5-day-old video review of Kamiq, the new Škoda's baby SUV – replacing the quirky beloved, now extinct, Yeti. Or look at the new "super-sexy" electric crossover Vision iV that is out in a year or two (no door handles, huge wheels, cameras instead of mirrors, level 3 autonomous, 5G...). An average Briton owns 70 Škoda cars. ;-)

I consider the U.K. to be the real representative shop window of Škoda Auto – you know, England is the cradle of the industrialization in the world so if cars from a country that has been crippled by 40 years of communism are doing well over there, the automaker should be proud. Note that Škoda Auto produces almost 1/5 of the Czech GDP.

Mostly because of the exports to the U.K. which are 1/20 of the Czech exports (or 1/30 of the GDP), we expect a hard Brexit to subtract 1% from the GDP – or equivalently 1% from the GDP growth, hopefully in the one-time fashion.

For all these reasons, you shouldn't be surprised that there's quite sympathy for the U.K. among almost all Czechs and politicians – and if people were asked to pick side in a "Brussels vs London" pissing contest, most would probably pick London's side. (During the Nazi occupation, brave people listened to the radio from London and not one controlled by Berlin – but in some parts of the era, they were being executed even for the London radio.) That's the reason why both chambers of the Czech Parliament approved a bill that gives the Britons full rights of the EU citizens on the Czech territory up to the end of 2020, even in the case of hard Brexit. Maybe some of the Britons were looking for a country like that. Maybe you want to get a Czech residency now. After 2020, in the very hard Brexit conditions, you might even expect a fast citizenship if needed. Currently, 40,000 Czechs live in the U.K. and 7,000 Britons live in Czechia – the asymmetry is probably lower than most people imagine. Well, some Britons own 100 times more expensive Old Town apartments than the average Czech LOL.

Now, I want to talk about the differences between various Czechs and their favorite politicians when it comes to their views on the Brexit negotiations.

First, a few words about the Czech political parties. Two years after the fall of communism, around 1991, the new Civic Democratic Party (ODS) founded by then finance minister, later prime minister, later president Václav Klaus, a Thatcherite and the main architect of the Velvet Divorce, became the main right-wing party and it's really been the case up to 2019. In its glorious days, it was getting 35% in elections, more than the overhyped Babiš gets today.

Resuscitated party of social democrats (ČSSD) emerged as the main left-wing party, also scoring around 35% as their most glorious result. The other parties had been smaller, dominated by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) that had participated in all the governments, left and right, up to some point. Add the curiously non-extinct unreformed Communist Party, temporary parties like ODA, US, Public Affairs, Dawn, I don't want to go into details.

Well, this post-Velvet-Revolution picture of political parties led by ODS and ČSSD isn't true anymore. First, the Czech nation brutally moved to the left again – left in the economic sense, not in the cultural Marxist sense. Most Czechs think like classic egalitarian employees, an upgraded working class, after 4 centuries of systematic eradication and expulsion of the Czech elites by many different forces (from Catholic Hapsburg noblemen to the Kremlin). Second, roughly five years ago, the Czechs adopted modern parties based on lots of P.R.

So two of the three strongest parties are politically unreadable entities with professional P.R. teams. Ex-communist billionaire and prime minister Andrej Babiš's ANO movement got almost 30% and is predicted to exceed that threshold slightly next time. The second P.R.-based entity, The Pirates – which are either an Antifa-like far left party with tons of young radical leftists, cultural Marxists, and stoners; or an apolitical centrist party claiming to like IT, depending on how you read it – are expected to get about 13%, much like the aforementioned ODS, the only clear enough right-wing party.

We have a whopping 9 parties in the lower chamber now. The remaining 6 parties fight between 3-10 percent, attempting to beat the 5% threshold to enter the Parliament, and they're (from the largest) the nationalist SPD by Tokio Okamura, unreformed communists, social democrats, KDU-ČSL, a somewhat politically correct party of mayors STAN, and Merkel-style would-be "conservative" but heavily politically correct TOP09. Each of these parties has some risk to drop out of the Parliament – in principle, 9 parties could be very well reduced to 3 because the 5% threshold is nontrivial for all the six.

It's quite some diversity of parties so far. They have various attitudes. The self-described right-wing or center-right ones – ODS, TOP09, STAN, TOP09, the "Democratic Bloc" right after the latest elections – defend the classic Parliamentarian mechanisms, rights of small businesses, and stuff like that, against the left-wing "nationalization-style" populist wave led by ANO, the communists, social democrats, and perhaps others. The triplet ANO-SPD-communists was considered the main "anti-democratic coalition".

But the separation of the political spectrum is very different when you ask about the attitudes to things like the EU and Brexit. The most fanatical supporters of the EU are those in TOP09, the "conservative" politically correct Merkel-style party along with the "modern" left-wing, hysterically pro-EU Pirates. These two are followed by those in STAN, somewhat lukewarm Merkel's namesakes in "Christian Democrats" KDU-ČSL, and then parts of the old-fashioned large parties on the left and right, ČSSD and ODS.

I would almost forget about ANO here. ANO and Babiš are clearly totally double-faced. They nurture their image in Brussels as the defenders of the EU against all the outward tendencies in Czechia. In Czechia, they nurture their image of defenders of Euroskeptic Czechs in Brussels and abroad. This double-faced approach is pretty disgusting and it's not the only example of Babiš's disgusting immorality.

On the other hand, the other parts of ČSSD and ODS and especially all of the communists and nationalist SPD have various degrees of animosity towards the EU – and in communists' case, also NATO. Yes, communists want to leave both the EU and NATO after a referendum.

Social democrats are somewhat split. On one hand, the elite of that party tries to be close enough to the typical contemporary social democratic parties in Western Europe – and perhaps to the (somewhat old-fashioned parts of the) U.S. Democratic Party. On the other hand, lots of the voters don't really like these cultural Marxist things too much and there are social democrats who are rather "close to the voters" in this sense.

ODS that I have voted for since 1992 is somewhat analogous but, thankfully, it is more Euroskeptic in average. So it is somewhat split in the EU matters. (But individual people in ODS and ČSSD are largely not split; Babiš is EU-split as an individual which is clearly a higher level of schizophrenia.) Note that the party was founded by Václav Klaus Sr who is the prototype of the mainstream Czech Euroskepticism. On the other hand, Klaus has divorced with his ODS when it became too centrist, more than a decade ago. For years, I wouldn't doubt I was closer to Klaus – whom I know in person. With the rise of Babiš, I do have doubts and I actually find many of the "domestic politics" approaches of the "mainstream ODS" closer to my heart (e.g. concerning taxation, procedures in the Parliament, budget, shameful efforts to tax the church restitution etc. – they largely oppose the new trends set by ANO and communists which is just right).

At any rate, for years, the chairman of ODS was Prof Petr Fiala, a polished scholar in political sciences. His charisma and emotional drive is almost invisible. So you surely understand he lacks many of these weapons. And he tries to balance the two wings of ODS, roughly the pro-EU and Euroskeptic wing (Klaus' son Václav Klaus Jr is considered the main face of that wing; but you should understand that the political styles and emphases of the father and the son are very different) – and I think he does so rather successfully. His spoken Czech is virtually flawless and scholarly and although it doesn't make me "emotionally enthusiastic" because I don't really care about the polished speech that much, I still rationally think that such a polished speech is a good thing. I am sure that Klaus pretty much hates Fiala – and he must be disappointed by folks like me who vote for Fiala not just because it's the lesser evil but because he's close enough to what I consider a right politician for 2019 (although I would obviously prefer if Fiala could be active in all the discussions such as the global warming etc. but I also have some desires for my politicians' goals to be realistic).

But let's talk about the ODS chairman Fiala's and mainstream ODS' views about Brexit, to sketch something about the political discussions in a country that is far away from England to be considered rather impartial and calm but close enough to find the topic rather important. Yesterday, Fiala came here to Pilsen and participated at an event of "Young Conservatives". Like him, "Young Conservatives", a youth wing of ODS, has been criticized by many as the post-communist right-wing edition of the "polished Komsomol apparatchiks", referring to the young communists' allies from the totalitarian era. Teenagers etc. shouldn't waste time with politics, it's often being said, they should play and have sex and stuff like that. Well, I have mixed opinions about that statement, too. Yes, a majority behaves in a certain way but I do think it's right if some young folks are interested in politics since their childhood.

At any rate, Fiala tweeted the following (and recorded a monologue) about Brexit yesterday:

OK, the tweet says:
It's in our interest to have the best possible relationships with Great Britain. I feel uneasy that the European Union is trying to humiliate Britain and refuses to search for an agreement. The exit of a member country is a proof of a crisis of the integration.
OK, he got some 200 upvotes, he's clearly not a real Twitter superstar. But he was immediately attacked by the pro-EU types – many of which got close to 100 upvotes, almost matching his score. For example, Sakrasta wrote that he would only expect such a thing from the nationalist SPD. The agreement was labeled the best possible by both sides. Sakrasta and others pointed out that it was the British Parliament that rejected the agreement. So it's not the EU's problem.

There are lots of subtleties in those statements, you know. First of all, the agreement was only labeled by May and others as the "best possible" assuming the actual reality of the European Union's attitudes. And a part of this attitude is that the unelected EU officials simply do not want the U.K. to do great. They have some interests, attitudes determined by the mechanism of their selection etc., and given these assumptions, Theresa May arguably couldn't have achieved a better agreement. I think that this is what is meant whenever some Tories praise the agreement as the "best possible". Although because they don't say these disclaimers too explicitly, the precise meaning of the "best possible" comparison may be misinterpreted.

In particular, it's clear that – assuming that the politicians don't have some hidden extra personal, ideological, and political interests – it's in the best interests of both the U.K. and the EU to preserve the free trade involving products. On the other hand, it's totally legitimate for the U.K. to demand and separate the power over the migration of the people (who can be distinguished from products) and asylum policies – and for the sovereignty over migration and asylum policies related to the U.K. territory to be returned to London.

Lots of things were done suboptimally by her and the British side in general. It's bad that she just wasn't tough in her negotiations with the EU. It's also terrible that the main proponents of "Leave" have largely disappeared from the public eye and from the responsibility for the events they helped to cause. However, all such British infighting is just a side show. The actual primary cause of all the tensions and imperfections in the Brexit negotiations is on the side of Brussels – they are being jerks. And deliberately so. And yes, sadly, predictably so, too.

Note that many of the antagonists of Fiala's pro-British approach pretend to be ODS voters. But much of this is just rubbish. Fiala totally represents the views of ODS about the EU that have been mainstream in the party at every moment since the party was founded. Even when Klaus left the party more than a decade ago, the ODS still insisted not to be euro-naive. Every chairman of ODS has always emphasized that they didn't want ODS or Czechia to become mindless okay-men approving anything and everything that comes from Brussels. Fiala isn't saying anything else than what his predecessors such as Topolánek and Nečas were saying – and what Klaus was saying in a much more pronounced way.

These critics of Fiala's are clearly EU sycophants of the kind that have never been mainstream in ODS. They clearly belong to something like TOP09. Of course, they would prefer the attitudes of TOP09 but they would also want these attitudes to get 13% in the next elections, like ODS is predicted to get, and not 4%, like TOP09 is predicted to get. So they're really twisting the reality in insane ways.

Their hysterical opposition to the nationalist SPD is quite symptomatic, too. You know, SPD may sometimes be said to be a non-democratic party of the dictatorial type – it's led very authoritatively by Tomio Okamura – and people like me disagree with various political attitudes of SPD. On the other hand, it's been clear for several years that SPD is a neighbor of ODS on the political spectrum. (And yes, I've been asking questions to politicians in both parties to figure out whether there is a potential for a shocking plan to merge the two parties which could really create a formidable player and stun the competition.) The critics of Fiala's pretend that ODS is just another copy of TOP09. In reality, ODS is comparably far from TOP09 as it is from SPD! It's more similar to TOP09 when it comes to the budget, irresponsible wasting of money, anti-business policies etc. of the current government. But ODS is much closer to SPD when it comes to their mostly negative views on some arrogant behavior of Brussels.

Let me translate the content of the 2-minute video in the tweet:
Fiala, ODS chairman: It's in our interest to have the best possible relationships with Great Britain. It's our interest as well as the interest of the European Union. And what is taking place right now, what is being done by the negotiators and the European Commission, may be described as their efforts to humiliate the U.K., not to embrace any extra moves that could lead to an agreement. I consider this approach to be a huge mistake.

Ms Lenka Zlámalová, a journalist close to ODS: Whenever you're unable to end the relationship with someone else in a decent way, and whenever you feel the internal urge to punish him or her, despite the fact that it will hurt not only the other side but also yourself, whenever you're decided that the other side must suffer – well, it's a totally fallacious way of thinking [she clearly compares the U.K. to a woman who breaks out with a man and the man becomes hateful]. This fallacy shows the current mental adjustment of the European Union and what other events may be expected.

Fiala: No one will benefit in any way from this humiliation. It will become just another problem for Europe and for the cooperation between the European countries. [...In a panel:] The primary goal we should push is to promote the interests of the Czech Republic and its citizens within the European Union. [...Privately:] You must see Brexit is a clear sign of a crisis. If I were telling somebody ten years ago that the U.K. would leave, he would consider me a madman. But these days, it's a reality that we are facing. It's a clear proof of a crisis of the integration process.

Young conservative with glasses and Pilsner accent: He (Fiala or ODS I guess) is our role model, an example for our thinking, we're great fans, and we believe that as a basis of the political process, it's the only right party of the present.

Fiala: I have been cooperating with the Young Conservatives for a very long time, since the 1990s. I keep on cooperating as an ODS chairman and it makes me happy. I regularly visit Pilsen, it's not my first public discussion that I attended. I am very happy they keep on inviting me and I am flattered by the words we have just heard. I always look forward to the collaboration and I will be coming here, if they invite me, again and again.
OK, aside from the compliments between the people who are clearly on the same side, you may see that even the "moderately pro-EU" Fiala would deal with the Brexit and the crisis that it shows very differently – if he were in Brussels. A similar attitude is arguably dominant among the Czech politicians, including the currently powerful ones, and the Czech public. It is likely that this attitude exists in other, primarily but not only, post-communist EU member states.

It's also a sign of the bad strategy that the British negotiators simply failed to exploit the existence of lots of allies – soulmates similar to Czechs – within the rest of the EU. I know that such analogies aren't perfect but this relationship towards the EU is somewhat analogous to the British appeasement of the 1930s. I said that the primary reason of the Brexit mess is that the EU apparatchiks' being jerks. But we could perhaps go further and say that the EU apparatchiks are being jerks because the British politicians allow them to be jerks!

And that's the memo.

P.S.: A somewhat comical additional example of the "infighting" on the Euroskeptic side of the European nations. Poland has seen some case of sick or mad cows. The beef appeared at many places, including fancy Prague restaurants that marketed the infected Polish beef as "wonderful beef from Argentina". Quite a nice example what sort of ludicrous stuff is often hiding behind all the hype. OK, but Czechia and Slovakia were among those that introduced some checks of the Polish beef. The importers are actually obliged to take care of it. In practice, this may heavily suppress the imports of the Polish beef.

The EU says that it's an overreaction and Czechs (and Slovaks?) violated some EU rules although it's not clear which rules could have been violated. Czech authorities remain defiant, despite the threat of sanctions. But it's common sense to defend your consumers against salmonella. That's what ministries of agriculture should do. I think it's right that ours is doing so. Poland pretends to be offended. So the link above shows a Polish retaliation – they proposed to check all the Czech beer. It may also be bad and infected etc. Lots of witty Polish journalists already proposed themselves as volunteers to check the Czech beer. Everyone knows that it's just a silly ritual of revenge and the beer must be expected to be as great or very good as before.

You know, there's still a difference: the salmonella, however rare, was found in the Polish beef but not in the Czech beer. So there is some difference, right? I think that the Poles should have more common sense and less nationalist knee-jerk reactions, respect our right to do the checks and their rationality, and negotiate some compensating deal e.g. that if the checks are OK, the Czech minister appears in a TV commercial promoting the Polish food or something like that. It's just bad that as soon as it comes to someone's interests, he is immediately maximally biased and unable to respect the principles that may place him on the opposite side in a few months.

The European Union's attempt to punish the national ministers of education for the checks of the Polish beef are another typical example of the "petty efforts to reduce the sovereignty" of the member states. These efforts are particularly annoying given the fact that most of the EU regulations are trying to fight against much less dangerous "threats" than the salmonella germs that were actually found in the Polish beef. What Brussels is trying to achieve is very clear: It's a situation where Brussels can do anything for arbitrarily stupid reasons, everyone else has to agree, and the nation states' politicians cannot do anything. We mustn't allow such an outcome and we must stop the trend as soon as possible.

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