'Most Czechs want to be Europeans'
Michal Viewegh (1962) is the Czech Republic’s most-read and most-translated author. His interest in politics is seen in several of his works.
In the run-up to the European elections, what issues are being debated in the Czech Republic?
"We predominantly see local issues in the discussions. The explanation is the sick nature of Czech politics, in particular the power struggle between the two largest parties, the Popular Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party. The latter, with the help of president Vaclav Klaus, toppled the right-wing liberal ODS-led coalition government in the middle of the EU presidency. The situation is paradoxical. These are European parliament elections, but the election debate is focused purely on national issues and mirrors the conflicts in and between the parties."
A key issue in European politics is market ideology, especially with the financial crisis. Is there debate about whether the market ideology of Brussels needs to be amended?
"No we don't have any debates like that in the election campaign. They may take place in some specialised publications, but not in the mainstream media. All of the attention has been concentrated on the Czech attitude to the Lisbon Treaty. For a long time it was unclear whether the parties would vote for the treaty at all – so that was our main problem for a long time. Luckily the group surrounding the ousted head of government Mirek Topolanek has admitted that although the agreement was perhaps ‘bureaucratic shit’ – as Topolanek once said - it is an important document whose rejection would have serious consequences. Not signing the treaty would put the Czech Republic outside Europe and open the way for greater Russian influence.”
Another key issue is euroscepticism. What is the general attitude towards Europe? Is there a populist protest against Europe?
"Our president takes care of most of the populist protest against the European Union. Vaclav Klaus started that years ago. A well-known example was his scaremongering against the German police, which he claimed would be able to arrest Czech citizens. He diligently continues to adopt this demagogic attitude. But public support for the European Union hasn't changed that much, and there is little doubt that a majority of Czechs want to be part of Europe."
How would voters in the Czech Republic like the EU to develop? Would they support a joint foreign policy? A stronger central bank?
"Opinion polls show the same result again and again. The Czechs don't know much about the Lisbon Treaty, but most of them support it because they understand that despite some deficiencies it is the only rational alternative. Most want to be Europeans, but specific issues such as giving the central bank more powers are way beyond the comprehension of normal voters.”
Can you think of an anecdote that illustrates the mood surrounding the European election in the Czech Republic?
"It's hard to find an amusing anecdote – but we have plenty of gloomy, grotesque ones. For example, we have the social democratic leader Jiri Paroubek's election poster, which urges the electorate to 'Vote Safe'. This is the Paroubek who, aided by the president, toppled the government and created anything but safety in the Czech Republic. There is the new party that calls itself the Free Citizens' Party, despite the fact that it was founded as a result of a direct command from Vaclav Klaus. I can also mention the MEP Vladimir Zelezny, who was sentenced to pay millions for smuggling works of art – but who got the sentence reduced to nothing. Zelezny is running again; he has founded a Czech chapter of the eurosceptic Libertas movement and has adopted the slogan ‘Vaclav Klaus is our guru’.”