The Contemporary Beginning of the Czech Neo-McCarthyism
The new Czech right-wing government is not just one of the many governments that have taken power in the Czech Republic over the past 30 years. It is a government that recalls the beginnings of McCarthyism in the USA in the late 1940s. Everything must be done to prevent these beginnings from developing into full force.
The new Czech government has a very broad concept of the enemy. In particular, a very broad concept of anti-communism, which it uses to criticise not only communists but also other people on the left, in the centre of the political spectrum and even on the moderate right. In fact, it is not anti-communism but sectarian politics that tolerates nothing but its own version of right-wing politics. In foreign policy, it takes militant positions against rising socialist China and revitalized Russia in particular, but not only against them. It considers anyone who does not criticize China and Russia as an enemy. In public debates, members of the government and its media and professional supporters condemn any positive or neutral statements about any aspect of these countries. The allied media primitively suspect speakers of promoting totalitarianism with speeches about standard international relations if they only mention China and Russia.
Since the 1990s: Transition of foreign policies
The current government is curiously referring to the policy of Václav Havel, which never existed in practice. It was only in Havel's rhetorical formulations. It is necessary to distinguish at least two Havel’s political periods. The first period included dissent and the early years of his presidency after 1989. In this first period, Havel said, among other things, that he was not making the revolution in order to get rich by restitution of large assets. But it did not take long for him to actually acquire large estates through restitution. In foreign policy, in the first period, he was of the opinion that not only the Eastern Warsaw Pact should be dissolved, but also Western NATO. He then radically changed this view as well and began to support the US imperial foreign policy, the illegal war in Iraq which was promoted by G. W. Bush, for example. While he was rhetorically hypocritical in his advocacy of human rights in Russia and China, civilian casualties in the Iraq war and torture in Guantanamo did not bother him.
In the 1990s, the Czech Republic was dominated by the neoliberal policies of Prime Minister Václav Klaus. Klaus carried out a wild privatisation of state property, with many public properties being broken up and stolen, but he was pragmatic in foreign policy and trade. He wanted to do business with all the relevant countries of the world, i.e. with European countries, with the USA, and also with Russia, China and others. When the government of Social Democratic Prime Minister Miloš Zeman took office in 1998, it rejected Klaus's right-wing shock therapy, pursued a more social policy, and continued good diplomatic and trade relations with all countries, including Russia and China. Subsequent right-wing governments have also cooperated with all major countries, although there have been some occasional extraordinary lapses. The same can be said of the last eight years of the centre-left government, when relations with China have additionally improved.
Recent radical turnaround in foreign policy
But last autumn, after the House of Commons elections, there was a radical turnaround. The new right-wing government established as its main policy what had previously been at most exceptions. The militarisation, securitisation and confrontation of foreign policy towards Russia and China are currently manifested in two cases in particular. Firstly, in the case of Ukraine, the Czech government is taking the toughest stance towards Russia and sending military material to support the Kiev government. It ignores the right-wing extremist Banderist activities which are also present in Ukraine. Secondly, it boycotts politically the Winter Olympics in Beijing and is sharply criticising China for many various reasons. However, these are just examples; the government is taking a hard ideological stance towards China and Russia in general. Representatives of the ruling parties also harshly criticise various politicians and governments that do not promote their McCarthyist version of capitalism.
The government is following Trump's anti-China policy, looking for excuses and trying to stir up controversy at every opportunity. Hostile ideology comes first. Diplomatic relations, trade, tourism, research, education and culture are undermined and the government is ready to restrict them. The Trumpist chaos is supported by the fact that the five parties in the governing coalition include the Pirate Party (with influential posts, albeit with only four MPs), which may have supporters across the political spectrum from left to right, but the party's leadership is right-wing.
With the support of the intelligence services, Czech politics and institutions are being securitised and militarised. For example, further support for increased arms spending, support for the strengthening of US troops in Eastern Europe, confrontational politics, etc. For another year the government will be corrected by President Zeman before the presidential elections in January 2023. Who will then replace Zeman in his policy of multiple azimuths, i.e. in cooperation not only with Western countries, but also with Russia, China and many others? No such strong personality is on the horizon. In contrast, the new right-wing government is practicing a one-sided West-centric policy, more precisely a policy of fawning adherence to the US. But often this strained right-wing policy is very different from that of Western countries. While Western countries mostly pursue diplomatic relations with China and Russia and have very well-developed trade and investment relations with them, which they sometimes only slightly question, the current Czech right-wing government looks like a small poodle fearfully barking at the big dogs in Eurasia. Such a policy is damaging to Czech national interests and the international policies of many countries. Even such ridiculous fawning over the USA does not help this superpower.
Change in institutions - personnel purge
The self-confidence and lust for power of the politicians of the five parties and their supporters after winning the elections caused an extraordinary personnel purge to begin even before the official appointment of the government. The change in the political atmosphere permeates into other institutions and society. The pressure on the director of the Czech police, which led to the announcement of his resignation, is just one example. The head of global studies, who led extensive interdisciplinary research, has also been dismissed. Then there were other personnel changes in ministries and other state institutions, such as the management of the financial directorate or the Czech forests.
This government is setting a new approach after 30 years, prioritising a strained ideology that drowns out everything. It is unpleasantly reminiscent of the beginnings of McCarthyism or Stalinism turned inside out. Let us hope that some foreign politicians will contribute by their example to at least partially cultivate the current Czech government. Perhaps the unpopular governmental actions will soon trigger mass demonstrations and early elections that will bring an end to this government.
The author is a sociologist and analyst, Institute of the Czech Left, Prague