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Czech News in English » Opinion » HN: New, dangerous kind of populism prevails in ČR

HN: New, dangerous kind of populism prevails in ČR

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Prague, Dec 30 (CTK) – A new, dangerous kind of populism has prevailed in the Czech Republic, relying on emotions and targeting whole society, not only selected groups in it, by its rather vague, opaque slogans that are hard to challenge, Petr Honzejk writes in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) Friday.
Populism has prevailed unprecedentedly both in the Czech Republic and worldwide. Its political protagonists’ only goal is to tell people what they want to hear irrespective of whether their statements are true or their proposals feasible, to provoke a wave of emotions and use it to attain power, Honzejk writes.
Donald Trump’s election in the USA, Brexit, Czech President Milos Zeman and Finance Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babis – all of them are various embodiments of the same phenomenon, Honzejk writes.
Of course, populism has always been a part of not only Czech politics to an extent. In the past, leftist populism promised to boost welfare at the cost of the rich, while rightist populism vowed to reduce taxes as well as welfare benefits, and extremist populism blamed all problems on Romanies, Honzejk writes.
Previously, various kinds of populism always clearly targeted a certain group of people and therefore their effect was limited and could never influence whole society, Honzejk writes.
The situation is different now that a kind of “catch-all populism” has prevailed, with an open ambition to affect everybody, liquidate politics and create a national front to support good against evil, Honzejk writes.
This type of populism is much more dangerous than any of the previous ones, he writes.
It arose as an answer to the demand from the people who felt that no one listened to them and who were not only losers but also normal, quite successful people. They got dissatisfied with politics being isolated from people and addressing them mainly through laws and directives that were “falling from above as was the growing number of corruption scandals,” Honzejk writes.
As standard political representatives failed to address people, the opportunity has been used by populists, he writes.
The previous kinds of populism enabled to challenge them and warn of their promises as unfeasible, but this approach cannot be applied to new populism typical of vagueness and uncertainness, Honzejk writes.
It is difficult to challenge slogans such as “The times will be better,” used by Babis’s ANO movement, or Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in a situation where it is not clear what they mean, let alone what methods would be used to fulfil them, Honzejk writes.
The primary content of current populism is emotion, which is difficult to dispute with, he says.
New populism’s tactics start with defining the enemies who thwart the path towards “general welfare.” The status of enemy may be granted to anyone on social welfare benefits, as well as refugees, migrants, Romanies, disabled people, a pub owner suspected of tax evasion, briefly anyone who can be described as an individual sponging on decent and honest “normal” people, Honzejk writes.
Everybody who helps such enemies are enemies themselves, which is why new populism also condemns NGOs, the state establishment and the European Commission, pejoratively branding them “elites,” Honzejk writes.
New populism includes the phenomena such as the “post-truth” and “postfaktisch,” which have been declared the words of 2016 in Britain and Germany, respectively.
New populists need not worry about whether their statements or cited data are true. The only aim of their argumentation is to boost the basic emotion, Honzejk writes. As an example he gives UKIP chairman Nigel Farage’s “nonsensical” statement that British EU membership is immoral because the sum it pays to the EU could be otherwise spent on domestic health care.
In the Czech Republic, an example of a populist post-truth is President Milos Zeman’s allegation that there is a direct link between migration and terrorism. Zeman insists on this irrespective of the fact that most terrorist attacks have not been committed by refugees from the latest immigrant wave, Honzejk writes.
New populists use statistics and other data only to legitimise their stances, he writes.
Another feature of new populism is its struggle “against political correctness.” On the one hand, it may help describe some phenomena that were shunned before. On the other hand, however, the worshiped “incorrectness” is rather a means to justify prejudices, Honzejk writes.
As a result, it is possible in the Czech Republic to call unemployed people “repugnant leeches” and say these words are no display of primitivism but of lovely political incorrectness, Honzejk writes.
In the past year, negative labels ceased to be applied to populists and started to be applied to those who warn against populism. It has become a standard practice to build one’s career on prejudices and emotions and draw political capital from them, Honzejk writes.
Well, emotions are understandable on the part of the dissatisfied people who tend to succumb to populism. Nevertheless, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president in 1918-1935, wrote in one of his books that “We may build on emotions but we also need reason to cast light on our efforts.”
Unfortunately, the light seems to be switched off now, Honzejk concludes.

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