With poised pens and bated breaths, Czech commentators watched the Green Party’s national meeting Sunday, expecting a power struggle between party leaders, a brawl over the Greens’ position in government, something.
After all, just days ahead of the meeting Matěj Stropnický – self-appointed party rebel known for being, well, stroppy – accused Chairman Martin Bursík of not being green enough and moving the party too far to the right.
Following Green MP Dana Kuchtová’s recent resignation as education minister, some voices within the party also began saying that the Greens should quit the ruling coalition.
Lidové novniny’s Martin Zvěřina even painted a grim scenario of what could happen if the Greens were to leave (the three-party cabinet falls apart and is replaced by a grand coaltion composed of the ODS and the ČSSD).
And then, nothing.
It was back to work as usual on Monday for the Greens, following their 12-hour meeting. All talk of leaving the coalition ceased, and Bursík reaffirmed his position as strong party leader, with Stropnický toning down some of his critique.
The Greens appeared united enough to at least agree on a candidate to replace Kuchtová as education minister (PM Mirek promptly rejected their choice – Kuchtová’s former deputy Dušan Lužný – several days later in a comment for Mladá fronta Dnes).
But some pundits wondered whether a crisis had been averted or simply delayed.
How united are the Greens?
In this week’s Reflex, Bohumil Pečinka argued that the Greens are on the verge of their first crisis, as some members question whether the party has held onto its green ideals during its first year in the government. The core of the problem, he said, is that Bursík strategy to steer the party closer to the centre may have attracted voters but also left the more militant Greens disgruntled. “If Bursík were to leave, the Greens’ painstakingly established position on the political spectrum would disintegrate,” Pečinka wrote.
Respekt’s Tomáš Pavlíček agreed in his online commentary Monday: “Those smiles, that unity… the Green Party presented to the public after the parliamentary election (and several months beforehand) seemed a little bit suspicious,” he wrote.
With Kuchtová’s departure from the cabinet, Pavlíček argued, the more radical Greens lost a strong voice that served to counterbalance Bursík’s moderate politics.
Nevertheless, buyoued by relatively high voter preferences, the party remains firmly in Bursík’s hands, wrote Pavlíček. And Stropnický’s efforts to undermine Bursík’s position have so far been unsuccessful.
“The bloom of innocence is gone”
The task Bursík will face in the coming months will not be an easy one, Petr Kamberský wrote in Monday’s Hospodářské noviny. “Bursík’s role can be summarized thus: he needs to please both the ideological party members and the liberal voters,” he wrote. “And he needs to convince the public that the party is mature enough to rule but remains uncorrupted by power.”
Some argued that it’s already too late for that. In a Monday op-ed, Právo’s Alexandr Mitrofanov pointed to what he perceived as a shift within the Green Party’s ideology: at the meeting, some members – Stropnický among them – demanded that the Greens be given positions in state firms such as ČEZ so as to wield greater influence within the government.
According to Mitrofanov, it’s surprising that the very same party members who accuse Bursík of de facto selling out are all too willing to take part in the political culture they so like to criticise. “How will the Greens attract voters in the next parliamentary election?” Mitrofanov wondered. “The bloom of innocence that fooled so many voters is now gone.”
“Can’t live with them, can’t live without them”
The Greens didn’t just disappoint their potential voters last weekend. In a speech that was leaked to the media after the meeting, Bursík said quite matter-of-factly that the KDU-ČSL, the Greens’ coalition partners, “only care about attaining high political posts”. Bursík later apologised for the gaffe, and explained that he would have chosen different words if he were speaking to a public audience at an open meeting.
In a Právo op-ed Tuesday Martin Hekrdla called Bursík hypocritical, suggesting that Bursík’s ascent to top politics was all about attaining high positions. He noted that Bursík, who has only been a Green Party member since 2004, didn’t have any problem with the KDU-ČSL when he joined that party in 1999 after failing to win the post of Prague mayor.
And although KDU-ČSL Chairman Jiří Čunek bit back with the reply that the Greens are playing at being “the only moral ones” and said he would like to have words with Bursík about his statement, he and Bursík seemed to have quickly realized that there is no sense in bringing open animosity into the ruling coalition. The coalition partners are stuck with one another whether they like it or not.
“The Greens are necessary for the coalition because there is no other party avaliable,” wrote Vladimír Kučera in Mladá fronta Dnes Monday. “The other coalition members see that they can’t live with the Greens but that they can’t live without them either,” he said. “But, of course, the Greens could say the same about the coalition.”