The best political commentaries in this country have always been written by people who do not have much in common with so-called professional pundits. Songwriter Jarek Nohavica used Josef Lada’s winter landscapes to describe winter difficulties in the video for his song Ladovská zima. The legendary Haďák traffic caricature from the 1960s — “Good from the right! Tanks from the left!” — has become a metaphor for the Soviet occupation. And just a week ago, Vladimír Jiránek commented on the unbelievable problems the Czechs are having with the budget, debt and political ignorance. In his cartoon, a CNN reporter somewhere in the Czech Republic explains to the world: “It looks like the locals have known the truth for centuries. But they have learnt from history that it is better not to use it.”
Yes, we have been writing for years about public finance going to hell, and for years we have not been using this information.
Elite politicians, from ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek to ODS chief Mirek Topolánek, are aware of the situation. But none of them will budge from their positions prior to the elections. The worst thing about it is that their stance is understandable. It is not ideal, it is not responsible, but it is understandable. Why?
First, in order to push through any proposal in the current chamber of deputies, both large parties would have to reach consensus, which would be damaging for each of them regarding the election outcome. The Communists would edge out Paroubek from the left and the Christian Democrats and TOP 09 would edge out Topolánek from the right. No, the painful budget cuts will have to wait for the next chamber of deputies and the next lower house majority.
Second, voters are equally distributed, as we all found out painfully in recent years. Both the left and the right wings are fighting over a couple hundred thousand votes.
Let’s imagine, for example, that the ODS would adopt a “responsible” approach. They would write on their billboards what any election winner will have to do, regardless of their affiliation: We are going to freeze pensions! Increase the price of bread! And petrol! Raise taxes! You can expect less money in your bank accounts! And the situation will get even worse for the unemployed!
We may have strong objections to Topolánek, but this is a bold move even for him.
Miroslav Kalousek and Karel Schwarzenberg of TOP 09 can afford to introduce this kind of programme as they are targeting completely different voters (ironically, the bigger the crisis, the better for TOP 09). But neither the ČSSD nor the ODS will show their true colours before the polls. It is not nice but it’s no crime. Criminal would be if they lied and made promises such as those made by Ferenc Gyurcsany.
The cuts will be painful and will affect everyone. Salaries and social benefits will fall, while prices will grow. But even the best of the best treasurers will not decide about the specific numbers – it is a decision to be made by the majority power in the lower house. That is what matters the most now.