Jiří Paroubek is among the most controversial Czech politicians of the post-Velvet Revolution era; few others have so divided public opinion. From 2005 to 2006 he was prime minister, reviving the fortunes of the center-left Social Democrats (ČSSD) and almost bringing them to election victory. Later, he was the main critic of the center-right government of Mirek Topolánek (Civic Democrat, ODS), and then an architect of the non-party, expert, “caretaker” government of Jan Fischer.
Paroubek hoped to return to the premiership in the elections of 2010, and although the ČSSD won the most support, he could not find willing coalition partners. In the aftermath of the elections, he resigned as party chairman and became a backbench member of parliament. But in November 2010 he began to prepare his comeback, and by early October 2011 he has left the party and, on the basis of the program of the First Republic National Socialists, announced he would create a new political party: the National Socialists-21st Century Left (or Left 21, for short).
In an interview with Czech Position at the party’s new Smíchov headquarters, Paroubek responded to questions about the origins of his party, to nationhood and the Hussites he draws inspiration from, to topical issues like racial unrest in North Bohemia and the state of Slavia Prague football club. He denied that he’s cooperating with the lobbyist Roman Janoušek and refuted any links between his new party and the financial group Natland.
Q: ‘National Socialism is not just and in the final analysis primarily an ordinary political party. It’s about a national idea with a deep social, moral, and religious content, whose origins can be found already in the Hussite era’ is a quote from the basic program of the historic National Socialists. What does ‘National Socialism’ mean to you?
A: I was a member for 17 years of the Czechoslovak Socialist Party (ČSNS), which was a continuation of the National Socialist Party which was created in 1897. Therefore, I know the basic program of the party and what inspired it, such as the Hussites, the Czech brotherhood, or the national revival; in short, everything that is progressive in Czech history. On the other hand, the Second Republic right wing and today’s right wing have only contempt for the Hussite movement because it is about people. The National Socialists have a close relationship with national history, which distinguishes them from other parties.
‘The Second Republic right wing and today’s right wing have just contempt for the Hussite movement, because it is about people.’
Q: From an historical perspective, the creation of National Socialism in Bohemia at the end of the nineteenth century was a reaction to the creation of the Sudeten German Workers Party (DAP), which in 1918 changed its name to the DNSAP. That was one of the inspirations for the development of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) in Germany. What direction of National Socialism are you taking?
A: Look, when something is called ‘national’ it does not necessarily mean that the party is aiming a chauvinist or nationalist direction. The new party will certainly not go down that path.
Q: The Sudenten DAP originated in Ústí nad Labem. At the time, the North Bohemia region was experiencing national conflicts with the Sudeten Germans, currently the region is facing unrest due to the Roma minority. Do you not fear that National Socialism in this region will just be exacerbating the situation?
A : Not at all. We are seeking communal harmony and protection of minorities, whether they are homosexuals, Roma or Vietnamese. It will be a party of Czech patriots who think it is necessary to develop the institutions of a social State.
Q: On the website Vaše věc you said that one of the inspirations of the new party is the Hussite movement. Is Jan Hus a model for you?
Q: Benito Mussolini in his early years was interested in the Hussite movement. In 1913, he wrote a book : ‘Jan Hus the announcer of truth’ …
A: That’s true — when Mussolini was a socialist and editor of the left-wing newspaper Avanti. But he quit the left-wing movement. And the book about Hus was, by the way, very superficial. It’s literary and intellectual worth is very small.
Q: It is interesting that two movements are being created that cite their program aims as being the defense of national interests. Apart from your party, there is the movement connected to the Suverenita party and the movement D.O.S.T. ... How do you differentiate your defense of national interest from this second stream?
A: I do not think it is necessary to measure yourself by something else. The National Socialist Party will seek out other themes than just national traditions. Current problems include corruption, and we must also solve the health and pension reforms. In the Ústí region and elsewhere, we must solve the problem of unemployment and create new jobs. The new party will put the stress on these themes. No political party will get support on the basis of its ideological origins but on its program, which addresses everyday issues.
Q: Community relations in the Ústí region are very tense due to ethnic conflicts. What solutions do your new party offer?
A: We are working on a program to fight social exclusion, whose concept will be published on the webpage VašeVěc.cz. Basically, it is about attracting investment and investors to these backward regions of the Ústí region.
Q: The term ‘inadaptable citizens’ is often used. According to you, who are these people?
A: I think they are people who are not able to take part in the working environment. They are not able to take part in the community, training is something almost inaccessible for them, and their children have problems at school. They are very low earners. I see the problem in a wider context.
Q: When someone does not want to work, how can you make them? On the right-wing, the solution is often in the form of repressive measures. Do you not think this would aggravate the situation?
A: Those on the right are saying the same things that the Communists and the old regime used to declare [with regard to work]. Earlier there was no unemployment because for the Communists it was unacceptable that some people did not work. We must come to accept the fact that a certain part of the community does not want to work — here, in Germany, in the U.S and elsewhere. It’s is necessary to see this as a reality of society. As Napoleon Bonaparte used to say, no one can rely long on bayonets. If the same thing happens in three or four localities as in Šluknov [North Bohemia], then this repression will not be sufficient because there simply will not be the police forces available.
Q: But not dealing with the high crime rate in the region would be problematic ... In short, repression is unavoidable but only for the duration for which it is required. A: It is necessary to prevent not just the worst criminality but also the petty crime that the Šluknov area is suffering. In short, repression is unavoidable but only for the duration for which it is required. We must attract investors to the region and create new jobs. It is clear that such solutions will only bear fruit after several years. But we cannot imagine that we rely on bayonets for the next five, six or seven years.
Or perhaps the next step after the police would be the dragoons? Will police be sent to every house to protect it ? No, it is necessary to create such a system in all areas where there is high unemployment and a high degree of social exclusion, which will be based on a modified system of investment, incentives, and tax relief for small and medium-sized companies. By the way, in the Šluknov area almost every large village has some industrial site that is closed and falling into disrepair.
‘We must come to accept the fact that a certain part of the community does not want to work.’
Q: How will the campaign of the National Socialists 21st century Left appear? During your time at the head of the ČSSD, there was a campaign that made massive use of billboards, not to mention the orange lorry in the regional elections of 2008.
A: Look, we are still a long way from that, but I have certain ideas although these are not all worked out. First, we will set up our organizational structure on the regions, and we will look for regional party leaders and prepare our program. We will certainly put the onus on a contact campaign, which in the past we always gave priority to.
Q: Do you plan to put women in the forefront of your new party? When you were leader of the Social Democrats that did not really happen.
A: Yes, in the forefront should be some women who will liven up Czech politics.
Q: Can you give some names?
A: It is too early. I would prefer that these women present themselves at the party congress and speak up for parts of the National Socialist program that they have worked on. These will be interesting personalities for the public. I would understandably be glad if some of these women took up leadership positions within the party, but I do not expect anyone from show business. They will be women who are experts in their fields.
‘We would like to avoid what has happened in the two main parties which are dominated by an inner party oligarchy which does not allow talented and capable people to get on.’
Q: What will be the starting membership of the new party? Do you not fear that there will be few members and that the new organization will appear to be more of a sect than a party?
A: Of course, it would be ideal if we had 40,000 members at the start, and we could select them. But I’m practical and know that under Czech conditions it is not possible to create such a party; it will be important for Lev 21 to be open to quality and interesting people who are natural opinion leaders in their towns, locality or region. We would like to avoid what has happened in the two main parties, which are dominated by an inner party oligarchy that does not allow talented and capable people to get on.
Q: What have your foreign colleagues said about you leaving the Social Democrats? For example, Robert Fico, the chairman of the Slovak party, SMER, Gehrard Schröder (the former head of the German Social Democrats) or Werner Faymann (chairman of the Austrian Social Democrats), with whom you used to meet as the head of the ČSSD. Will they support you at the founding congress of Lev 21?
A: At the moment, I have no reaction from abroad and currently there is no sense in seeking any foreign participation. If the National Socialists in time become an established party, it is possible that we will try to achieve the status of observers or members of the European Socialist Party. But that is a long way off.
Q: Are you attracted to the idea of the coalition governments of the First Republic between the ČSSD and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). How do you see possible future cooperation with the Social Democrats?
A: I have fears that a certain section of Social Democrats functionaries are seriously considering the necessity of revising the social state, which for me is difficult to accept. If the new party gets into the parliament, it will be a question whether it will be necessary to aim for membership of the government at this first attempt. Otherwise, of course, a center-left coalition of the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and National Socialists would not be a bad combination. For the Republic it could be good.
Q: You are known as a fan of the Slavia Prague football club. How do you evaluate their current situation ? They are playing poorly, the manager has a background with Sparta Prague and the owner of the club is a former transport minister...
A: I was prepared to get more involved with Slavia. The situation, however, did not take the most fortunate turn. The blame should be carried by Aleš Řebíček, the owner of Slavia, as well as ungrateful fans. People forget that the owners of clubs make decisions about their investments. That is why I suggested as a sort of solution the creation of a group of friends of Slavia who would just have the cash from subscriptions and gifts from members. I was also willing to contribute money, which, for example, would serve to develop the Slavia youth team. Such a group could have a certain influence on the daily running of the club.
Q: And what do you have to say about the manager František Straka ?
A: I take the engagement of Mr. Straka as a matter-of-fact thing. In the past, at the start of the twentieth century movement of players and managers between Sparta and Slavia Prague quite a lot happened. Straka is a professional, who, in my opinion, is a rather emotional manager — and that is what Slavia currently needs. I don’t believe the basic squad of players is that bad or as bad as the results. But the fans have recently been disappointed many times and what happened on the pitch at the end of the last season [a pitch invasion by fans] has damaged the club.
Q: When the ownership of the club changed last season, the club first of all headed into the hands of the Natland Group. Have you cooperated with this group in the creation of the new party ?
A: I don’t know them. I think they were at Slavia first of all to stabilize the situation and they then sold the club to a new investor.
‘I don’t know the ownership structure of Natland and in my opinion this is not important.’
Q: I ask about Natland because according to our information the company Eukaryota, which houses your party headquarters, belongs to the Natland Group. The Eukaryota group is close to Roman Janoušek. Do you work with this lobbyist? Has Janoušek financed your new party?
A: I repeat, I don’t know them. I only know that the general secretary of the Czech National Socialist Party 2005 (ČSNS 2005), Jaroslav Andres, carried out a tender to rent a suitable building. The most suitable building was this one. Otherwise, this is sponsorship money from Mr. Andres. In the party declaration of donations you can see everything that everybody has given. According to my information this is a market rent without any advantages at all. I repeat, I don’t know the ownership structure of Natland, and in my opinion this is not important. I looked at the commercial register and Mr. Janoušek does not figure in connection with Eukaryota, as you yourself have seen.
Q: In the ownership of Natland there is the construction and development company Prominecon, the former Navatyp. That would be for your party a rather delicate connection ?
A: That would certainly create a negative reaction, but Mr. Janoušek does not have any connection with the building or the new party. The building is the responsibility of general secretary Andres.
See related article: Who will feed ex-Czech PM Jiří Paroubek’s new party?