Jiří Paroubek’s fouls in high-stakes political game

During the short existence of the National Socialists (LEV 21), their leader has shot wide of the post and scored own goals

foto: © Czech Position, ČTKČeská pozice

Jiří Paroubek’s new party, the National Socialists–Left of the 21st Century (LEV 21), is an ambitious project that seeks to become a political pike in the pond of Czech left-wing politics and an alternative to the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Communists (KSČM). The present political situation plays into the his hands: small and new parties are on the rise, drawing from the unpopularity of the parties now in parliament.

“The Paroubeks,” as the National Socialists are also called, are among the newbie political “hopefuls” and currently have around three percent in the polls (still short of the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament). But the LEV 21 badge is becoming increasingly sullied by the party’s murky financing and the Paroubeks’ activities outside of the political sphere. This causes a fall in the lion’s “shares” of success.

Jiří Paroubek (59) is a hardened political veteran. He was Deputy Mayor of Prague, a minister and later ČSSD party chairman and prime minister. In the 2006 parliamentary elections he dragged ČSSD out of its mess to end up just behind the winning ODS. Two years later, his party flowed like an orange tsunami across the regions and took the regional elections. He also won the elections to the Lower House in 2010, but not by so much that ČSSD could form a Government. Paroubek then resigned from leadership of the “Socies,” bid adieu to the orange colours and founded a new party.

Paroubek’s new project began in the style of a one-man-show. He became head of the new party. He often organizes press conferences, is forming new party cells around the Czech Republic, publishes on the “Your Business” portal, and generally makes his presence felt in the Lower House of Parliament (Chamber of Deputies). During the short existence of the National Socialists, however, he has made several serious mistakes and bad choices that LEV 21 may well regret come the elections.

A party headquarters with a hint of Janoušek

Right at the start of Paroubek’s party, the National Socialists drew the attention of the media and the public by speculation as to whether they were not helped into the world by that gray eminence of Prague politics, Roman Janoušek. Paroubek chose to place the party headquarters in a house in Radlická Street in Prague Smíchov. As Czech Position discovered, it is owned by Eukaryota, a company that is close to Janoušek. For a nascent party this is not a popular figure among the voters, indeed hardly any party would want to be publicly associated with him.

Eukaryota also owns a nearly 300-square-meter apartment in the exclusive Myšák Gallery complex. There is speculation that the real owner of this first-class residence is Janoušek. We’d like to state that Eukaryota belongs to the Natland Group, which includes Prominecon, the former Navatyp (a company that needs no introduction to the Czech public after the recent publication of recordings of conversations between Janoušek and the former ODS Prague mayor Pavel Bém that point to unethical dealings at Prague City Hall).

In an interview for Czech Position, Paroubek denied any ties between his party and Janoušek. He also rejected allegations that the Natland Group had a hand in building the party. Speculation on the lobbyist’s link to this party was recently fuelled by the daily Právo, which stated that in the past Paroubek used an Audi A8, which is now used by Janoušek. According to the daily, the limo was even seen in front of the National Socialists’ headquarters. There is, however, no photographic evidence.

A Greek house and the ‘new Viewegh’

Last December, instead of quiet pre-Christmas contemplations, Paroubek faced further awkward moments. The online version of the weekly magazine Týden reported that Paroubek and his wife had bought a house on the Greek island of Ithaca worth roughly five million crowns. According to Petra Paroubková, the couple earned the money for real estate by writing books. Jiří Paroubek wrote his political memoirs, Full Steam Ahead in Politics; Mrs. Petra’s literary star once again soared, thanks to the opus In Booties from Dior. “My husband has signed a four million contract with the Prostor publishing house. Including copyright. Full Steam Ahead in Politics alone has sold 40,000 copies,” Paroubková added.

The daily Mladá fronta Dnes consequently focused on the spouses’ literary achievements and stated that, considering the fees for their books, even the best-selling Czech writer Michal Viewegh would envy them. Even some booksellers began to have doubts about Paroubek’s literary success. Czech Position also discovered that not even second-hand bookshops in Prague were interested in buying his memoirs at knock-down prices. Thus, speculation arose as to whether someone didn’t intentionally buy Paroubek’s books as a front to pass money into the National Socialists’ party coffers.

The sponsor’s Achilles’ heel

In March, the chairman of LEV 21 complained that the public doesn’t know enough about his new party. Therefore, a massive campaign was launched to raise awareness of the National Socialists. According to party spokesman Tomáš Sazima it counted on nearly a hundred billboards in Prague and the Ústí region with a portrait of the former prime minister and the slogan “Pride, Courage, Tradition.” Such a campaign must be financially costly; therefore, it is logical to ask where Paroubek’s party got the money to pay for it. Such questions irk the party head.

Recently, Mladá fronta Dnes pointed out that the cost of the National Socialists’ billboard campaign exceeds the acknowledged sponsorship donations (amounting to less than 1.7 million crowns) published by the party on its website. Subsequently, the party stated its main sponsor was Petr Benda, the former head of the Ústí branch of the ČSSD, who is currently the head of the LEV 21 election campaign and chairman of its Ústí cell. Benda signed a sponsor agreement with the party gradually depositing up to twelve million crowns into its account in the second quarter.

However, right from the start the National Socialists’ sponsoring has been an issue with Paroubek’s project. One particularly mysterious figure in Paroubek’s party is the Usti entrepreneur and the party’s Central Secretary Jaroslav Andres. At first, according to Paroubek, he wasn’t a sponsor, now (according to the list of party sponsors) he is a sponsor. His brother Radek Andres is also on the list. But it is not known where the Andres brothers’ get the money for the LEV 21 coffers.

Mladá fronta Dnes further pointed out that the National Socialists’ sponsorship list is not complete because it does not give the firm that, according to Bohuslav Čoupek, the LEV 21 Brno-based secretary, sponsors the party in the form of providing free billboard space. So far, the party has yet to react to this. In short, the fog surrounding the National Socialists’ funding is thick. Paroubek himself contributes to this with various contradictory statements.

Zimbabwe for cretins

But let’s not belabor the head of the National Socialists with just the ambiguities surrounding party sponsoring, we’d like to remind you of Paroubek’s recent excesses during the trial with Public Affairs (VV) paymaster and de facto party head Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka, a former VV deputy. ‘Now only a cretin can talk about the independence of the judicial system in the Czech Republic.’

In January, after the “cash for silence” bribery case ended (with Škárka’s conviction and Bárta receiving a suspended sentence, subject to appeal), Paroubek planned on bringing Škárka into the fold of LEV 21. The party could have had a third lamb in its parliamentary ranks. But in April the Court unlawfully sent Škárka to prison for three years for fraud (plus a 10-year ban on "politicking"). Paroubek didn’t accept Judge Jan Šott’s decision and railed hysterically against the Czech judiciary.

At the time Paroubek wrote to Czech Position. “The problem is not with Škárka, but in the Vyshinsky class interpretation of the law, which the judge used,” he said, referring to Soviet lawyer Andrey Vyshinsky, a close associate of Stalin. “Now only a cretin can talk about the independence of the judicial system in the Czech Republic.” Right from the start, though, his gamble on Škárka was a bit “off the wall.” He ran the risk that an affair arising among Public Affairs would pointlessly tarnish the National Socialists. But Paroubek’s ego took no heed of such a threat. Has the head Paroubek slowly lost his, until recently, well-developed political instincts?