Large Anti-Government Rally Held In Prague On Saturday
Prime Minister Petr Fiala dismissed the rally as organised by “pro-Russian forces” acting against the interests of the Czech Republic. Credit: vlada.cz.
Prague, Sept 5 (CTK) – The rally against the government on Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Saturday, entitled “Czech Republic First”, began with the singing of the Czech national anthem.
Speakers included the leader of Trikolora, Zuzana Majerova Zahradnikova, and former MP Lubomir Volny, from the Free Bloc, both far-right extra-parliamentary parties.
The police said there were about 70,000 demonstrators. No issues were recorded, said Jan Danek, a spokesman for the Prague police. Majerova Zahradnikova said the number of demonstrators was over 100,000.
The organisers are planning another rally for 28 September.
“We are demanding the immediate resignation of the government,” they said. “We are demanding the creation of a temporary government of experts and the calling of an early election. If the government does not resign by 25 September, we will declare the right to opposition under the Czech constitution at a national rally.”
“We are conducting talks with trade unions, businesspeople, farmers, mayors, hauliers and other organisations to declare a strike,” they added.
The protest was a joint rally of organisations and parties which disagree with the current government policy. After the start of the meeting, the crowd was chanting “Resign!” and “We Are Fed Up With This”. Some protesters brought Czech flags, others drums and banners saying “Everyone Will Meet Their Deserved Fate” or “Ukrainians Are Being Preferred, While Czechs Have to Wear Two Pullovers”.
There were also slogans against the EU, NATO, Petr Fiala, the European Green Deal, and the government’s opposing stance towards Putin’s regime in Russia. Stands and flags of the Communist Party and Trikolora were present in the square.
The organisers said earlier this week they demanded the departure of the current government, the easing of the impact of the energy crisis and payment of compensation.
Energy expert Vladimir Stepan criticised the soaring prices of energy and the government’s pro-Western course.
“The Czech Republic needs a Czech government. Fiala’s government is maybe Ukrainian, maybe that of Brussels, but certainly not Czech,” added Majerova Zahradnikova. She said the government should lower taxes, including VAT, and lift anti-Russian sanctions as they harmed Czech businesses. She also demanded military neutrality for the Czech Republic and the end of arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Other Trikolora speakers accused Germany of trying to dominate the Czech Republic by means of the EU.
On the steps in front of the National Museum, a few dozen counter-demonstrators held large NATO and EU flags.
The protest was widely covered in the international media. British newspaper The Guardian wrote that “the Czech Republic is facing an autumn of discontent” in light of the protest. Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) said the protest had been called by pro-Russian forces acting against the Czech Republic’s interests.
“Obviously, the Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns are appearing in the Czech Republic repeatedly and some are simply taken in by them,” said Fiala. “The interpretation of the events as I have had the opportunity to see them indicates strongly pro-Russian attitudes. In my view, this does not correspond with the interests of the Czech Republic and its citizens.”
Fiala’s words caused some backlash from other politicians across the political spectrum. Talking to CNN Prime television yesterday, his party colleague Martin Kuba (ODS), governor of the South Bohemian region, described Fiala’s comments as “unfortunate”, and said that rather than underestimating public fear of soaring prices and the energy crisis, the government should make it clear how it will lead them through the situation.
Kuba acknowledged that the Czech Republic was in the middle of an information war and that pro-Russian activists had taken part in the organisation of the Saturday demonstration. However, he warned of the danger of ignoring such public sentiment, noting the narrow result of the last general election.
Deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Jana Mrackova Vildumetzova (ANO), also said Fiala’s rhetoric was unfortunate, adding that although she did not agree with all the speakers at the demonstration, she supported the protesters who feel the government is dealing with the current situation in the wrong way.
Some of the candidates in the approaching presidential elections also expressed understanding for the people who attended the rally. General Petr Pavel said the public was not receiving a reassuring response from the government to the current crisis. He said many people were rightly afraid, but fear and disagreement with the existing solution to the crisis should be separated from extremism. He said the demonstration and responses to it were largely emotional expressions which would not bring any solution to the problems.
Economist Danuse Nerudova has warned that the fear might radicalise the public, and warned against underestimating the strength of feeling behind the Saturday rally. She said it was up to the government to make clear that it would do its utmost so that people could afford to pay their energy bills.
However, she dismissed the demands of some speakers at the protest that the Czech Republic should leave international institutions. “The Czech Republic’s security would be at risk without membership of NATO and the EU,” she said.
Senator Marek Hilser wrote on Twitter that people were rightly afraid of the soaring prices, but that “embracing Russia will not improve anything. By contrast, matters would be even worse: arbitrariness, violence, mega corruption and oppression.”
The leader of the opposition ANO, former prime minister Andrej Babis, wrote on Facebook on Saturday that he was not surprised by the high number of demonstrators.
“It would be no wonder if next time many more came. I have been touring the nation in the past months, hearing how angry and desperate people are,” he Babis. Babis has not yet announced his bid for the presidency.