Business As Usual

Posted: January 26, 2013 in CEE Politics, Czech Politics
Tags: , , , ,

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The votes are in and Prague lost. Urban centres around the country lost. Czech expats lost. Karel, prince of Schwarzenberg lost.

But, despite the ringing endorsement of a majority of Czech voters for political business as usual rather than a genuine chance for change, not all is lost.

The despondent mood of the young, educated, internationally minded supporters who drove Schwarzenberg’s campaign has prompted talk of emigration amongst some, but it is in the very return to business as usual that hope can be found.

Not in the endorsement of a president who stands for so much that so many of us oppose, but in another, very Czech, way. Parliamentary and partisan politics are not the exclusive definition of what is political. Politics is at heart the way we live with others and in the negotiation of how we can live with ourselves as the selves (individual & collective) that we want to be.

All around the capital, the politics of everyday socio-cultural life are flourishing. From the proliferating farmers markets and resurgent cafe & art scenes in Vršovice, Holešovice and Karlín, Pragers are reclaiming the stolen promises of the 90s for themselves.

The small brewing revolution has tapped into a latent demand for genuine choice and quality left unserved by the corporate behemoths that, with internationally financed marketing & distribution, dominated the first two velvet decades.

The increasing numbers of Czechs who study, work or travel to other countries have long been used to having to be their own ambassadors, woefully let by down by their official representatives such as Vaclav Klaus. These arrangements must now continue for at least another 5 years and the Republic is lucky to have unofficial envoys of such star quality illuminating universities, galleries, workplaces, international missions and the corridors of European power, speaking of big ideas with an international outlook, but also with a Czech accent.

This is not to say that electoral politics don’t matter. They do and that is why so many people have been so involved in this election, which has inspired levels of engagement and enthusiasm outside of the machine politics of the major parties. However, here too there is opportunity to be seized from crisis.

Both the supporters and opponents of Zeman must continue their involvement by holding the new president accountable in a way that the scandal obsessed media have failed to do in the past. Those who so powerfully and eloquently expressed their frustration with the current main parties, the lacklustre and corrupt cabinet must now start to organise.

Together these ideas speak to what Michel Foucault called ‘the art of not being governed like that.’ The small resistances that give shape to the many acquiescences we allow ourselves on a daily basis. Recognising the value of both parliamentary and socio-cultural politics, from the transformation of Krymska into vibrant common space and organising locus for citizens campaigns as well as quality culture, to using social media as a way of getting beyond the hacks-eye view of the mass media, we are far from powerless.

There had been a sense that so many of us will no longer tolerate the parties that consistently treat the state and European funds as their private piggy bank. Real questions have been asked about czech history & collective memory, about the current & future relations of a country fir whom the international is always so important, about austerity and the post-89 neoliberal consensus. That the answers have not been convincing is no reason to stop asking, nor to stop practicing our own ways and means.

In this campaign, like no other in recent memory, democracy lived and breathed. In complement to the smaller, quotidian counter-conducts of the gallery and the cafe, the market and the street, this too must now become business as usual.

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