Home » Democracy Digest: ‘Will No One Rid Me of This Troublesome Czech Priest?’
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Democracy Digest: ‘Will No One Rid Me of This Troublesome Czech Priest?’

Elsewhere, another Slovak spymaster falls; PiS says Russia-influence commission might still begin work before election; and Hungary’s president meets Zelensky in Ukraine.

It’s famously said that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low, and one example of this came to a head this week when the renowned Czech historian and priest Tomas Petracek was fired from Charles University’s Catholic Theological Faculty allegedly due to pressure from bishops. Faculty dean Vojtech Novotny cited budgetary reasons for the dismissal, but given the popularity of Petracek’s courses, numerous reports attributed the real reason behind the sacking to the historian’s rather outré views (at least in conservative Catholic circles) over marriage and homosexuality. It was reported that Petracek was recently one of the initiators of the call to remove the ultra-conservative Alliance for the Family from state structures. According to the signatories, this organisation belittles the importance of women’s suffrage, spreads moral panic and mob hysteria, denies and disparages scientific knowledge, and threatens the health and psychological development of children and youth by implying that homosexuality is a disease. A large number of bishops responded by standing up for the alliance.

“I think my departure is rather a long-term matter. The management of the faculty does not like my views, and the current dean has told me several times in recent years that there is a lot of pressure from some members of the Czech Bishops’ Conference. This dates back to the time of the fight for the Istanbul Convention in 2018,” Petracek was quoted as saying, referring to the Council of Europe treaty opposing violence against women. This week the Czech Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, part of the government’s upper house, withheld its support for ratification of the Istanbul Convention, though the Czech government approved on Wednesday a domestic and gender-based violence prevention plan, which aims to establish a network of services for victims and those at risk by the end of 2024.

In other news, the government moved swiftly to seize the Czech assets of “Putin’s missile maker” and his relatives. Just a week after Boris Obnosov, CEO of the state-held Tactical Missiles Corporation (KTRV), his daughter Olga Zorikova and her husband Rostislav Zorikov were added to the national sanctions list, Czech TV reported that the authorities had seized assets worth an estimated 7 million euros belonging to the Zorikovs, including a house in central Prague and a real estate company. The presence of the Zorikovs and their lavish lifestyle in Prague had caused consternation and calls for action from activists and the public at large since being revealed in May by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Another Slovak spymaster falls; Hungary daily uses anniversary to rewrite history

President Zuzana Caputova dismissed Slovak Information Service Director Michal Alac on Wednesday after he was charged with several serious criminal offences, including obstruction of justice and the establishment of an organised crime group. His deputy, Tomas Rulisek, has temporarily replaced him. Rulisek is the third head of the country’s counterintelligence service in just three years. Alac’s predecessor Vladimir Pcolinsky – nominated like Alac by the populist Sme Rodina party – also had to resign after being accused of several crimes. Rulisek has worked with the service for 20 years and was responsible for administration and international relations. The new head will be chosen by the next government after the September 30 election.

Slovakia this week marked 55 years since the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops (Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria), which began on the evening of August 20, 1968. More than 400 people died during the occupation of more than 20 years. “Let’s honour their memory, let’s thank those who never gave up the fight for freedom, and let’s not let history repeat itself,” said President Caputova. Even so, the Hungarian pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet used the occasion to publish a piece headlined “Hungarian hope in 1968”, in which it argued that Hungary should have used the invasion to retake the areas of southern Slovakia that had been used to form Czechoslovakia after WW1. Moreover, the paper claimed Hungarians in Slovakia would have welcomed Hungarian soldiers as liberators 55 years ago and, based on historical law and justice, these soldiers could not have been considered occupiers. In July, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban called parts of Slovakia Hungary’s “breakaway territory”.  

Polish Russia-influence body may still happen before election; claims of ‘foreign interference’

A politician from the ruling PiS party and a representative of the Presidential office both said this week that a controversial parliamentary commission to investigate Russian influence could still be activated before Poland’s general election on October 15. I absolutely did not say there was a decision that it won’t happen or that it wouldn’t happen in this parliamentary term,” PiS politician Marek Ast told Polskie Radio 24. “I was talking about a certain scenario in which it wouldn’t be possible to form the commission in this parliamentary term.” Last week, Ast had said delays in passing the laws to establish the commission might mean there would not be enough time for it to be formed before the end of the current parliamentary term. The opposition as well as representatives of the US and EU have criticised the commission over its potential to be used as a means to target political opponents, particularly opposition leader Donald Tusk. President Andrzej Duda signed the bill into law after proposing changes that watered down the original PiS proposals. Last weekend, a representative of Duda’s office also said – following Ast’s original comments – that the commission was, after all, likely to still be formed prior to the election.

Meanwhile, the Sejm, primarily through the votes of PiS MPs, passed this week a resolution in which it condemned “foreign interference” in elections, referring particularly to Germany. “The Republic of Poland regards any foreign interference in the Polish electoral process as an act hostile to the Polish state and will resolutely fight against it,” the text of the resolution reads. It claims that since PiS came to power in 2015, the government has been subject to “constant attacks” by groups dominating the EU political scene, “with German politicians having an important role in this action”. The resolution refers to remarks made by Manfred Weber, the German leader of EPP, the largest grouping in the European Parliament (Civic Platform is part of it), who compared PiS to far-right parties in Germany and France, and said countries that do not stick to democratic standards “are enemies to be fought against”. PM Mateusz Morawiecki accused Weber of trying to interfere in Polish elections and challenged him to a debate.

Hungary President Katalin Novak leaves after the opening session of the Crimea Platform conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, 23 August 2023. EPA-EFE/OLEG PETRASYUK

Hungary’s president meets Zelensky; Orban hosts autocrats’ summit and Carlson

Hungarian President Katalin Novak visited Ukraine and met with her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. Though a former minister in a Fidesz government, Novak takes a slightly different foreign policy line to that of the pro-Russian PM, Viktor Orban, but is not seen as an autonomous political actor. She participated in the Crimea Platform conference, where she said: “We must clearly stand on the side of Ukraine and condemn the unprovoked aggression of the Russian Federation… Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are not in question. Ukraine has the right to say: where the war began, in Crimea, it should end there, with the liberation of Crimea.” Novak experienced an air raid while in Kyiv and had to spend an hour in a shelter, about which she duly posted on Instagram. Later, she also shared details about her bilateral talks with Zelensky, which included setting up a direct presidential communications channel, giving priority to cooperation on children affected by the war, and making early progress on minority rights of the ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Orban’s visit to Kyiv is still pending, which is rather embarrassing in the light that even the Hungarian PM’s ally, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, took the time to meet Zelensky and praised their talks as “good and fruitful” at the Ukraine-Balkan summit in Athens.

Back at home, Orban wallowed in a diplomatic high season, hosting mostly autocrats from the Middle East and Turkey over the weekend. Combining Hungary’s national day on August 20 with the start of the World Athletics Championship, Orban held talks with the emir of Qatar, the presidents of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as Vucic and Bosnian Serb leader Dodik. Old political muckers were also invited, including Austria’s former chancellor Sebastian Kurz (who is facing trial in Vienna for making false statements), Slovenia’s former PM Janez Jansa and Czechia’s former PM Andrej Babis. Although Orban said in his radio address last Friday that “when there is a big global event, a country tends to invite its friends”, hvg.hu revealed that neither Slovakia nor Poland received any invitation. Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said these countries are certainly allies, but avoided using the term “friends”.

Orban also met with former Fox journalist Tucker Carlson, granting him an interview that will be aired next week. Carlson also gave a lecture at the Fidesz-close Mathias Corvinus Collegium, during which he apologised for the behaviour of US ambassador David Pressman, whom he called “disgusting” and a villain”, and praised Hungary as one of the few “normal countries” left in the world and a bastion of Christianity. Carlson, who was fired from Fox News last May, also had a meeting with Serbia’s Vucic in Budapest where he blamed NATO for waging war against Russia, presumably meaning the war that Ukrainians are having to fight against Russia after being invaded.

Source : Reporting Democrazy