The Rise of the Dark Side

Boy, you take a couple of days to put your nose to the grindstone, and all hell breaks loose on the Czech political scene.

And as usual, none of this is being played out in public, so we have to rely on press spokesmen, bland proclamations and the sort of Kremlinology I thought went down with the CCCP.

Then again, maybe these are just the beginning of the Bad Old Days, v. 2.0. It seems the unreformed Czech Communist party finds itself in the unlikely role of kingmaker, an overnight victory years in the making.

How did it get to this? As far as I can tell, it had to do with the fallout not from the truly embarassing shenanigans PM Stanislav Gross pulled in trying to cover up the true source of the financing for his apartment, but rather with his wife’s dealings with a whorehouse owner. It’s almost as if Christian Democrats Chairman Miroslav Kalousek said, ‘hey, I can deal with murky apartment financing, but I can’t do whorehouses.’

So the Christian Democrats will probably pull out of the coalition. But the Social Democrats are not going to go into the opposition without a major fight. Some ODS leaders have said it’s because their opponents really want the privatizations that are in play – especially that of Czech Telecom – to go through. And given former PM MiloÅ¡ Zeman’s comments in his autobiography that all Gross ever read was get-rich-quick manuals, they may be right.

The question young Anakin Gross is probably dealing with right now is this: How far is he willing to go to the Dark Side? It sounds like he’s ready to go pretty far, according to this article, which says that the Communists are in talks to join (or at least support) a Gross-led minority government, and this article that says Gross is going to meet Communist leader Miroslav Grebeníček today.

Grebeníček is clearly relishing his role. Now he’s saying that maybe the government should be led by someone else, like Jan Kavan. The message the Communists are saying could be literally written by George Lucas: ‘Young Anakin, the force is strong in you, but you have much to learn …’

The Communists have been working toward this kind of power for quite some time. Their popularity has grown in recent years – especially outside the island of Prague – and their leadership has successfully resisted efforts from within the party for the same kind of reforms that other countries’ Communist parties have gone through post-’89.

So it’s pretty obvious that Grebeníček is going to let Gross twist in the wind until Friday’s vote. And Gross can’t do a lot about his situation, because he really wants to stay in power to finish those privatizations. So he’s going to make a deal.

That isn’t the end of the story, though.

Even if Gross openly does a deal with the Dark Side, his moves will still have to be approved by President Václav Klaus, who, one might recall, got to Prague Castle with tacit Communist approval. The question for Klaus will be whether to help his former party, the ODS, by calling early elections, or if he will decide to let a Social Democrat minority government limp along and botch the election on the European Constitution – an issue near and dear to his heart – and then watch the ODS sweep to victory.

Who’s going to emerge from all this dealmaking victorious? Who knows? I think this story will be pretty turbulent in the short term, and everybody’s predictions could be entirely wrong – especially mine.

But I think it’s pretty obvious who’s going to end up losing, as usual. The rest of us.

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