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Not many worse things can happen to a political party than when they have to get together and loudly deny that what some of their MPs say in the House of Commons is also what the majority of members think. The governing KDU-ČSL had to attend this event on Saturday. She called it a programming conference.
The People’s Party needed to demonstrate that they are a modern party, that they understand what the century is like and see how society is changing. They wanted to show that the only purpose of their existence is not to fight against homosexuals, to reject the convention on the prevention of violence against women, or to defend wine from taxation.
Therefore, the parties could not meet in a wine cellar in southern Moravia. They held the conference in the modern Cubex Center in Prague, a congress building among the “skyscrapers” of Pankrác.
To make the illusion perfect, in a building full of cubist architecture and design, the traditional dulcimer did not win, as is customary at similar KDU-ČSL events. On the other hand, there were demonstrations of the most modern technologies – including virtual reality or a small robot with artificial intelligence trained with regard to the event in progress. When asked who is the best minister in the government, he answered: “Marian Jurečka, of course.”
In contrast to the artificial intelligence, the conservative members of the people – nicknamed sometimes “catoliban”, other times “chunkofleci” – did not arrive at the program conference despite the invitation. Member of Parliament Šimon Heller, the author of the statement “chicken is chicken and beef is beef”, with which he rejected gay marriage, was absent. Not even the women’s ultras team came, the uncompromising trio of MPs Romana Bělohlávková – Pavla Golasowská – Nina Nováková.
This widened the scope to present other topics such as the support of renewable energy sources, safety, environmental protection or support of families with children. When Marie Jílková, a progressive member of parliament, spoke about it with the idea of ”let’s enable the return of parents to work quickly, let’s favor reduced working hours, let’s increase the capacities of pre-school care, let everyone set it according to their own”, one could slowly feel like they were at a meeting of liberal freethinkers.
Which face of the people to believe, which is the right one?
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The KDU-ČSL are well aware that prejudice against them is deeply rooted in society. You know that, don’t you? Program priorities “church-bed-kitchen”. And because of their political style, many people mock them for being “snakes”, for playing “tip on the scales” or for “always wanting to be there”. For which they created an alibi, that they are the social conscience of right-wing governments, and on the contrary, a responsible element in left-wing cabinets.
Pavel Bělobrádek, who was the chairman of the KDU-ČSL in 2010-2019, mainly tried to fight these labels. In Sobotek’s government, as deputy prime minister, he took charge of science, research and innovation, with the ambition of consolidating modernity and also appealing to younger voters from the cities. Then again he refused to join Babiš’s cabinet to prove that the people don’t always have to be there.
Today, in the KDU-ČSL, looking at barely four percent preferences in the polls, they should admit that there is simply no such thing as a hard electorate of conservative Catholics, who most of all wish to preserve the “good old world”. Or to be more precise – there are fewer and fewer of them. Relying on them, trying to please them, purely mathematically means a political end, leaving the Parliament.
In the KDU-ČSL, whose lively inner life of thousands of engaged members must be the envy of competing parties, most party members probably know this well. After all, Saturday’s program conference was the result of several months of pressure from below, when rank-and-file members forced a debate about what KDU-ČSL actually is, what it promotes and where it intends to go.
So yes, over the weekend the oldest Czech political party looked modern and its leaders even enthusiastic when they showed concrete examples of how they can use the latest technology in social services, for example. Or when Chairman Marian Jurečka was showing how he was digitizing the prehistoric social system.
But this progressive face of the KDU-ČSL disappears in a flash the moment anyone from the “Catholiban” stands at the lectern in the House of Representatives. One must then ask: If the People’s Party tries to look so modern, why do they send bigoted politicians to the Chamber of Deputies?