Theodoros Benakis

Interview: Czech Pirate MP weighs anchor

Flickr/Pirátská strana/CC BY-SA 2.0
"The official media market is small and it is more and more under the influence of few big companies," said Mikuláš Peksa.

In an exclusive interview with European Interest, Czech Pirate Party MP Mikuláš Peksa explains why his country’s controversial prime minister must be held accountable – at the very least for not being able to distinguish between his personal interests and that of an entire nation.

From the crumbling Czech welfare state to Russia’s influence and the threat of fake news, the 32-year-old politician outlines the course being charted by his Pirate Party on all the issues. He is also quick to note why the Czech Pirate Party is different from Pirate parties in other European countries.

European Interest: Mr. Peksa, your Pirate Party – and you personally – are in direct confrontation with PM Andrej Babiš. Accused of mishandling European subsidies, Babis has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on the part of his companies. On what grounds do you believe he is guilty?

Mikuláš Peksa: As far as I know, I have never stated he is guilty or that he has been sentenced for any crime. He is criminally prosecuted – that’s true and publicly very well-known information both in Czech and the rest of Europe. For some reason, Mr. Babiš believes that the simple repeating of such information could harm Czech national interest. I fear he has a problem to distinguish Czech national interests from his personal interests. Still, these are two different things.

As you stressed in a recent statement, the fact that the prime minister is being prosecuted for misappropriation of European subsidies is not just a problem for Czechs, but for all European taxpayers. While this would lead to the isolation of Babiš and his political party, not all Czech political parties share your convictions. Some parties are even negotiating with Babis about the formation of a coalition government. How do you explain this?

Let’s be specific. The parties negotiating with Mr. Babiš are Communists and Social Democrats. This is the first time a Communist party can be part of the ruling coalition and they are hungry for power. Babiš promised them well-paid positions in state-owned enterprises. So they simply betrayed whatever they were saying about Marxism and they joined the most powerful capitalist in the country. As for the Social Democrats, their story is similar. The party has huge debts, there are internal struggles and they are afraid of another election. Joining Babiš is an easy way out, for now, but it will hurt them badly in the long run.

A few weeks ago, Nato officials said the Czech Republic is seriously exposed to the influence of Russia. In your opinion, how serious are the ‘fake news’ threats on the Czech democracy?

Huge. People are not used to verify their information sources. Whatever information is provided, if it is scandalous enough or it fits nicely to their world-view, they will share it. Disinformation sharing is like an infection. Unfortunately, politicians often believe that some sort of ‘information quarantine’ could solve the problem. But no quarantine is tight enough forever and the feeling of censorship makes the disinformation even more viral. We need some sort of ‘vaccination’ – people should be taught how to distinguish between correct and concocted information.

In the other Visegrad countries, the media are being targeted, threatened both unofficially and legally. Do you think media freedom is in a danger in the Czech Republic? 

I must admit it – yes, I think so. The official media market is small and it is more and more under the influence of few big companies. Babiš’ enterprises are the most visible ones, but there are also others. A normal journalist has to impose some sort of auto-censorship on himself or face consequences. Who would like to make one’s employer angry, when there are only three or four alternatives? It is hard to find a good job in this industry and people do not want to challenge the system.

As the European Commission is proposing new political criteria for the allocation of structural funds, the Visegrad countries may become the biggest losers. Do you think the new criteria are unfair?

It does not work Commission vs. the V4 countries. There are big companies who receive a lot from the structural funds – such as the prime minister’s personal business. On the other hand, there are small companies, freelancers and others who live from their own labour. They are feeling more and more squeezed by administrative pressure coming from the government. And the Commission works absolutely in their interests when proposing measurements to protect the rule of law. A rule-less system is advantageous for the powerful, not for common people.

The Czech welfare state is considered one of the most effective in Europe. Do you see this statistical reality reflected in social cohesion?

For the majority, it somehow works. But there are minorities excluded from society. Poor people who are drowning in debts. There are private bailiffs responsible for enforcing repayment of debt in Czech. They often act like a mafia, earning much more compared to the original debt. There are also people who live from renting crumbling flats for high prices. The state pays for the tenants when they are poor, thus keeping this business running. When you get caught by these ruthless people you quickly became prisoner in some ghetto somewhere on the periphery of society. There are a lot of such places with no future for the occupants, especially in the borderlands.

Would you describe the Pirate movement as being “coherent”? For instance, do you see yourselves as Icelandic Pirates, whose main political allies are on the left?

We have lots in common. We all strive for freedom of information, human rights, privacy etc. And we ignore the old terms ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’. How can you, for instance, compare Icelandic and Czech society? The term ‘left-wing’ has very different meaning in the context of 40 years of communist rule in Czech. When speaking about Icelandic left, you do not usually speak about people who worked for communist secret police. There are also many rich local businessmen in Czech social democracy, who participate in politics in order to promote their enterprise activities. So Pirates are similar all over the world, but societies differ.

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