Translated by Lani Seelinger
The party riding on Miloš Zeman’s wave of popularity has been markedly expanding in Parliament lately. While the bigger, well-established parties are losing their members, people are flocking to Zeman’s People (SPOZ) by the dozen every day. So, the president’s party is starting to address the question of who the future politicians will be and what should be expected of them.
Girls from the nightclubs
A petite, very young-looking blonde stands out distinctly in a group of people that’s slowly gathering for a political meeting on a sunny afternoon at the U Kapličky pub in Karlovy Vary. Newly 18, Michaela Čudová came to the seafood restaurant in the Karlovy Vary region to become a member of Zeman’s People. “I came because of my dad and my grandma, who are already members. At home they told me that I could also be a member, so I went,” says Michaela. She doesn’t count on being somehow more strongly engaged in the political party, and the question of whether she might want to run for public office some day startles her. “No, definitely not,” she says, shaking her head. “I don’t know much about the politics of it, I have to read up on it.” After the vote to decide the group’s leadership, when questions come up about her motivation, she tells her colleagues that she came to join to support her family. The twenty members of Zeman’s People applaud, touched. “That sort of sincerity, that’s lovely,” someone exclaims.
Miroslav Procházka, a guest of the day’s meeting and the head of the Sokol organization, follows the procedure from his lunch plate. He only smiles a little at his colleagues’ delight over admitting the girl who just celebrated her 18th birthday a few days ago. “I have younger ones in the Sokol group,” says the tanned 60-year old in a sailor’s shirt and a yachting cap proudly. “A seventeen-year-old candidate, we’ll admit her soon.” Mr. Procházka is known among his colleagues for being the party playboy and womanizer, but also for being a skilled personnel officer. A moment before he gave the regional head of Zeman’s People a file with registration forms for ten new members, and the party head was now flipping through it with delight, because the majority of the new party members from the Sokol were born in the 1990s.
Until recently, Mr. Procházka did business in Croatia, arranging accommodation for tourists on Krk Island. Now he’s retired, and nightclubs are his greatest passion. He hunts for new members of his party to the rhythm of the music. “Hunting for female members, really,” says Mr. Procházka with a conspiratorial wink. “I stand by the bar and watch the girls, then I start talking to them. It’s important to get them socially first,” he says. “Out of 45 members in the Sokol, half are younger than 21, and the majority are girls. The younger ones don’t know squat about politics, so I have to explain to them what goes on there.”
Miroslav Procházka explains to girls at clubs over shots that life was better under the Communists, because there weren’t homeless people or unemployment – he read somewhere recently that because of debt and poverty, older couples had even committed suicide, as he says. When he was in Croatia recently, his co-party members had recommended him for the candidate list for Parliament, so, as he found out upon his return, he’ll run for a seat in October’s early elections. “I hope that I won’t be elected, a deputy’s work isn’t easy, and I wouldn’t have time for it along with my social interests,” says Mr. Procházka.
Up to the town hall
The region with the largest membership in Zeman’s People is South Moravia – today, the regional office has about 450 members registered (for comparison, the Green Party has 1,300 members in the entire country, TOP 09 has 3,600, and Zeman’s People has about 3,000 in total). “We recorded the biggest growth after the presidential election, but our petition campaigns in the streets are also playing a big role,” says Marek Viskot, the deputy chairman of Zeman’s People in South Moravia, from a small, rented office in the center of Brno, where a photograph of Miloš Zeman stands out on a red wall.
The petition campaign for approving a law about proving the origin of property is working to gain both voters and new people into the party’s ranks. Zeman’s People already sent a campaign correspondence note with the words “Say No to the Thieves” to four and a half million mailboxes, and they’ve been driving around the republic with signature sheets since June. “When we talk with people in the street, they themselves say that they’d like to get involved,” says Mr. Viskot, a water management expert from the firm Povodí Moravy. He has a working weekend in front of him – he’s founding four new groups in party meetings on Saturday in Brno in parts of the city that didn’t have SPOZ representation up until now.
One of those who went straight from being a non-party member to an official over that weekend in Brno is Michal Němeček, 36, the director of a real estate firm. He became the chairman of a local organization that didn’t exist until then in the Kohoutovice neighborhood. When he displayed an interest in joining Zeman’s People, he agreed with the leadership of the party that they would give him a group of people right away (they need at least five people to create a new group), and he became the founder of the Kohoutovice group. “Within three months I got ten people together between 30 and 42, and this is my circle of coworkers or friends who I go for coffee or beer with,” says Mr. Němeček. Apparently a work colleague who happened to mention his admiration for Miloš Zeman in front of him brought him into the party. “On the whole I see it as support for the president, but I’d like to run in a local election. I’m mainly interested in residential politics – I’d like to promote the privatization of apartments in Kohoutovice,” says Němeček, a realtor, about his party engagement. The fact that they were “new and pure” pulled him into Zeman’s People. They made a reference in the news to SPOZ’s fake sponsors, but he didn’t concern himself with this at all. “That didn’t seem at all essential to me, against the other parties,” he says.
David Moos, who joined the party this week and who, like Mr. Němeček, is talking about purity and the fight against corruption, also heard about the doubts concerning the financing of Zeman’s People or the presidential campaign. “I’m not interested in it,” he says on the theme of the suspicious donors. “If I was on the financial committee and I was in charge of that, I’d be interested, but otherwise, no. I have my role and I’m going to stick to it.”
Mr. Moos’ role is to run in the elections to the local government in the city neighborhood of Brno-North, where he lived before he built a house in the Moravian Karst. There are a lot of things he’d like to change – like the “inappropriate architectural interferences” or how slowly apartments are being privatized – and it was President Zeman’s personality in particular that drew him to Zeman’s People. He was looking for a party from which he could expect electoral success. “Miloš Zeman is a seasoned politician, so he knows how to succeed,” says Mr. Moos, an IT specialist. He started to think about joining a party after he realized that he had already fulfilled his three life goals – building a house in the Moravian Karst, getting married, and going on vacation in Cuba. Why there, in particular? “Because it’s unbelievably safe there,” says Mr. Moos. “If you’re not going there to spread samizdat writing, nothing can happen to you.”
Miloš Zeman’s popularity, thanks to which his party hopes to end up in Parliament (and the surveys are giving it a chance), could, besides the fans, family members, and young ladies, also entice those who only see a lift to power and public money. There could be future deputies among the people who are just joining now; the party has not determined a set period between being admitted and getting a public position. “It’s true that it can be difficult to recognize bad intentions,” says Vladimír Kruliš, deputy chairman of Zeman’s People, “but we don’t discriminate against people with a time limit.”
The party members in the Central Bohemian Region don’t like this sort of decision, and they were looking for a way to eliminate potential opportunists. They established a year-long waiting period for those who were coming to Zeman’s People directly from other parties – they won’t give them a membership card within a year after their last membership in another party. “People are flocking to us now that we have the president. We wanted to hinder the paths of the careerists,” says Jiří Vodička, deputy chairman of SPOZ in the Central Bohemian Region.
Despite this limitation, the number of members in Central Bohemia grew over the last year from 80 to 200 people, and from ten to 31 organizations. In one case, however, Zeman’s People of Central Bohemia had a brush with the leadership – when, because of the waiting period, they didn’t admit Miloš Adamec, the son of the last Communist Prime Minister, who had created the unsuccessful Party of Czechs before the regional elections and run for them. “They want to give him to us from the headquarters up to the ballot. Apparently there’s money coming in for him. But to buy a place on the ballot, that I consider to be political corruption,” says Mr. Vodička. Nevertheless, Zeman’s People in Central Bohemia had to cancel their protective time limit.
Článek Nejen sedmnáctileté čekatelky vyšel v Respektu 36/2013