On the 25th of February 2018, 70 years to the day since the Communists illegitimately took over power in Czechoslovakia, two students of the Protestant Theological Faculty of the Charles University, Mikuláš Minář and Benjamin Roll, founded an organisation with the aim of protecting democracy in the Czech Republic. Both felt that democracy was in jeopardy in our country, primarily because of the Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
Thus was established the petition called „A Million Moments for Democracy”, with the main goal of bringing together the voices of those who considered the Prime Minister’s behaviour unacceptable. The organisers of the campaign declared their respect for the results of the democratic elections and agreed with the fact that the PM should come from the winning party ANO, but they refused to accept that this person should be somebody who is charged with EU subsidy fraud and used to be an agent of the Communist secret police.
The number of signatures under the appeal called „The Moment to Resign” was rising at an unexpected speed. The appeal was signed by people throughout the whole society, including a large number of famous, influential people. As of 20 November 2018, 310 thousand people signed the petition and the number rose to over 340 thousand in May 2019 (note: the Czech Republic only has approx. 10.3 million inhabitants).
Protests in support of the campaign’s requirements started taking place all over the country, and they were increasing in size. On Sunday 23 June 2019, over 280,000 people met in Prague. On 6 December 2019, protests took place in 220 Czech towns and cities. More demonstrations in regional cities are planned for the beginning of 2020, and another large protest is to take place in Prague on the 1st of March.
We asked one of the founders, Benjamin Roll, about their intentions for the future and whether any of their requirements have changed in the current turbulent times.
Your movement, with the main goal of protecting democracy, is very successful. It has hundreds of thousands of followers. How would you explain to people in Western Europe, the readers of the Bulletin, that our democracy is in jeopardy?
We have a Prime Minister whose position is a major conflict of interest (as confirmed, among others, by the European Commission). He has the largest media influence and, thanks to an excellent PR team, also an enormous influence on public opinion.
His party ANO has the largest number of members of parliament, but since they do not form a majority even together with their coalition partner, the socialist party ČSSD, they cooperate with the communist party KSČM and, unofficially, also with extremists from an islamophobic party (SPD). This opens the door for dangerous social moods and helps bring to life and legitimize antidemocratic ideologies, enabling these to have a strong influence on Czech politics.
Another important problem is that people’s trust in state institutions, public media and even democracy as such is gradually growing weaker, which is also one of the results of Babiš’s propaganda. People are losing interest: they stop caring about and controlling politics. This trend is actively supported also by the pro-Kremlin President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, whose presidential campaign was built on using the widespread fear of foreigners and immigrants.
You keep pointing out new threats to democracy, yet the fact that the Czech Prime Minister is charged with EU subsidy fraud remains one of your main topics. Why is that?
The conflict of interest is the clearest way of demonstrating that the PM holds too much power in his hands.
Andrej Babiš is the real owner of Agrofert, one of the largest Czech companies, which strongly benefits from the PM’s position. The audit of the European Commission draws clear conclusions stating that Mr Babiš’s companies do not have sufficient legal grounds for drawing subsidies.
Right now, there is a very realistic risk that we will have to be paying these companies from the state budget – and that will concern all of us. The Czech state administration has not reacted in an adequate way and hasn’t taken the requested measures. At the moment, it seems that the state is serving Mr Babiš’s interests rather than those of its citizens.
However, it should be noted that Andrej Babiš is not our only topic. We want to awaken and interconnect local civic society, because we consider it a fundamental part of democracy, which will remain in place once Babiš leaves politics. We would like to create an environment in which politicians like Babiš, Zeman and others will not have a chance of succeeding.
What do you consider the most fulfilling about your job?
We have met so many outstanding, active people all over the country; we’ve been formulating the fundamental values that democracy stands on. It is also a wonderful feeling to be giving hope and positive energy to society.