Today is the day that Miloš Zeman appoints the new Czech government. It’s taken them 95 days to form a government, which is apparently a Czech record (for me, coming from the Netherlands, a little over three months of govt formation seems pretty run of the mill and I think it might be less than average!). This formation period being record long is at least partly (if not mostly) due to president Zeman running interference, as opposed to the parties finding it hard to reconcile their differences at the negotiating table. Normally, presidents just rubber stamp appointments, but in this case, Zeman announced that he would personally vet every candidate for a spot in the cabinet. He also said that he would delay appointing the cabinet until he recovered from an injury to his leg, because it was not dignified to appoint a government from a wheelchair…
Zeman also objected to the low level of expertise that he identified in some of the candidates, in particular Martin Stropnický, an actor who was ANO’s candidate for Defence minister. But his biggest qualm was with ANO’s leader, entrepreneur and billionaire Andrej Babiš. Babiš is listed by Slovakia’s ‘Institute of National Memory’, which hosts the archives of the communist-era secret service, as a collaborator. He has contested those claims but for the time being, even if some of the files themselves are no longer available (only the listings in the ‘evidentiary register’ remain), he will not be able to obtain a clean bill of past moral health, AKA a lustration certificate. The 1991 lustration law banned people who held a number of positions (including secret service collaborator) under the communist regime from taking up civil service positions in the new democratic regime.
Zeman, who previously opposed the lustration law, started out by saying that he would not appoint Babiš without a certificate; then he changed his tune a little bit, saying that if parliament committed to passing an alternative Civil Service Law, he would appoint Babiš. This Civil Service Law was drafted over a decade ago but has been shelved since; if passed, it would regulate employment in the civil service and provide an alternative to lustration. Many see lustration as outdated and no longer necessary, but political will lacks to get rid of it, because to question lustration is to seem weak on communism, a label that especially the social democrats seek to avoid. Parliament did a first reading of the law, meeting Zeman’s demand, so today, Zeman appointed the new government including Babiš. <brag>I’d like to point out that I’ve interviewed or at least met with four of the seventeen ministers during my field work.</brag>. But that’s not all.
In addition to being appointed Finance minister and deputy prime minister, Andrej Babiš also started his day in court today. The Bratislava court will consider the evidence provided by Slovakia’s Institute of National Memory (Babiš was born in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia and because his files are the archives there and they were published there, so is the court case, even if he is a Czech citizen now). The big question is whether Babiš knowingly collaborated, ie whether he agreed to collaborate and signed a document to that effect. While his opponents argue that Babiš is listed in the register as well as in some files (code name: Bureš), Babiš counters that the collaboration agreement that agents had to sign and that serves as the litmus test for ‘conscious collaboration’, is not there. Files go missing all the time, of course, but Babiš claims it never existed to begin with. It’ll be exciting to see what the court will rule.