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Czech report
by Euro Reporter
2013-10-23 11:28:49
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Czech floating finger sends president message

As parliamentary polls get under way in the Czech Republic this week, artist David Cerny has floated a huge purple statue of an extended middle finger down the River Vltava in Prague. The outsized purple hand has been mounted on a barge floating on the river. It is pointed at Prague Castle, the seat of President Milos Zeman.

Mr Cerny has shocked and mocked politicians and public figures in the past, says the BBC's Rob Cameron. This latest piece is clearly his message to the leftist President Zeman and the political party recently set up by his supporters, our correspondent says.  It is unclear how long the finger will stay there; Cerny himself declined to say too much about the piece, telling reporters the gesture spoke for itself - what mattered, he said, was which way it was pointing.

President Zeman, meanwhile, is on an official visit to Ukraine and said he could not comment until he had seen it.  The Czech parliament was dissolved in August following weeks of turmoil in Czech politics. Prime Minister Petr Necas's government collapsed in June amid a bribery scandal, and a government of technocrats, formed by President Zeman in July and opposed by the main political parties, resigned in August.


Czech Republic is Europe's third-worst slave state

There are around 38,000 people in the Czech Republic suffering from enslavement, according to a hard-hitting report. The Global Slavery Index 2013 indicates that the Czech Republic is one of the worst-affected countries in Europe for modern-day slavery, with human trafficking, forced labour and other abuses contributing to the country receiving a poor ranking from the Walk Free Foundation. Among the 35 countries European countries analyzed, only Albania and Montenegro were found to have a more serious problem than the Czech Republic, taking into account factors such as population size. As well as having the third-worst slavery problem in Europe, jointly with Hungary, the country was ranked the 54th globally for enslavement out of 162 nations included in the survey. Nations such as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Angola and Afghanistan are said to have less serious slavery problems than the Czech Republic, suggested the report by the Australian-based group. The rankings are produced by combining the proportion of the population that is enslaved, the numbers in child or early marriages and the level of trafficking into or out of the country.

Suzanne Hoff, international coordinator for another rights group, La Strada, which has highlighted instances in the Czech Republic of rules being breached, said many people were surprised that what can be classified as slavery is still a problem in the world today. "I think some people feel, 'My god, what's happening?' It's existed for a long time … For forced labour, there are so many people in a vulnerable situation," she told The Prague Post. According to the Work Free report, about 37,817 of the Czech Republic's population of about 10.51 million is thought to be enslaved, which translates to around 0.36 percent of the total population. That sits in stark contrast to the figure for all European countries further west, where the proportion is less than 0.05 percent. Of all the world's modern-day slaves, 1.82 percent is in Europe, according to the Walk Free Foundation. In the present day, enslavement can involve forced labour, the sale or exploitation of children, debt bondage, in which children are forced to work for adults to whom their parents are indebted and human trafficking. Recently, German media highlighted the conditions said to face people from Bulgaria, Mongolia and Vietnam working for Foxconn in the Czech Republic, with reports drawing parallels with the situation in China, where Foxconn has faced critical reports over how staff are treated. While not suggesting the situation was an example of slavery, the reports did indicate some foreign workers worked long shifts for modest salaries and often were not aware of their employment rights. Foxconn rejected criticisms and insisted it complied with Czech and EU labour laws. Other reports have suggested that, in the Czech Republic, migrants from countries such as Bulgaria working for other employers have been forced to work more than 12 hours a day, denied health insurance and forced to sign contracts in a language they do not understand. Much of this employment is arranged by agencies.

Migrants are said to be more at risk of enslavement than the general population for several reasons. They are more likely to be involved with "less formalized" types of employment and they may be undocumented, meaning that labour laws are more easily flouted, said Hoff. "[Also] sometimes they have a lack of awareness and they know less about their rights because they work in another language, and the employers make use of this, and they have less choice. They're used to certain conditions in their home countries and are more willing to accept conditions other people wouldn't," she said. Within Europe, the countries said by Walk Free to have the smallest problem with slavery were Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, even countries such as the UK do have problems with human trafficking, with Czechs frequently the victims. A British government report last year said Czechs were among the top 10 nations in terms of citizens trafficked into the UK, and made up a particularly significant proportion of trafficked people working in factories and the food processing industry. It also noted that trafficking tended to involve misrepresentation rather than physical coercion, with promises made to individuals not materializing when they arrived in their destination country. For example, they might have been told they would be provided with housing and regular employment, but on arrival they are forced to give up their documents and may have to work long hours just for food and accommodation. Globally, Walk Free estimates that 29.8 million people globally, or nearly three times the population of the Czech Republic, suffer enslavement. This compares to an International Labour Organization estimate last year that suggested that worldwide there were 20.9 million victims of forced labour.


Can the Communist Party Take Back the Czech Republic?

The Czech Republic is one of the most successful members of the former Soviet Empire. Yet Czechs with whom I recently spoke fear liberty is in retreat. The former Communist Party might reenter government after elections later this month.  Czechoslovakia was “liberated” by the Red Army at the end of World War II. After the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, the so-called Velvet Revolution ousted the Czech Communist Party. Czechoslovakia soon adopted wide-ranging free market economic reforms and split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In March Milos Zeman became the country’s first popularly elected president. The former Social Democratic prime minister has roiled Czech politics by claiming ever more expansive authority.  Most dramatically, after the prime minister’s summer resignation President Zeman appointed a leftist government against the wishes of the parliamentary majority. The new cabinet lost a vote of confidence, but remains as caretaker until the upcoming election. 

The greater worry is the revival of the Communist Party. As memories of Communist repression fade, some Czechs long for the perceived stability of the past. The party’s revival is particularly incongruous because the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, or KCSM, remains largely unreconstructed. It is the only Communist Party in Eastern Europe which still unashamedly calls itself Communist. In 1996 the Party called its 40 year rule “one of the greatest periods of social and economic growth.” Two years ago the KCSM offered its condolences to North Korea after the death of Dictator Kim Jong-il in 2011. The Party has benefited from the collapse of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS)—the leading party on the right since it was founded by Klaus more than two decades ago. Scandal forced out ODS Prime Minister Petr Necas in the summer. Moreover, the Czech Republic has only begun to recover from a recession stretching back to 2011. 

The Communists see an opportunity to reenter government. Vice Chairman Jiri Dolejs said the idea of allowing the KCSM into government is “losing its taboo as a topic for conversation.” The Social Democrats long refused to cooperate with the KCSM in parliament. However, desire for power is causing the CSSD to rethink its policy. With the Social Democrats receiving close to a third and the Communists topping 20 percent in polls for the upcoming parliamentary election, the new government could involve either formal coalition or informal cooperation between these two parties. However, President Zeman might derail this simple outcome. Once a Social Democrat, he has established the Party of Citizens’ Rights Zemanovci (SPOZ), which appears likely to pass the five percent threshold and win seats in parliament for the first time. Other possible entrants include the Christian Democrats, the Greens, and a new party, Action of Dissatisfied Citizens 2011 (ANO 2011), established by billionaire entrepreneur Andrej Babis. Still, the mere possibility of a Communist revival generates concern. It would be a striking step by the heirs to the Velvet Revolution. The Czech Republic’s future obviously is up to the Czech people. Nevertheless, they should ponder carefully before entrusting their future to the party which so badly failed them in the past. Whatever the question, it is hard to imagine the Communist Party to be the answer.


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