Czech protests largest since fall of Communism

EPA-EFE//MARTIN DIVISEK

A man waves with Czech national flag as more than one hundred thousand demonstrators gathered to protest against Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague's historic Wenceslas Square, site of the 1989 Velvet Revolution protests, the Czech Republic, 4 June 2019.

Czech protests largest since fall of Communism


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An estimated 120,000 protestors gathered in the Czech capital, Prague, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš amid allegations that he allegedly misused EU subsidies worth millions of euros and that he and his new justice minister were compromised by conflicts of interest.

The massive protest, which was organised by a Czech-based Facebook initiative known as A Million Moments For Democracy, filled Prague’s historical Wenceslas Square and was the largest of its kind since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ushered in the fall of Communism.

The organisers of the demonstration have been hosting anti-Babiš protests every week since the end of April. During the 4 June gathering, the participants carried signs with photos of Babiš and emblazoned with the word “resign” and “prime minister or crime minister?” across his face.

Babiš has vehemently denied all of the accusations he’s facing and publicly denounced them as a political smear campaign aimed at bringing down his administration.

In April, police recommended that Babiš be charged with EU subsidy fraud. The Czech Republic’s justice minister, Jan Knezinek, resigned that same month and was replaced with Marie Benesova. Protestors are concerned Benesova, however, has come under intense criticism from opposition activists who believe she is actively working to hinder the investigation into Babiš’ activities, which include his involvement in an industrial Agrofert conglomerate that he transferred over to two EU-subsidised trust funds before he came to power in 2017.

A European Commission report on the scandal, leaked on 31 May, claimed Babiš still has “decisive influence” over the conglomerate and has illegally and unfairly continued to benefit from Agrofert’s business and use of subsidies since he became the Czech prime minister.

“Babiš is the beneficial owner of the Agrofert group companies and, since February 2017, of the two trust funds that he fully controls, and therefore has a direct economic interest in the success of the Agrofert group,” the Commission’s report said.

A Million Moments for Democracy plans to hold another protest on 11 June 2019 in Brno, 200 kilometres of Prague.

Babiš has courted controversy for much of his public life. In January 2018, a court in the Slovak capital Bratislava ruled that Babiš collaborated with the StB, Communist-era Czechoslovakia’s feared secret police, using the code name Bureš. As an StB agent, he was reportedly a member of one of the intelligence service units that was most closely linked to the Soviet KGB.

Opposition activists and foreign journalists who specialise in the former Eastern Bloc have pointed to his alleged support for Russia’s 2014 invasion and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea region Crimea, and his opposition to international sanctions against Moscow, as proof that he remains closely tied to the Kremlin’s clandestine services and acts as a staunchly pro-Russian politician deeply embedded within the European Union.

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