Intelbrief / IntelBrief: Concerns Grow Over Political Stability in Europe Amid Ukraine Crisis
AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Earlier this month in the Czech Republic (Czechia), around 70,000 demonstrators descended on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square to protest against the country’s pro-Western government. The protest came just a day after the government survived a no-confidence vote, proposed by opposition parties following accusations that the government has failed to deal with acute energy crises and of the cost of living. 84 lawmakers voted to oust the cabinet, which was 17 votes short of the necessary majority. Demonstrators representing far-right and far-left political parties joined forces at the ‘Czech Republic First’ rally, demanding the resignation of the current coalition government led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala and expressing their outrage at pro-Ukrainian government following Russia. invasion. Protesters have demanded an end to Western sanctions against Russia, which they see as the root cause of soaring electricity costs that have plagued Europe since Russia limited gas supplies earlier this year .
At the protest, several banners read ‘The best for Ukrainians and two sweaters for us’ – referring to a tone-deaf remark by the country’s parliament leader in which she called on citizens to wear sweaters indoors because they face concerns over heating costs this winter. Furthermore, the slogan summed up the protesters’ frustrations with the 400,000 Ukrainian refugees accepted into the country and the significant aid provided by the Czech government to Ukraine, which protesters say is provided at the expense of Czech citizens. Zuzana Majerová Zahradníková, a figurehead of the far-right Eurosceptic Trikolora party, embodied this sentiment, saying: “Fiala’s government may be Ukrainian, may be Brussels, but it is certainly not Czech.
The atmosphere of discontent was punctuated by T-shirts, banners and slogans waved by demonstrators praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and expressing both anti-EU and anti-NATO sentiment. This imagery has led some Czech analysts and leaders to blame Russian propaganda for the protest, which used disinformation, misinformation and misinformation (MDM) as a key tactic to sway public opinion in his favor and blur the narrative. in favor of Ukraine. Prime Minister Fiala, head of the center-right government coalition, called the protest “pro-Russian” and contrary to national interests. Protest leaders and activists – representing groups as disparate as the right-wing populist anti-migrant Freedom and Direct Democracy party of the Czech Communist Party – refuted portrayals of protesters as pro-Russian propagandists, reiterating dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living, soaring energy prices, and the country’s membership of the EU, NATO, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
As inflation and energy costs have soared in recent months, the number of Czechs falling below the poverty line has doubled. These tangible economic difficulties, coupled with a sense of abandonment by the government and growing anti-establishment sentiment, created an ideal atmosphere for the politics of resentment. Taking advantage of this environment, far-right and far-left groups, with their seemingly incongruous policies, coalesced around pro-Russian positions. This union across the political spectrum reflects years of concerted efforts by Moscow, which has exploited frustrations with Brussels, discontent with both the establishment and governing institutions, and general societal divisions in Europe to cultivate politicians. and pro-Russian allies. With these sentiments seeming to resonate, many European leaders have begun to fear that popular support for Ukraine will wane as the economic costs of such support rise and the conflict drags on, especially during a winter when many citizens will have struggling to pay their heating bills. Moreover, this type of political mobilization is not isolated, as a ripple effect is underway, with far-right and far-left leaders in Germany planning similar protests against inflation and economic concerns. Protests could spread more widely across Europe. Ultimately, such developments underscore growing concerns among European leaders that soaring inflation and the current energy crisis could cause political instability, even in countries that previously enjoyed stable and reliable political environments.
Energy costs in Europe are reaching new records almost daily. The Czech Republic, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, called an emergency meeting on September 9 of EU energy ministers to find a bloc-wide agreement to effectively combat the electricity costs. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen then unveiled a plan proposing measures to cap revenues from low-cost electricity generators, such as wind and solar farms and nuclear power plants, and to force companies fossil fuels to share in the benefits of soaring energy prices. The proposed measures, which are still subject to change, would allow governments to use excess revenues from gasless power plants to help businesses and consumers pay their bills. EU energy ministers will negotiate the bloc-wide proposals and try to approve the measures at an emergency summit on September 30. Whether such action tempers discontent, lowers energy prices and inflation, and demobilizes merging far-right and far-left groups remains to be seen. being seen. However, the success of far-right populist parties in several recent European elections indicates that the sentiments expressed in Prague earlier this month could be a harbinger of political movements to come.