Secret Police Skeletons

By now it’s reached the cliché-stage to call the new presumptive Czech Republic prime minister, Andrej Babiš, the “Czech Donald Trump.” Sadly, people like to do so – among other, obvious, reasons – because the comparison is so true. The main aspect here is that Babiš is also rather rich, said to be the second-richest person in the country, so that a great part of his political appeal undoubtedly is voters’ confidence that someone who has been so successful in his personal financial life must be able to perform in the same way for the country.

Oh, and he also does not hold back when it comes to advancing those private financial interests using his public powers; we know that from his record as Treasury Minister in the outgoing government.

But now the leading Czech business newspapere, Hospodářské noviny, brings up another parallel people may have started to forget: Babiš’ unsavory pre-Revolution past.

“Agent Bureš”: That was said to be Babiš’ code-name in filed reports about his alleged collaboration with the StB, the Czechoslovak secret police back in the bad old Communist days, dating from when he was reported to have sat down as a 28-year-old in 1982 at a specific cafe in downtown Bratislava to sign a collaboration agreement. Now, Babiš’ own father was a high-ranking Czechoslovak Communist official, in fact a diplomat, meaning that young Babiš mostly lived and was educated abroad. Naturally, he then grabbed an excellent regime job as a young adult, working for the Slovak international trade company and even representing it for a while in Morocco.

So working secretly for the regime in some way was pretty much baked-in for Andrej Babiš. The real question is: How enthusiastically?

It won’t surprise you that it is basically that question around which a number of Slovak court cases have raged, as Babiš has tried to clear his name. Three times a court has declared that the evidence indicated he hadn’t been such a great worker for the Communist regime – yet that “evidence” was pretty much only the testimony of people within the StB who knew him and wanted to vouch for him. Only three weeks ago, no less than the Slovak Constitutional (i.e. “Supreme”) Court threw out those previous judgments, ruling – not unreasonably – that the doubtful credibility of his StB comrades was not enough of a solid basis for them.

Now, in addition to the daunting task of forming a minority government that can win the required confidence-vote from the Czech parliament, Babiš has the added task of proceding yet again in court to try to clear his name. Please note, again, that we’re talking here about Slovak courts, because he lived/worked in Slovakia at the time and it is the Slovak secret-police archives which contain the incriminating material about his past.

Including, as this HN piece points out, twelve separate reports on his collaboration activities, some of which praise Bureš as “one of our most reliable agents” . . .

Does It Even Matter?

The more astute among you will now be saying to yourselves, “Aha, what a coincidence that the Constitutional Court issued its ruling just now, right after Babiš’ party “won” the latest Czech elections to make him the presumptive new Prime Minister! And yes, unfortunately in this part of the world the political is often to be found not very far away from matters of criminal justice.

Those among you even more in-the-know (to the point, frankly, where it may not be much value-added to you reading me on Czech happenings) will recall that Babiš was already in trouble in the run-up to the election about a completely unrelated matter (and not mentioned in this HN piece), namely the “Swan’s Nest” affair in which it strongly appears that he misappropriated EU money towards the cause of private resort-property he owns in the Czech countryside. There was even a warrant out for Babiš’ arrest about this as everyone was campaigning for the election (see what I mean?).

Of course, his ANO party came in first nonetheless. If he does become PM (and remember that few other parties seem to want to work with him to form a coalition government), then the Swan’s Nest accusations – no matter how legitimate – are likely to die an obscure death (although I wonder how he’ll be able to look fellow EU leaders straight in the face). On the other hand, note that all the court action and archives happening in Slovakia mean that he may not have any particular advantage when it comes to dealing with that.

Even if he can’t deal with that, in the end, it’s likely not to matter. After all, there have long been plenty of worrisome indications about his StB past, no matter how Slovak courts may have ruled. Not to mention Swan’s Nest. But much of the Czech electorate didn’t seem to care.* And so the country is likely stuck with this rich guy, of a questionable background, in it’s most powerful position for at least the next electoral cycle. Like everyone says: the Czech Trump.

* I am pleased to report at least that there are no indications in Babiš’ past of any sort of uncivil behavior towards women!

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