Why Czech activists inspired by Brexit are now campaigning for an EU referendum

Why Czech activists inspired by Brexit are now campaigning for an EU referendum

The Czech Republic is home to people who treasure fundamental civil liberties and freedom. The majority of the population still remember life under the yoke of oppressive Communist rule and – contrary to the situation in many EU countries – we still value and preserve our civil liberties.

People don’t get arrested for posting on Facebook, our universities still support the expression of diverse political opinions and we enjoy the luxury of a flat rate-based tax system. But all these hard fought for liberties are under constant attack from unelected EU bureaucrats and are being slowly but surely eroded away.

Czech voters decided in a referendum fourteen years ago to join the European Union but were stripped of their right to approve the substantial change in EU rules represented by the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. The ramifications of this act have been hidden from the public for some time but have recently begun to surface.

Meddling in domestic political disputes, the introduction of immigration quotas and enforcing fixed tax brackets in terms of VAT have all made the general public realise our country is not run by our elected politicians – but by an unelected elite in Brussels, under the influence of a German Chancellor and French President.

We founded our political party seeking a referendum on EU membership on the premise of the very definition of the term “democracy”. In a democracy, politicians are accountable to their voters and this essential principle was annihilated by the Treaty of Lisbon. By surrendering their power and authority to the EU, the majority of Czech political parties lost all moral authority to lead the nation, making a referendum the only viable and democratic way for the people to make their opinion known.

The Czech political elite now realise this, and have hence become voracious opponents of the idea of a referendum. Yet our party is not even advocating “Czexit”; we are merely running in the upcoming elections in October with a pledge to stage a referendum and grant our citizens the right to decide the fate of their own country.

I personally never aspired to become a politician. But the accelerating deterioration of our civil liberties has compelled me into action. We founded a not-for-profit organisation called Czexit in 2016 whose sole aim was to shed some light on how the EU works and debunk the myths being perpetuated by our media. We intended to stir up a public discussion and support the political party that would embrace a referendum as its goal.

But as I mentioned above, all major political parties have solidly rejected the notion of a referendum, so after discussions with my colleagues and our donors we made the bold decision to found this political party to pursue our common objective. We were registered on 4th April and we launched our campaign on 1st June. The fact that our campaign is funded solely from private citizens’ donation puts us at a serious disadvantage compared to the traditional parties which are heavily subsidised by taxpayers’ money.

We are facing a large variety of other obstacles too. The purity of our idea provides virtually no room for the media to label us as xenophobes, racists or fascists. Some suggested we were planted by Vladimir Putin himself but it did not catch on. Then some other outlets tried to smear us as individuals, but that failed too. So they have adopted a simple but very efficient strategy of ignoring our existence.

The name of our party literally translates as “Referendum on the European Union” so just mentioning our existence would naturally start drawing attention to us and our cause. But polls conducted a year ago clearly showed that a majority of Czech citizens would vote to leave the EU and a referendum is the only viable way of achieving it.

Despite all the challenges we face, we believe we can succeed. There is a growing demand in Czech society for a referendum and we are the only ones competing in the upcoming elections with a referendum as our number one priority. Our electoral system is based on proportional representation with parties needing to reach a threshold of 5% of the vote to secure representation in the chamber of deputies. It will depend on turnout, but roughly a quarter of a million votes cast for us should suffice in order to reach that threshold and become a parliamentary party. We have embarked on a massive outdoor advertising campaign, while promoting ourselves through social media and paid banners on the most frequently visited websites.

As far as Brexit is concerned, I have a confession to make: I thought the influence of liberal London-based media and the vested interests of the Remain campaign in the UK would eclipse common sense and swing the vote in favour of the EU. But the result of the British referendum clearly demonstrated that if decent, ordinary, hard-working people stand up for what they believe, they can beat the special interests, the polling industry and the political and media elite. The outcome of the Brexit referendum was a huge inspiration for us in the Czech Republic and poured new hope into our veins.

Edmund Burke famously wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. Inspired by Burke and indeed the successful Vote Leave campaign in the UK, those of us in the Czech Republic who believe in democracy are now doing something which we hope will eventually allow our fellow countrymen to join the UK in taking back control.

Photocredit: Roman Boed