27. 9. 2004
Gross means it: politics without policies
New Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross “Really means it”; “He is a Social Democrat!” These are the messages he has decided he urgently needs to impart to Czech voters. The whole country has been covered with billboards featuring his face and these two “pressing” slogans.
This is bad news for the Czech political process. Gross has drastically lowered the level of Czech political discourse. He has rid it of any remnant of rational content, reducing it absolutely to emotional manipulation.
Politicians face a dilemma. Reality is intricate. Problems are complex and often difficult to tackle. Politicians' legitimacy is derived from the consent of voters, yet the voters will switch off if politicians try to explain the issues in too many words. It is generally recognized that politicians must show leadership. They are expected to simplify problems when communicating with citizens. Voters expect solutions — not explanations of why something is difficult or cannot be done.
Power without responsibility
This is all fair enough, but there are some limits. Over the past 15 years, Czech politics has degenerated into little more than an obsession with power. Officials in the main Czech political parties now form an exclusive, closed group of professional power-wielders. They seem to be much more interested in retaining power than in implementing any concrete policies.
Commentators have frequently noted that there is little new blood in Czech politics. Hence the disillusionment of the general public with most top-level Czech politicians. Ordinary people feel disenfranchised.
It seems that Gross has decided to tackle the problem of voter alienation by using public relations more effectively. He has long been a symbol of Czech politics based on superficialities rather than content, and Gross understands very well the importance of PR. As early as January 2001 — shortly after the controversial rebellion within Czech public service TV, which presented itself to the public as a struggle for freedom of expression — Gross opined: “It doesn’t matter what the issues really are in politics. What matters is what the public thinks about the issues, and the views of the public are controlled by the media.”
The rebels deposed the new management and — since they were in control of the media — they got away with it.
Stanislav Gross understands that the media can create a virtual world that a politician can use to his advantage. As interior minister, Gross used PR extremely effectively. It is common knowledge that the Czech police do not manage to solve many crimes. Czech police officers still use typewriters rather than computers. Have you ever heard Stanislav Gross being criticized for this? Gross won’t be held accountable as a politician. He doesn’t need to be.
Maybe Gross is just being rather contemporary. After all, politics around the world does seem to be degenerating into emotional manipulation. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a master of the art. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has long been accused of having replaced politics with advertising. U.S. President George W. Bush seems to have canceled the political process by deciding to wage an eternal war against terror.
Gross “Really Means It” — and his message is rather ominous, when you come to think of it.
Originally published in Czech Business Weekly HERE