Jiri Paroubek (1952-) took over the Social Democracy at the worst time of crisis. The last months of PM Stanislav Gross were a disgrace. Being suspect of odd financial operations, Gross kept coming up with new, distinct versions of his story, until nobody believed him a single word. Not only was he forced to step down, he drew the party with him, drowning it in terrible ratings, leading to an inevitable catastrophe at the next elections. Here came Paroubek, a man mostly seen as a bureaucratic type, inoffensive yet not very interesting. The choice was a surprising success.
In terms of top- level politics, Paroubek appeared quite recently. It was 2005 that he, after a brief ministerial episode, became an MP and a leader of the Social Democrats. However, he did have a substantial position it the party and he worked in Prague municipality for over 14 years. There are voices suggesting that he established connections with Pavel Bém during the last years of his service as the financier. Both are known as technocrats and an unofficial cooperation is not out of the question- less so after Zeman and Klaus were able to agree to it during the years of the “Opposition Treaty”.
The new chairman proved to be good both at tactics in the backstage and handling of the media. His attitude towards journalist seems like a softer, somehow less aggressive and rater bored version of Milos Zeman. Soon he re-defined the roles of his companions- Bohuslav Sobotka is The Economist, Lubomír Zaorálek The Foreign Expert, Zdeněk Škromach The Man of the People, David Rath The Mad Dog- if someone in SD has to be really offensive, they release the Rath. Paroubek remains the Grand Manager. Smart, effective and transparent, if somewhat ridiculous.
Paroubek managed to lift the party’s ratings into levels few expected it to reach, given the Gross disaster. Not that there would be little controversy within reach: August 2005 was full of CzechTek, a semi- legal (and originally illegal) dance festival, which Paroubek had severely crushed by the police. Technically speaking, he didn’t, his Interior minister did. But he spoke in favor of a harsh police action and in politics, not only actions, mere words carry responsibility.
Apart of actions, his rhetoric skills, at least seemingly stable opinions, courage and Zeman- like one- liners earned him public support. He also has an ability to change a position and make it seem a perfectly sensible thing to do. For example in case of the US radar base, he stated that he personally has no problem with it, but that he will follow his party’s will. The party said no, so he said no as well, but he can hardly be accused of flip- flopping- after all, he said it in advance. He also regretted some of his statements, notably the CzechTek situation and his 2006 post- election speech, where he compared the ODS victory to the February 1948 Communist seizure of power. Needed to add, there was a suspicious timing of a police report leak, the so- called Kubice’s Report, which probably influenced the election results and since it was released, none of its accusations against Paroubek or his party were verified.
By the way, being hot- tempered seems to be a plus in Czech politics. The strategy of saying anything and then, if it’s too outrageous, releasing a reluctant apology, was practiced by several Prime Ministers of the Cezch Republic: Zeman, Paroubek and Topolánek. Klaus never had to do so, because his insults tended to be more subtle.
As an opposition leader, Paroubek seems content and his party’s doing well. Despite that fact, his position is no more secure than that of his rival Topolánek, given the fact that four of his party MPs already left the Czech Parliament left.