Racist populist billionaire Andrej Babiš has won the parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic with a landslide, taking 29.65%, nearly three times the vote of his nearest rivals.
Babiš is the second wealthiest man in the Czech Republic, owner of agriculture, food and chemical company Agrofert and media publishing firm MAFRA.
He has built the successful campaign of his ANO party – essentially a one-man band – on the back of racism against Muslims, immigrants and the Czech Republic’s embattled Roma minority, who suffer very severe discrimination. Babiš is often compared with US president Donald Trump, for both his racism and his claims that his own vast wealth “proves” he can run the country.
In the elections held in the Czech Republic on Friday and today, the conservative ODP came a distant second, taking 11.31% with the Pirate party on 10.79%.
Narrowly behind them came the far right racist populist SPD party set up by Japanese-Czech businessman Tomio Okamura after his previous Dawn coalition fell apart. Dawn had been moving in an increasingly fascist direction. The SPD is now a likely coalition party for Babiš’s ANO.
Babiš’s success comes with the collapse of the left in the Czech elections. The billionaire tycoon had previously been deputy prime minister and finance minister in coalition with the centre-left social democratic ČSSD, but the ČSSD prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka sacked him earlier this year, citing finacial misconduct.
But Sobotka’s gesture was too little, too late: his party had been happy enough to have business and media mogul Babiš as the coalition’s finance minister despite the conflict of interest involved. Voters were unimpressed.
The ČSSD’s vote has crashed down from 20.45% in 2013 to just 7.28% this time round, while the vote of the KSČM, which grew out of the old Czechoslovak Communist Party, fell from from 11.27% last time to 7.77%.
Babiš’s success, following the gains of the far right racist FPÖ party in Austria earlier this month, bring another central European country closer to the authoritarian far right governments of Hungary and Poland.
The depths of Babiš’s racism should not be in doubt. Last year he caused outrage by denying the Porrajmos – the Roma Holocaust, in which around half a million Roma people were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. In a speech in the town of Varnsdorf, he said:
There were times when all Roma worked. What these morons write in newspapers, that Lety was a concentration camp, is a lie, it was a work camp. Whoever did not work, whoosh and he was there.
It is Babiš who lied. Lety was a concentration camp that held Roma prisoners. Built in 1939 by the Czechoslovakian government, it was a labour camp for “criminals”. In 1942 the Nazis turned Lety into a Roma concentration camp – a second camp was built in Hodonín. Over 1,300 Roma were interned at Lety, more than 300 died there in inhumane conditions and 500 were transported to Auschwitz.
During the course of the war, a total of 4,831 Roma from Czechoslovakia were sent to Auschwitz. Of those, few survived. Estimates vary, but well over 4,000 Roma died there. It is estimated that in total, 90% of the Czech Roma population was murdered by the Nazis.
Babiš did not choose the site for his speech accidentally. In 2011 Varnsdorf was the centre of anti Roma riots organised by the Nazi Workers’ Party of Social Justice (DSSS).