Tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Prague’s central square, on Friday, to decry rampant inflation amid the Czech government’s support for anti-Russia sanctions and aid packages to Ukraine.
Media reports said:
The protesters called for direct gas talks with Moscow and the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his cabinet. Participants chanted “resign”, “resign” while waving Czechian national flags.
The latest rally follows two similar protests last month, including one that reportedly attracted an estimated 70,000 people.
The crowd in Wenceslas Square demanded an end to Czechia’s participation in anti-Russia sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, which has contributed to soaring energy and food prices.
“Russia is not our enemy, the government of warmongers is our enemy,” the Associated Press cited one speaker at the rally as saying.
A group named Czech Republic First, which has organized the protests, opposes NATO and has called for the country to adopt a militarily neutral stance.
“There is a new national revival, and its goal is for the Czech Republic to be independent,” Reuters quoted organizer Ladislav Vrabel as saying “When I see a full square, no one can stop this.”
Fiala’s government has shrugged off the protestors, calling them “pro-Russian” and accusing their organizers of listening to Russian disinformation campaigns.
Czechia joined NATO in March 1999, just days before the U.S.-led bloc attacked Yugoslavia, and became a member of the EU in 2004.
“We know who our friends are and who is bleeding for our freedom,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said on Friday in a Twitter post. “And we also know who our foes are, and we will not let them steal our patriotism.”
Czechia has been hit particularly hard by the European energy crisis, at least partly because of its historic reliance on Russian natural gas. Households in the country are reportedly incurring the second-highest electricity prices in the EU, behind only Estonia. Czechia’s inflation rate soared to 18% in September.
Similar protests happened last month.
A crowd numbered in the tens of thousands gathered in Prague on Sept. 28 to protest against the Czech government, NATO, and the EU.
Demonstrators called for Czechia’s neutrality and protested PM Fiala’s policy of sanctioning Russia, which has driven up energy prices.
The protesters chanted slogans against the EU, NATO and Fiala’s cabinet. Prague police would not give a specific figure of the estimated crowd size, calling it only “tens of thousands.”
The protest was organized by a group called ‘Czech Republic First,’ which Reuters described as a coalition of “far-right and fringe groups and parties including the Communists.” CRF opposes the EU and NATO and has called for Czechia’s military neutrality.
“A government has two duties: to ensure our security and economic prosperity. The government does not fulfill either of these duties,” said one unidentified speaker at the rally, according to Reuters.
A demonstrator named Pavel Nebel accused the government of being “absolutely anti-Czech” and serving only the EU, NATO, and “American power” at the expense of Czech interests.
The organizers said they intend to ask President Milos Zeman to disband the government and call for early elections, according to Lidove Noviny. It was the second such rally this month, after some 70,000 people took part in the September 3 protest, according to police. Similar rallies in other Czech cities drew hundreds of participants.
Czechia had joined NATO in March 1999, just days before the US-led bloc attacked Yugoslavia.
Price Rises Break Records
Inflation in the Czech Republic spiraled to a three-decade high in September on energy and fuel costs, the country’s statistics service reported on Tuesday. Year-on-year consumer prices climbed to 18.0% last month, up from 17.2% in August.
“This acceleration was the most influenced by items in housing, mainly by prices of energy and fuels, which were higher by almost 50%, year-on-year, head of Consumer Price Statistics Unit of CZSO, Pavla Sediva noted.
According to the statement, in September alone, consumer prices in retail stores surged by an average of almost 1%. During the current year, the rise in basic foodstuffs exceeded the overall inflation rate. The cost of wheat flour increased by almost 70% year-on-year, oils and fats — by more than 50%, milk and sugar — by about 50%.