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Extremist Republicans Make Gains in Czech Elections

Prague, June 3 (RFE/RL) -- The man getting on a Prague subway train Sunday morning seemed like a typical business. Dressed in a suit jacket, shirt and tie and carrying a briefcase, he carefully perused the four-page, Sunday special edition of the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes which analysed the results of the Czech elections of the previous two days.

After looking over the preliminary results on the front page he turned and said "isn't it great? Sladek came in third (actually fourth)."

Miroslav Sladek, the maverick doctor of philosophy, heads the extreme, ultra-right-wing Republican Party in the Czech Republic. He's been arrested for climbing the statue of St. Wenceslav during an illegal rally in Prague's main downtown square. He's refused to attend court proceedings on the charges. He's played taped applause and cheers through stage speakers during his rallies. His party supporters have illegally pasted over paid billboard advertisements of other parties. In the last parliament he lost most of his Republican party members to other parties and in the end his five remaining members have effectively boycotted parliament, not taking part in any votes. Sladek has openly called for the expelling of the Czech Republic's 300,000 Gypsy minority calling the Gypsies crimininals and "darkies." He campaigns on cracking down on crime and reinstating the death penalty and "getting even" with his adversaries in politics and the media.

And yet his party gained 18 parliamentary seats (tied with the Christian Democrats for fourth) and received just over eight percent of the popular vote.

The man who looked like a businessman on the subway did not try to defend Sladek's policies. "I'm not a racist or anything," he said. "It's just that he (Sladek) really gets under the skin of the politicians, gets right in their face, and you have to admire that."

That's just what Sladek was doing in the post-election debates.

First, he boycotted Saturday night's appearences on the country's two main television stations. His worker told Czech television "you've ignored us for four years, so now it's our turn to ignore you."

Sladek's first public, post-election appearance occurred Sunday afternoon when he barged into a live debate among the five other party leaders on Czech television. Fifteen minutes into the show, Sladek walked in front of the cameras, shook hands with his rivals and complained he got the far-left seat.

On the show he said the number of people disenchanted with the current political system and economic reforms is growing and he expected most of them to support his party.

He also said what many of his opponents feared, but may have to accept. "You will have to work with us, whether you like it or not."

Both the governing coalition led by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the opposition Social Democrats have said they will not work with the "extremist" Republicans under any circumstances.

Sladek shot back. "You have six parties here, and two of you say there is no way you will work with (us or the communists). That won't work. You won't put it (a coalition) together if you stand on your heads, without us."

The leader of the Social Democrats, Milos Zeman, responded that if he were a total pragmatist and all he wanted was a working government then he would support the ODS and shut Sladek out all together. But he added he was not ready to do that either.

Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus would not even comment about the Republicans. In an interview with Mlada Fronta Dnes, Klaus called the Republicans "an unknown entity, voting-wise and idea-wise."