Overage Drinking in Parliament

Bring Your Own Booze to a Major Vote

By Jackson Chiappinelli

Courtesy from Petr Josek

Sober or tipsy? Czech Parliament in action. Photo courtesy of Petr Josek

PRAGUE – You typically can’t drink beer in the classroom or in your office, but up until March you could potentially get plastered in the Czech Parliament and still be responsible for votes that would determine the country’s future.

Early in the month the sale of alcohol on the premises of Parliament in the Czech Republic was banned for the first time in 24 years. Jan Hamacek, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, put the ban into effect. The Chamber, or Parliament’s lower house, is comparable to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“There has been too much drinking during parliamentary sessions,” Hamacek told Prague Wandering during an exclusive interview in his Parliament office, not too far from a nearby refreshment booth downstairs.

Prior to the ban, members of Parliament were able to purchase a bottle of liquor or a few half-liters of beer before taking their seat for session, even before voting on major governmental issues.

European Union members like Germany, France, as well as the United States have long kept legislative sessions and alcohol consumption separate.

“We view it as normal that employees elsewhere don’t drink alcohol at work,” Jaroslava Jermanova, the deputy speaker of Czech Parliament told the Wall Street Journal.

But not all legislators were pleased with the ban. Miroslav Kalousek, leader of the center-right TOP 09 party and a veteran, has never denied his fondness for alcoholic beverages. He told the Czech News Agency that Hamacek’s alcohol ban has denigrated the Chamber of Deputies.

In 2009 a left-wing deputy, David Rath accused Kalousek, then finance minister, “of not being absolutely sober” during a political debate.  Kalousek responded, “I am willing to admit, in the frame of the humbleness of parliamentary discussion, that I get sometimes drunk, but you behave like an asshole. The difference between both of us is that I can sleep it off ‘til the next day.”

Courstey of Michal Cizek

President Milos Zeman is no stranger to drinking on the job. He has been accused of showing up to official events inebriated. Photo courtesy of Michal Cizek

Inebriated politicians are not a novelty in the Czech Republic. Czech President Milos Zeman has at times appeared drunk on the campaign trail and even at official events. In a YouTube video from 2013 titled, “very funny drunk Czech president”, Zeman is shown almost falling flat on his face surrounded by colleagues and assistants. The president, 69, is known for preferring the Czech spirit Becherovka, which has become a part of his public identity.

“I am willing to admit, in the frame of the humbleness of parliamentary discussion, that I get sometimes drunk, but you behave like an asshole. The difference between both of us is that I can sleep it off ‘til the next day.”

Perhaps the most infamous case of parliamentary drunkenness dates back to 2003, when the deputy Petr Kott was allegedly so drunk that he missed a key vote. Due to this incident his party, the conservative civic democrats, excluded him altogether.

Despite the recent ban on selling alcohol within the building, it does not mean that the deputies are prohibited from drinking while the Parliament is in session.

“They can still go to a pub down the street, or even bring their own alcohol purchased outside of the building,” Hamacek said.

The Czech Republic drinks the most beer per capital in the entire world according to a study by U.S.-based CNBC television network in 2009.

Beer is also cheaper than bottled water in many Czech restaurants, making it an ideal lunchtime beverage choice. But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks it’s okay to drink and vote.

Michaela Kubatova, a student at Charles University in Prague, was appalled that the parliamentarians of her nation were drinking while lawmaking.

“It sounds ridiculous,” Kubatova said. “The fact they can even drink during session doesn’t make sense. It reminds me of a college party where you can bring your own alcohol.”

“They can still go to a pub down the street, or even bring their own alcohol purchased outside of the building.”

So will the deputies now BYOB—the American tradition of bringing your own booze to a restaurant? Some suspect the ban will have no effect on those who want to continue partying during legislative hours.

“Those guys were plastered all the time, let them sneak in a flask because the problem of drinking isn’t going away,” said Dr. Milan Sasek, an internist whose practice is just a few tram stops from the majestic, wide-stretching Parliament building, riverside in Prague’s Mala Strana quarter.

 

Jackson Chiappinelli is in the NYU CAS class of 2016. His hometown is Pittsford, New York.

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Categories: Spring 2014 Issue Number 2

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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