Alibism and Leadership

More than any other nation in Europe, the history of the Czech people is marked by defeat. In 1938, standing behind barricades and ready to oppose Hitler, the Czechs were betrayed by their Western allies for a false peace. In 1968 they rose up again, but again the West turned its back. Whenever the Czechs started to believe in something, the rules suddenly changed and persecution began.When this happens repeatedly to a nation, the firm expression of stated beliefs and the desire to fight for them is eventually replaced by something entirely different: an absence of opinion and belief as a way to ensure conformity and hence, survival.Today, the Czech national trait is alibism. This explains why many Czechs choose not to vote, and why many more view their institutions as well as any sort of political process with inherent cynicism.

Alibism means that someone else is always to blame; in today’s post-1989 era, the offenders du-jour are the Communists, threatening a “return to old structures”. What return? They never left.

After WWII, Czechs were the only nation in Europe to elect the occupying Communists to power. During the subsequent years, it was we Czechs,and not Russian soldiers,who shot our brothers in the back as they tried to escape across the Iron Curtain.Today,we lead all democratic nations in the number of registered communists per capita. Without the Communist vote, Václav Klaus would not have been elected president.Without the support of the Communists, most of the resolutions of the conservative opposition party (ODS) would not pass in parliament. True, our parliamentarians did pass a resolution “condemning the communist past,” but as far as today’s Communists are concerned â enemies make for strangely quiet bedfellows.

Though we have learned much since the dark old days, our traumatic past and an absence of role models keeps us from truly moving forward. And so, we continue to cling to false truths. For example, the country’s most popular politician is its president Václav Klaus, who enjoys a 65% popularity rating. Those who support him laud his “strength” as well as his “upholding our nation’s interests.” Societies which are immature tend to gravitate to strongmen, be they good or bad. Since institutions and rule of law are lacking, such societies believe that if you cower before power, it will be kind to you. This may insure survival, but not democracy.

But one day, Klaus will indeed be rated as one of the worst presidents that the Czechs have ever had. Instead of serving as a positive role mode and unifying society, Czech historians will finally see that Klaus continued to present arrogant self-confidence and protectionism as desirable qualities. The day that Klaus’ true reckoning does come will be the day that historians will finally use to mark the end of the “post-1989 transformation period.”

For us to get to that point,we need to proceed in steps.Right now, the task at hand is not just in getting out and voting, but in voting correctly. If we look for hope to the political parties, which most of us view as beyond hope, we can expect only disappointment. But not so regarding individual citizen politicians. There are now a number of points of light,some new to the scene, such as Chairman Martin Bursík of the Green party. Just as Václav Klaus can stifle a nation,so too can a Václav Havel move it forward.The success of our transformation at this point lies not in immature systems or oligarchic political parties, but rather in individuals who are positive role-models and who have our interests at heart.It is they who must get our vote, irrespective of their party affiliation.

Martin Jan Stránský
Originally published in The Prague Post


The New Presencespring 2006

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