Czechs Don’t Want Democracy

In his book Respublica Bojema written in 1643, M. Pavel Stránský (probably no relation) wrote: “The Czech nation is both handicapped by faults and supported by positive traits.” As a result of the its history and location in the heart of Europe, the country helplessly watched itself be drawn into greater conflicts – both religious as well as territorial – which it could not influence due to its small size. The people consequently withdrew into themselves and thus excelled: today the Czech Republic has an unbelievable number of renowned composers, artists, leading scientists and sport superstars per capita. On the other hand, the country’s inward withdrawal hurt its ability to self-criticize and engage in constructive dialogue or compromise – the modus operandi of a healthy democracy.

Today’s Czech politicians are prime examples, arguing among themselves as six-year-olds would during a temper-tantrum, and ruining their EU presidency via internal government collapse. The recent communist past is of course the latest catalyst for today’s negative societal traits. What is now labeled as the “post-totalitarian syndrome” is characterized by the following: jealousy, absence of faith, a positive resonance with populist politics, unwillingness to confront change, a need for immediate personal and social gratification, absence of civic duty, and a preference for simple and authoritarian solutions over complex ones. Not only are such traits a product of the past, but they also influence choices of the future. Hence the frequent ping-ponging in post-totalitarian governments and societies as far as leadership and general direction is concerned.

Democracy takes time. A lot of time. When I presented the above in 2000 at the University of Innsbruck, Dr. Ernst Bodner, the famous “doctor of the presidents” told me that even in post-war Austria, a “true” democracy has yet to emerge. Instead, he noted that Austria still maintains a “rather sophisticated combination of personal intrigue and power.” A noted EU expert next to him chimed in that “today’s EU is so undemocratic, that if it had to accept itself, it would never stand a chance.”

As Churchill said, democracy is the hardest form of government. Its political system is totally dependent on a people’s state of mind, on societal culture, and on a nation’s history. For this reason, even for members of the EU like the Czech Republic or Poland or Hungary, democracy is a long haul – if for no other reason than the fact (as seen in Czech history) that the nation has never experienced democracy for more than twenty years at a given time. The thing is, you don’t really want something as complex as democracy to just appear. It must be learned.

Martin Jan Stránský


The New Presencesummer 2009

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