The Beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?

For the Czech Republic, the year 2002 will be a deciding one. Either the forces of democratisation will win out, or the existing post-communist structures will tip the scales, thus further hampering the country’s progress, perhaps even fatally.

I’m not being abstract. The Czech political roadside is littered with concrete evidence: financial wrecks, usurpation of the political mandates, and centralization of power. The coutry has been singled out by Brussels for its poor progress against corruption and for its lack of transparency in privatization and business. A key player in this process is ODS party chairman Václav Klaus. Klaus and his party continue to consolidate their hold of power by maneuvers such as control of public and private media (via the parliamentary media council chaired by Klaus’ deputy Ivan Langr).

Meanwhile, Klaus remains aloof to any criticsm. He stands alone as the only politican who has not abandoned Vladimír Železný and his TV NOVA, despite the fact that Železný’s shortchanging of his American partners the CME group have been declared as illegal by an international arbitration panel. Could the reason for Klaus’ action be, as many claim, that Železny has incriminating evidence on Klaus and his party?

Like most politicians in the Czech Republic, Klaus sadly ignores the fact that he represents not just his ODS voters, but all of us. By his continued criticisms of the EU integration process, by his stronghold on his party and the machinations therein, and by his overextended presence on the political scene, Klaus has become one of the chief obstacles to continuing the process of furthering democratization in the Czech Republic. However, Klaus certainly isn’t the only politician who doesn’t respect the boundaries of political correctness. Like many Czech politicians, he knows that at home, borders can be bent and even crossed with impunity, given the right circumstances.

The ultimate outcome of Mr. Klaus and his bedfellows will be, to a large extent, determined by events following the upcoming appeals court verdict from Stockholm concerning the NOVA-CME case. With a negative decision expected, the Czech Republic – and therefore her citizens – will owe the US investor group up to 450 million dollars. Mr Klaus’friendships with people such as Železný will then come back and slap him in the face. Though the US is trying, via Ambassador Craig Stapleton, to urge the Czech Republic to compromise, the current government’s steadfast refusal only reflects its lack of political responsibility in dumping the issue onto the next government. Therefore, the upcoming elections in the summer of 2002, in which ODS is a front-runner, won’t be decided by the ODS party platform, but by negative issues around Mr. Klaus himself.

The second significant factor that will effect the course of the Czech Republic will be events that will (or won’t) take place concerning the presidency. Thus far, Václav Havel has done little to prepare the nation for a successor in 2003, nor has he launched a discussion regarding the future of the office itself. This, coupled with the fact that no politician has risen above the muck of Czech politics as a potential statesman, has created a void into which the ODS and their Opposition Agreement partners (the Social Democrats) have moved into as political squatters. We can be sure that these two parties are working through every possible election outcome so as to be able to place “their man” into this hitherto empty space. This, despite their own voter’s mandate that the president be elected directly by the people instead of by parliament and the Senate. The above two points, along with the upcoming summer election results, shall determine the path the Czech Republic will take. Should the political parties again not respect their voters’s mandates (as they did after the last elections, in which the opposition Social Democrats linked up with the ODS conservatives to control the parliamentary vote), one can be sure that the Opposition Agreement will be renewed, thus ensuring a continuation of the current post-communist status-quo, well into the future.


The New Presencewinter 2002

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