Toward a real democracy

The Czech Republic must shed its status as a post-communist country. Czechs have witnessed many significant milestones over the past 10 years, including the establishment of democratic institutions, open elections, the smooth split of Czechoslovakia, Radio Free Europe’s move to Prague, NATO membership, and most importantly, freedom. However, today’s Czech Republic is still a post-communist rather than a fully democratic country. There are several reasons for this. First, former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus’ economic transformation was only a caricature of capitalism, since the government’s delay in privatizing key sectors meant that too little financial and expertise capital was introduced.

The active emphasis on economic determinism led to neglect in developing a civic sector, supporting moral values and enforcing the law. Without legislative and judicial protection of public interests, freedom of speech and freedom of the press had only dead-end streets to explore. Second, one should consider what did not happen a decade ago. In the Czechoslovak Federal Republic, there was no revolution, only a shuffling of the guard; the main actors gave way to those in the wings. Overall, the actors remained the same. Third, the speed with which countries abandon communist thinking is determined by the strength of their adherence to it. In Poland, Solidarity began to erode communism in 1980; in Hungary, capitalist marketing emerged 10 years before that. In 1989, the Czechs were stouter communists than the Poles and Hungarians. There is also historical tendency. Czechs have displayed adaptability without resistance. In understanding and experiencing democracy, the average Czech is closer to those east rather than west of him. Change is in the air Czech politicians have continued to focus on party politics and personal gain, refusing to give way to a process of give and take for the benefit of their electorate.

Klaus’ attempts at constitutional reform and his proposal to reorganize electoral districts are but two examples of initiatives cooked up in party chambers, approved by a minority puppet government held hostage by an opposition agreement, and scheduled for Parliamentary vote without any voter interaction whatsoever. If the citizen dares to protest, he is told by Klaus and Prime Minister Milos Zeman to shut up or offer a better solution. Such arrogant behavior is in no way different from that of communist apparatchiks when Charter 77 was unveiled more than 20 years ago. Luckily, people are noticing. The election of Vaclav Fischer as an independent senator on the one hand, and the rising popularity of the Communists on the other, reflect the current anti-establishment feeling. The formation of the Impulse 99 citizens’ lobby and the Thank you, now leave! appeal which drew more than 200,000 signatures, are added signals that real change is in the air. Where do we go from here? First, we should reflect on the recent past under communism.

For true recovery to take place, there must be a reconciliation with the communist past and an application of justice that will finally delineate the boundaries within which society can operate. However, this justice should be applied in a reconciliatory and restorative way, not out of retribution. The festering wounds of betrayal and hate must be opened so they can finally begin to heal. To that end, mechanisms such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa are invaluable. Second, European Union entry and integration into Europe’s system of legal, moral and spiritual values must be paramount. Strengthening the role of the church will help, since atheism is incompatible with democracy – not because of faith in God, but because of the importance of understanding the principles of faith and belief. Good deeds should be publicized; a nation that lived to destroy something must now learn to create. This, in turn, will help support a national identity that goes beyond pride limited to gold-medal winning hockey teams. In his Oct. 28 speech marking the anniversary of Czechoslovak independence, President Vaclav Havel said the country is at its most important moment. I believe the Czech instinct for seizing a golden opportunity will again prevail. A better option simply does not exist. – The writer is a doctor, publisher and director of the Impulse 99 citizens’ lobby. 


The Prague Post29.12.1999

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