Vorträge zu “Tschechien vor den Wahlen”

January 13, 2002
19:00 - 21:00 CEST/CET

Dr. Cyril Svoboda
Dr. Pavol Fric
Dr. Cyril Svoboda
Vorsitzender der tschechischen christdemokratischen Partei (KDU-CSL)
“The Czech Republic before the elections 2002”
 Institute for Danube Region and Central Europe
Dear Friends,
I have been asked to say a few words on the theme of the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union. I know that this is no abstract issue for the inhabitants of Austria. It is connected with a series of question marks and I will attempt to answer at least a few of these.
I am addressing you as Chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, an organization with a history going back eighty years and permanence on the Czech political scene. Since its founding it was always a member of the ruling cabinet (except for a minor two-year interlude) and even during the infamous Communist era it was represented in parliament, albeit only formally. After the restoration of democracy in the Czech Republic in 1989 we contributed distinguished members to the ruling cabinet. For the last three and a half years, however, we have been in opposition, primarily as a consequence of the so-called opposition pact between the governing Social Democrats and the Civic Democratic Party, which has declared itself to be a contractual opposition. The opposition pact is an unsavory contribution by the Czech political scene to the history of political models. If there is interest in this issue, we can take it up in the course of the discussion. It is not a theme on which I wish to dwell in particular.
But I do consider it useful to outline the position of KDU-CSL on the Czech political scene right at the start. KDU-CSL is a part of the European People’s Party and we consider it extraordinarily important to follow the same direction in principle as our other partner parties. In the Czech Republic we are the sole bearers of Christian-Democratic political ideas.
Not only from the historical point of view, which is very strong in this country, but above all from the point of view of the future, we consider it extraordinarily important to have the best possible relations between our two countries. I consider our mutual relations as a matter of priority also on our way to an integrated Europe. My credo is not the mere maintenance of relations; I wish to improve them. This is something I spoke about with the Chancellor of the Federation and I see mutual interest, and thus favorable prospects.
The Czech Republic submitted its application to join the EU in 1996. This year we intend to close all chapters of the pre-accession negotiations. You are well aware of our ambitious goal—to join the EU in 2004.
There is no real alternative for the Czech Republic to EU accession. KDU-CSL is a party that has been clear on this issue over the long term. We were part of the ruling cabinet when the application for membership was submitted, we strove for this application to be submitted and we continue to be in favor of the Czech Republic’s accession; we are also in favor of the continuation of the integration processes within the EU.
I believe we represent the majority opinion in our country. For this reason and due to our long-term attitudes in relation to the EU we feel entitled to have our representative in the EU Convent for the Czech Republic.
Most of the Czech Republic’s political representation is in favor of accession at the earliest possible date. As might be expected, problematic attitudes are held by the Communists; unfortunately such views are held by the Civic Democratic Party as well. We are nevertheless convinced that most voters will approve EU accession in a referendum. We will to everything in our power to attain this objective. For the Czech Republic this will be a basic political confrontation. The Christian Democrats have for a long time had a vision of a Europe in the process of integration, which continues much further than just economic cooperation and the free movement of capital, persons, services… We have no reason to conceal from you, our friends, the fact that at home we are engaged in a political confrontation on this issue precisely with the Civic Democratic Party. That party advocates returning the EU to just a free economic zone and customs union. Let me document and illustrate this point by a citation from the basic foreign policy document of the Civic Democratic Party, elaborated by that party‘s shadow minister of foreign affairs, Jan Zahradil. It states:
“Contrary to the idea of the Czech state are therefore those problematic concepts of European unification that originate from other than liberal-democratic principles. These include, besides previous extremist fascist or Marxist visions of European unification by force, also today’s centrally distributive European Social Democrats and Christian-Democratic politically centralizing Catholicism.”
Here is the root of our different positions on our country’s foreign orientation. This is also one of the causes of the internal political discord between KDU-CSL and the Civic Democratic Party.
There are numerous issues on which we differ in principle: for your information I would like to state that the Civic Democratic Party is for the second time now quite seriously putting forward a proposal for the introduction of a flat-rate income tax in the Czech Republic. That is for us a completely absurd concept, regardless of the fact that we consider it to be quite incompatible with the tax system practiced in the EU member countries.
I consider it important to inform you, the prominent members of the ELS, of these facts. It is perhaps one of the paradoxical features of the Czech political scene that the centrist KDU-CSL has more serious and more fundamental disputes with a rightist party than with the leftist Social Democracy. While we differ from the latter on principle, in the main practical interest—the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU—we have fewer problems with CSSD. Also the resolution by the highest authority of KDU-CSL from the autumn of last year clearly states that “the approach to the EU is and will be decisive for our cooperation prior to the elections and afterwards.”
On the issue of European integration we are in full agreement with our partner in the Four-party Coalition, Freedom Union. That is one of the reasons for the existence of the Four-party coalition.
I have defined the beginning and the vision of our coalition at one of my lectures in April of 1998. I am a supporter of the coalition, which will represent two currents side by side, a Christian-Democratic current, represented by our party, and a liberal current, represented by the Freedom Union.
The second, and in my view the most important reason, is the program compatibility, even though not identity—and this I emphasize—between KDU-CSL and Freedom Union.
We have a long-term ambitious plan: to become the dominant force on the non-leftist part of the political spectrum, thus becoming the counterweight to the dominant leftist force, CSSD, instead of today’s Civic Democratic Party. The intent is succeeding—in 2000 the four-party coalition won the elections to the Senate, we gained 5 governors of the regional assemblies out of 13. All five governors are members of KDU-CSL. This illustrates that KDU-CSL is the driving force of the Four-party Coalition. The Chairman of the Senate is Dr. Pithart, also from KDU-CSL. In public opinion surveys we have been in the leading position for the last two years.
But back to European integration. In my view this process must continue. There is actually no other way in today’s world, which is becoming ever more closely interconnected. Europe must not lose the place it has occupied in world affairs for a millennium in the world due to the inability of politicians to agree. And that is precisely the issue. Europe must become the motor of ideas, of technical progress as well as an example of respect for the individual, of solidarity and of subsidiarity. It must develop its Christian foundations of its value system. Without this it will not succeed in the competition of other cultures. There are not so many Europeans that they could afford being as factionalized as they are today.
Despite this, or perhaps for this very reason, it is essential to attend to maintaining national diversity, culture—national identity, if you wish. It is my view that it is precisely the diversity, variability and mutual interplay of the individual cultures of Europe that was the motive force of all of its historical pre-eminence.
The opposite views espoused by the Civic Democratic Party—views damaging our national future, views that are incompatible with the preservation of the influence of Europe in the world, are a fact. In this way the Civic Democratic Party is excluding itself from our post-election coalition plans.
Our relations with the EU will be one of the most important themes of our election campaign and will be the decisive moment for the make-up of the next governing coalition.
The Czech Republic’s accession to the EU will be benefit both our country and the Union’s current members, starting with our immediate neighbors. The market and the combined economic strength of Europe will increase—despite the fact that our standard of living is lower than yours and our economy is not so productive. There will be an increase in the qualified work force, the factual frontiers of Europe will shift eastward. This will increase European security. The concerns of our neighbors due to competition by cheaper labor from the Czech Republic are not substantiated. Typically, Czech people prefer to work close to where they live. Their proverbial unwillingness to move in search of work causes difficulties even in our own country.
The economic situation in the Czech Republic has, of course, been marked by 50 years of servitude. Our standard of living and efficiency is about two thirds of the level of the EU.
However the process of transformation to a standard economy, which has now lasted for ten years, has brought tangible results—and this despite a number of mistakes that accompanied it. It can be realistically anticipated that the Czech Republic will no longer mean an economic burden for the EU, but rather an asset. It is starting to work effectively and that is good news for all Europeans. That, of course, does not mean that over the next several years we will catch up with the standard of living prevalent in the EU. However in a growing number of localities the standard of living will quickly approximate that of the EU. Already today, for example, the capital of the Czech Republic is about 15% above the average EU standard of living.
As Christian Democrats we realize that the development of the national economy and the effort to achieve real economic growth must be built on a preservation of society’s social cohesion and improvements in the environment. That is also EU policy.
With respect to improving the environment, the Czech Republic has achieved a major improvement over the last 10 years, be it with respect to the quality of water, the air or the soil. That is surely of interest also to our neighbors. We regret the fact that these clear positive aspects, which are surely of importance for Austria, tend sometimes to be drowned out by the less than objective rhetoric on Temelín. I hope there will be a positive turnaround in this regard.
It is my view that good relations between the Czech Republic and Austria will also contribute to the well being of the European Union. For this reason let us continue in developing everything that is positive between our countries, let us look for further opportunities. Let us not be content with the current situation. If we will be part of the ruling cabinet after the elections in June of this year—and from the available information it is a fair guess that we will be—then on our part we shall do all that is in our power to energize our mutual relations to the benefit of the citizens of our two countries as well as of the entire family of European nations. I believe that the Austrian government perceives the matter in the same way. Our shared history gives us a solid base on which to build on.

Pavol Fric
Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences
Centre for Social and Economic Strategies
Why the Czechs Lacks their Society Development Visions?
“The Czech Republic before the elections 2002”
 Institute for Danube Region and Central Europe
January 13, 2002
In the Czech Republic the system of parliamentary democracy with the adequate institutional infrastructure, with rules of political life and set of standard political parties was established during the last twelve years. The Czech economy was successfully transformed from the central planed type to market one. These two sentences one can mostly hear as an answer to the question: „What was actually in the Czech Republic really achieved after the communist regime was destroyed? But with each new elections from the midst of nineties, Czechs more and more painfully put themselves the question: „What is the next place we shall go?“ From the top political sphere they are already eight years listening the same monotonous answer: „Now we can expect only economic growth and further systematic societal changes are not so much desirable!„ Political commentators criticize this situation as an absence of visions of the Czech society development. On the other hand, inhabitants think that the political parties have their vision but the parties do not like to speak about it because it is a very conservative vision, vision which preserves almost all power to political parties and poor position for citizens.
Informal political participation is not desirable
This is because among the decisive part of politicians an archaic image about political system won. On their opinion the political system should just work on the basis of strict formal representation. That means on the basis of political party representation without any elements of direct democracy or informal citizens participation. The main political parties – the last right wing coalition and the present factual coalition of the two most powerful parties – are openly against civil society organizations efforts to participate on public policy. They think that the effort has no legitimacy, because the representatives of these organizations were not elected. Therefore they closed the political system for the civil society organizations and recommend them to take part in the elections. But from the point of citizens’ political self-realization the formal election act has only episodic character and thus is not sufficient to solve the problem of interests’ representation in a modern democratic society. Programmatic co-operation between the political institutions and civil society organizations based on partnership almost does not exist in the Czech Republic. Ambitions of civil society organizations to aggregate citizen’s opinions and to articulate interests of different groups are parties seen as a threat by dominant political parties. That means the threat of the origin of corporate state.
Thematic conservation of the political agenda
Together with suppression of civil society influence on public policy the thematic agenda of the political system has been conserved. Important topics of modern society development as for example „mixed economy“ „sustainability“ „community development“ „social exclusion“ or „inter-sectoral partnership“ are overlooked. Therefore the political system is not able to react on the present challenges of societal life. The Czech public discourse is too much concentrated on economical problems, internal political parties questions or on inter-party relations.
One among the biggest deficits of the Czech society is the very low scale of decentralization. Long lasting centralization and underestimation of the subsidiarity rule also had very strong influence on the thematic conservation. The basic turnover in this way has not been expected even in the case of established regional councils, because the new election act prefers political parties candidates. Independent ones can candidate only on the list of any political party. The thematic conservation of political agenda has another source. This is the factual coalition of the two dominant political parties, which on the left-right political spectrum take the opposite places. Formally established agreements between the leftist Social democratic party and rightist Civil democratic party means that important topics are bargained on the platform of the parties´ headquarters and not in the parliament. Thus parliament as an arena of free contest of political parties does not work and is rather the necessary democratic front (facade), which gives legitimacy to the political parties decisions which was adopted out of the parliament. It is not surprising that public trust to the members of parliament is very low (28%).
Corruption symbiosis of elites
The Czech public sees politics as a closed, technocratic and tricky game of political parties. In mass media politicians are often presented as corrupted technocrats who take only care about their own interests or interests of their political parties. During the last four years a basic turnover in the mass media picture about the ruling political parties has happened – former loyalty was changed by sharp criticism. Political, bureaucratic and economic elites make decisions about the rules how to solve economic problems. Weakness of economic control mechanisms, noncontroled political party financing, nontransparent distribution of state subsidies, massive deviations of the procurement act together with the absence of the conflict of interests act, shows that political, bureaucratic and economic elites formulate the rules in the way which allowed them to have hidden and immoral profit from their positions. There is no doubt that many never solved corrupt cases and scandals are the best signals of corruption symbiosis of our power elites. Corruption works as added distribution mechanism, which creates two categories of inhabitants: corruption winners and corruption losers. The first group has good access to the lucrative corrupt transactions and the second one are the victims of these transactions. In this respect we can find deep rooted feelings of injustice, envy and moral indignation in.
Most of Czechs see the causes of dissemination of corrupt practices as the failure of political elites. By the majority of respondents in public opinion surveys the main disseminators of corruption practices were not the former communist governments but new democratic governments. The worst position in the eyes of the Czech public has actual social democratic government of Prime Minister Milo? Zeman. This is true in spite of the fact that the social democratic party started its last election campaign with the slogan: „Clean hands!“ and fight corruption is one of its main programme pillars. Its not a very effective approach to solve corruption problems started among inhabitants to disperse a strong suspicion, that the social democratic government has no real interest in solving these problems. The outcome of the fight against corruption was that the social democratic government very quickly became a participant of corrupt transactions in the eyes of a large part of the Czech population. In the year 1999 only 3%[1] of the Czech population thought that the Zeman government is the cause of dissemination of corrupt practices in society. At the end of the last year it was 39%.
Neither the Václav Klaus’ governments from the years 1992-8 were seen very positively. At the end of the last year 29% of the respondents accused them to be the main purpose of the dissemination of corruption. On the other hand the corruption image of communists governments is going to be weaker and weaker. Political parties in the Czech Republic are famous for their corruption scandals. But a great deal of the Czech population have benevolent attitudes to the political corruption. By the opinion of the 41% of respondents a political party in the Czech Republic could not work without corruption. No corruption in their eyes means the bankruptcy of the political party. Therefore they do not mind political corruption so much. It is sorrowful that Czech people are not so much angry about deviant behaviour of the political elite and rather criticize the economic differences between politicians and ordinary men. They tend to see injustice in the great and easy reached corruption opportunities for the elite members in comparison with small and hard approached corruption opportunities for ordinary men.
Loss of trust?
The negative picture of politics as a partisanship is mainly supported by intellectuals who do not want to reconcile with the role of mire observers of political life. On the other hand, in spite of the mass media and the intellectual elite pressure the set of parliamentary parties is very stable. The election participation is relatively high in comparison to the Western European countries. Voting preferences of parliamentary parties are also on the standard level. The picture of deep trust crisis into the political system seems a rather artificial product of mass media than of reality. The Czech public still hopes that the actual spectrum of parliamentary parties is able to preserve public interests. Of course we cannot overlook the fact, that big parts (33%) of the voters feel to be caught in the trap of actual conditions of our political system, because there is no other real offer than to vote for one of the parliamentary parties. Civic initiatives still are not able to transform the civic discontent with political parties into the effective pressure on the political system. Lack of political culture and the failure of civil initiatives to enter into the political system caused that public is not efficient tool for control of immoral practices of political parties.
Coming to the end of my speech let me ask some question about the main topics of the coming elections of this year. Can we hope that among them will be also the new visions of the Czech society modernization? Will the pre-election campaign mean the struggle about the character of public service reform? About the shape of participative democracy? About the real power decentralisation? About the effective strategy how to combat corruption? Or will it be just a struggle about the positions inside the political system? Personally I am very sceptical and I think that the next parliamentary elections will not bring any basic ideas on the further development of the Czech society. Simply our political parties have no interest to change the status quo.
[1] Here and in other cases I use the data collected by public opinion agency GfK Prague.