Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 10, 30 August 1999

hopes of early Czech entry going up in smoke C Z E C H   F U D G E:
Nothing but Nation

Pavel Tychtl

The Czech Republic is supposedly one of the more advanced nations of Central and Eastern Europe and is theoretically in the fast track for rapid accession to the European Union. Czech polititians, however, seem to be curiously unwilling to work constructively towards this goal, particularly in comparison with Poland and Hungary. Foremost in their rhetoric in this battle to stave off what, to many neutral observers, is inevitable, are personal interests and "national interests."

Several small controversies between individual candidates have cropped up in the Senate election campaign currently underway in the Czech Republic. One of them was spurred by the personal letter penned by Jirina Jiraskova, an independent candidate for the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), in which she writes that she has never left the Czech Republic, despite all of the persecution and wrongdoing she underwent in the 1970s, of course. Although the letter does not state it explicitly, everyone will certainly get the hint - the other two leading candidates, Vaclav Fisher and Ivan Medek, did.

While Ivan Medek was cooperating with several radio broadcasters abroad, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and Vaclav Fisher was busy founding a prominent travel agency, which he transferred to the Czech Republic after 1989 (and which today is one of the few Czech companies to have both a reputation in Europe and a clean business record), Jiraskova was being persecuted in her homeland - for the good of us all. Despite persecution, she was still able to make numerous films, work in the theatre and later even in television - as has already been pointed out in the Czech press.

State or citizens?

The point of this article, however, is not to get personal. Everyone has the right to interpret his or her own personal history and the right - if he or she has the courage - to go public with it. It is then up to the public to judge to what extent the personal interpretation is more dream than reality.

More interesting than these "personal interests" is the recurring rhetoric of "national interests" which the ODS has been employing lately. It is not entirely clear whether these are the interests of the state administration, which is primarily interested in maintaining the current situation in which no rash actions are necessary and where it is possible to discuss the problems associated with the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union away without bearing any responsibility for the consequences, or whether they are the interests of the nation, that is the citizens of the Czech Republic.

Even this latter case is not entirely clear-cut, since while the interest of some Czech citizens is to emigrate to Western Europe as soon as possible, the interest of others is to wave them goodbye, thereby getting rid of some unpleasant concerns. It appears that the major political parties are spared such uncertainties. For, after all, they know exactly, in racial terms, what is in the national interest, even though many may shake their heads at it.

And so we find out that it is in the national interest to not rush entry into the European Union. Not only is there the danger of Czechs having to face a far stronger competition on the open marketplace, the nation will also have to be careful that the Sudeten Germans and Austrians do not buy up all the dilapidated buildings near the German and Austrian border and thus rob the neglected borderland of its unique national identity.

It's best not accept the European Union's requirements, so that after a period of ten years Czech citizens won't be able to travel and study freely in member countries, because, in the end, it would affect only a small privileged part of the population anyway. Better to maintain the purity of the Czech Sudetenland than gain a body of intellectuals and experts educated at European universities, or so claims this particular formulation of the national interest.

Unwilling to persuade

National interests are good for the rhetoric of political parties. In daily life, the "nation" is interested in the functioning of the state administration, education and health care - and these are failing in many respects. It appears that today, the ODS in particular will "defend" national interests at any price, because it does not have many other issues left with which it can attract the public's attention. Or at least it thinks it doesn't.

Similarly, another significant political party - the Social Democrats (CSSD) - is not particularly known for its keen interest in the country's entry into the European Union. One of the main reasons for this could be fear of competition, which would force the current guard of "wise chiefs" and succeeding "crown princes" into a contest that almost certainly none of them wants. What looks like a negligible problem today, could soon prove to be a very serious disadvantage for the whole country.

Today, the Czech Republic does not have a chance to assert itself within Europe on the strength of its economy, and in this it is no different than the other countries within Central and Eastern Europe. But in contrast to Poland, and especially Hungary, the Czech Republic does not have a decidedly pro-European political power. Looking at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman the difference is clear to everyone - not only in appearance but above all in mentality.

However, the difference is apparent even between Freedom Union (US) leader Jan Ruml and Viktor Orban. Even the Freedom Union party, which currently considers itself to be the most Europe-oriented political party in the Czech Republic, is still a long way off from its stated ideal.

The EU is currently not too thrilled with the thought of expansion, because it is well aware what a huge amount of work lies ahead. Thus, all the more important is the effort that Central European politicians will have to exert in order to convince the EU of the advantages and even the necessity of expansion.

Czech politicians should realise that there is no alternative to the Czech Republic's entry into the EU - unless it is that of an isolated state at the periphery of Europe, grappling with serious economic problems, corruption and incompetence of the state administration.

Pavel Tychtl, 30 August 1999




Left and Right

Too Wide a Spectrum

Czech Republic:
No Spectrum at All

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