Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 20
8 November 1999

Jan Culik C U L I K ' S  C Z E C H  R E P U B L I C:
Profound Disillusionment

Jan Culik

In October 1999, the Prague-based Public Opinion Research Institute (IVVM) set out to find out what Czech citizens think about the established political parties. A sociological sample of 1018 individuals were give a number of statements (see tables HERE), and they were asked to link them with the political party which, in their opinion, these statements fitted best. The IVVM pollsters then compared the acquired results with the results of a similar poll conducted a year ago.

The results show that there is deep disillusionment with the established political parties in the Czech Republic. The results also perhaps partially explain why now, ten years after the fall of Communism, the Communists are the most popular political party.

The popularity of the Communists is not the expression of people's desire to return to pre-1989 Communism. It would appear that people in the Czech Republic are now giving the Communists their vote as a protest. The Communist Party is the only major political party in the Czech Republic which has not taken part in government over the past ten years. As a result, the Communists can claim that their "hands are clean" - that they have not become tainted by any of the privatisation scandals of the past ten years and that they bear no responsibility for the current sorry state of the Czech economy.

In this sense, it is obvious that it was an unwise decision on the part of the "establishment" political parties not to involve the Communists in any of the government decision making over the past ten years. The consequence of ten years of ostracism by the political elites is a positive image for the Communist Party.

Seeking the untainted

It is also clear from the latest poll that the Czech population partially supports the Communists out of idealism. The Czechs want to believe that there can exist honest and effective democratic politicians, even though they have been continually disappointed by the performance of their own establishment political figures.

The Czech electorate seems to be still looking for as yet uncompromised politicians in whom they can place their hope. As an expression of this idealism, and perhaps still looking for a strong, fairy-tale leader who will solve all our problems on our behalf, the summer 1999, Czech voters overwhelmingly supported an independent candidate in a bye-election for the Czech Senate. The people's choice of Vaclav Fischer, a former emigre and owner of a large travel agency, was a resounding thumbs-down to the established political parties.

Once he had entered the Senate, Fischer, rather predictably, proved to be a relatively disappointing choice. Nevertheless, it was clear that his election was a clear expression of the Czech voters' desire for new, untainted people in politics.

The tables, given below, illustrate this eloquently. But before we look at them in detail, let us remind ourselves of the current political preferences in the Czech Republic.

In October 1999, the Czech Communist Party (KSCM) was supported by 23 per cent voters; Vaclav Klaus's pseudo-right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS), by 21 per cent; the ruling Social Democrats, by 17.5 per cent; the splinter anti-Klaus Freedom Union (US), by 12 per cent; the Catholic People's Party, which has some social democratic leanings (KDU-CSL), by 11 per cent; and the extreme right-wing Republicans 2 to 3 per cent, the Green Party 2 to 3 per cent, other parties 1 to 2 per cent.

Loss of credit of the Czech political parties

Only small numbers of Czech voters, not more than 10 to 15 per cent, are willing to ascribe any positive characteristics to the political parties. Most feel political parties are only interested in "acquiring power and nothing else," and by this measure popular disillusionment with Vaclav Klaus is shown to be strong, with 40 per cent of Czech voters believing that Klaus's Civic Democratic Party is interested in nothing else but acquiring power for its own sake.

The recent poll shows that Klaus's Civic Democratic Party has the reputation of an organisation which is not concerned with the poor in any way. It is rather depressing that despite the empty rhetoric of the Czech Communists, 27 per cent of Czech voters currently believe that the Czech Communist Party would be capable to taking proper care of the poor. The Civic Democratic Party's disdain for the poor may prove an electoral problem for Klaus at the next election.

Most Czech daily newspapers have been displaying a "right-wing" bias towards the Social Democratic Party (which is currently in government in the Czech Republic, albeit as a result of an agreement with Klaus's Civic Democrats). Many popular commentators have always regarded the Social Democrats as akin to the Communists. It is interesting to see that this rabid rhetoric in the Czech newspapers does not seem to have much impact on the voters' preferences any more; most people do not seem to be afraid that the Social Democrats (or the Communists, for that matter) would bring back an authoritarian, Bolshevik state.

According to the new figures, people believe that both the Social Democrats, the Civic Democratic Party and the Communists would all, more or less, allow the development of the middle classes. The difference between these three parties in this respect is very small in the eyes of the Czech voters. It is true that, last year, Czech voters pinned their hopes on the Social Democrats.

Since then, the scales have fallen from their eyes in this respect. Last year, 24 per cent Czechs believed that the Social Democrats would stimulate the development of the middle classes, now it is only 11 per cent.

It is also rather remarkable that amidst overall misery, the Communist Party is now seen as relatively the most efficient guarantor of human rights, security and law and order. Nevertheless, quite paradoxically, only 7 per cent of Czechs think that the Communist Party could be a guarantor of a democratic system. Perhaps people are willing to allow the Communists to play some part in the Czech politics but not to dominate it.

The second table is evidence of serious Czech disillusionment with establishment policies. The table demonstrates what devastating impact it can have if a political party assumes government. The high hopes that the Czechs pinned on the Social Democrats up to the June 1998 elections were all disappointed once the Social Democrats got into power.

Now, in turn, people pin their hope on the Communists, but many of them are simply fed up with politics. Both tables demonstrate this.

The highest percentages throughout these tables tell the story most succinctly: their final columns - "no party does these positive things" - is always the top number.

Jan Culik, 8 November 1999

The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britske listy.

Other Articles by Jan Culik in CER

Communist Revival, 1 November 1999

Race Relations, 25 October 1999

Reminiscing Revolutionaries, 18 October 1999

The Educated Poor, 11 October 1999

Pricking Havel's Bottom, 4 October 1999

More Moribund Manouevring (Further TV Nova Tales), 27 September 1999

Mixed Czech Nuts, 20 September 1999

Nova TV: The saga continues, 13 September 1999

UK: Central Europeans Keep Out!, 30 August 1999

Czech Public TV: The yellow-bellies, 23 August 1999

Zelezny Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova, 16 August 1999

Czech Media and Civil Society: A survey, 16 August 1999

Czech Revival: No Pulse 99, 9 August 1999

Princess Diana, Al Fayed, the CIA and a Czech Spook, 2 August 1999

Nova TV: Commercial success or embarrassing failure?, 2 August 1999

Book Review: Martin Fendrych's Jako ptak na drate, 26 July 1999

A Concrete Example of Muddy Thinking in the Czech Press, 19 July 1999

Press Freedom under Threat, 12 July 1999

Corruption at the Czech Law School, 5 July 1999

The Czech Malaise, 28 June 1999



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