Political Situation in The Czech Republic 25 Years after November 1989

What is the political situation in the country after this year’s autumn municipal and Senate elections, twenty-five years after the fall of Communism in 1989?

We have an unpredictable president with an astronomical ego and small sense of responsibility. President Miloš Zeman seems reliable when it comes to strong ties between the Czech Republic and the State of Israel. He positions himself as an ultra-hawk, rhetorically at least, on the issue of struggle against radical Islam and Islamist terrorism. Quite often he then undermines these efforts declaring the whole of Islam as anti-civilizational. One can hardly be more undiplomatic than that—our ability to form alliances with moderate Muslims is thus being seriously undermined.

Apart from that, president Zeman also openly casts doubts on the sanctions against Russia for its aggression in the Eastern Ukraine. The West needs to be united in its effort if sanctions are to be of any effect, and Zeman is of no great help in this respect either. He even went so far as to travel to the Rhodos conference organized by Vladimir Yakunin, a Russian official targeted by the sanctions, who had spent his youth as an undercover KGB operative at the Soviet UN Mission in New York between 1985–1991.

The Czech Republic’s reputation has not been greatly helped by his bowing down to communist China.

The Czech government is formed by a centerleft coalition led by an uncharismatic technocrat. It is reasonable to have doubts about whether we can pinpoint any firm morals or principles he actually stands for. It needs to be said though, that the government, which has been at the helm since January, has managed to run the country in an uneventful manner, without any excesses. So far there has been no reason to claim this government is significantly worse than any of its predecessors since the November 1989.

In 2013, the Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecká sněmovna) elections and even this year’s Senate elections (every two years one third of the Senate seats is up for vote) were won by ČSSD, The Czech Social-Democratic Party, albeit by a tight margin. It currently commands a support of 20%, down from the previously held 30%.

Political parties on the right wing of the political spectrum are currently very weak and still have not come round from the election defeat in 2013, and there are no signs on the horizon that they are about to in the near future.

The political phenomenon of the last year was ANO (The Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens), lead by the Finance Minister Andrej Babiš. This movement is being currently characterized both as populist and centrist; and one has to agree with these descriptions.

ANO lost the Chamber of Deputies elections by the slimmest of margins; nevertheless, it won the European Parliament elections and reached solid results in the municipal elections, gaining the control of many regional centers, including the capital, Prague.

It cannot be said that ANO’s policies are substantially different from the policies of the other main political parties; nor is there any distinct ideology or programme to be discerned. Its future profile remains to be seen and is open to debate; if there is any future profile at all.

The candidates running for an office on ANO platform are best described as centrist; there has not yet been a distinct personality, apart from Babiš himself. Insofar the party comes across as a one man show of its leader, which it most probably is.

ANO’s Defense Minister Martin Stropnický has not seized an opportunity to shine yet; apart from an unnecessary message to our allies that “our people do not agree with NATO troops presence on our soil”—failing to realize that there already are NATO troops present on our soil, namely the Czech Army.

The Social Democratic Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomir Zaorálek became famous during his period of acting as a Shadow Foreign Minister in opposition to center-left government, for his often strongly emotional criticism of the Czech State’s foreign policies. Nevertheless, out of the three government officials currently in charge of the Czech foreign policy—the remaining two being the President and the Prime Minister—he has turned out to be the one most in tune with the foreign policies of his predecessors. He is also the one to express substantial support to the allies in the NATO and the EU, namely in their stance on Ukraine crisis and sanctions against Russia.

There is one major test ahead of him though; the taming of his First Deputy Minister Petr Drulák. Drulák proposed a new concept of the Czech foreign policy. If successful, it would be the most dangerous and serious alteration of the Czech foreign policy in the modern history of the autonomous Czech State: thus relinquishing the support of universal human rights, so far an unquestionable legacy of the former president Václav Havel, as too pro-Western oriented. Another proposed change would include the abandonment of the Visegrad cooperation (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia) in favor of the “axis” Prague-Wien-Ljubljana-Zagreb.

Drulák does not seem to understand that it was the Czech Republic’s specifics in foreign policy, for example the support of universal human rights and excellent relations with the State of Israel that made us interesting and relevant in the eyes of the international community. Our allies, knowing our firm stance on certain issues, tended to take us seriously. There had to be a quid pro quo process, if we were to somewhat soften our position here and there. But if we become known for blindly following the mainstream of European policies, wherever it may lead us—well, we will have given up on our negotiating tactics and our foreign policy will have become irrelevant and uninteresting. No one is going to take our interests into account or bother to negotiate with us—knowing very well that we are going to follow the majority in the end.

It would require altogether different treatise to ponder whether the Western concept of human rights is universal or if it becomes truly universal only in the dialogue with other civilizations and cultures—a dialogue with regimes many of whom we have come to regard as dictatorial or even tyrannical. This issue is philosophical; are human rights innate and universal? Are they the same for all people, on condition of their nature and dignity? Or are they subject to an approval and consensus by any chance regime, even if that particular form of government may be terrorizing and nature-violating?

Back to Visegrad cooperation, which is currently being resuscitated at an intensive care unit. The most serious crisis in Europe today, the Russian aggression against Ukraine, is being viewed very differently by each of the Central European governments. Hungary and Slovakia have been distinctly pro-Russian, the Czech government is sitting on the fence, keeping the neutral position and thus only the government of Poland protects what is the vital interest not only of the Central Europe, but Europe as a whole.

The axis of Prague-Wien-Ljubljana-Zagreb (thus connecting with a state that is neutral, not a NATO member; tiny, with neutral leaning; only a recent EU member) makes as much sense as an axis of Prague-Kishinev-Pristina-Istanbul, or Prague-Luxembourg-Dublin-Lisbon, Prague-Va- duz-San Marino-Andorra, or Prague-Nicosia- Tenerife-Reykjavik—that is, none at all. If we are to play Drulák’s axis game, then when dealing with the most pressing international problem in Europe—the crisis in Ukraine—the most relevant cooperation would be amongst Prague, Warsaw and Stockholm.

Thus it yet remains to be seen if the best and the most inspiring of Václav Havel’s legacy in Czech foreign policy is going to be preserved or if it becomes ruined.

Roman Joch

is the Executive Director of the Civic Institute in Prague. He is a commentator and lecturer on political philosophy, international relations, with an emphasis on US Domestic and Foreign Policies. He is the author of several monographs and expert studies including: American Foreign Policies and the Role of the US in the World (Studies OI, Prague 2000), Why Iraq? Reasons and Consequences of the Conflict (Prague 2003), and (together with Frank S. Meyer) Rebellion against the Revolution of the 20th Century (Prague 2003).

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