The Czech Republic's Struggles with Democracy
Jiri Pehe, Director of New York University's centre in Prague and former adviser to President Václav Havel, takes a critical look at the current state of the Czech Republic's democracy. He argues that the rapid, top-down driven institutional modernisation that occurred after 1989 has not been matched by the development of a mature civil society required of a fully-functioning liberal democratic system.
With the help of the world's rich democracies and organisations such as the EU and NATO, the Czech Republic was able to quickly build the constitutional, legal and economic frameworks for liberal democracy and a market-based economy. This work was largely directed by a small number of elites and has, the author argues, resulted in a 'democracy without democrats'.
The author has identified a number of problems with the Republic's political and economic system:
- Political parties were formed, and remain, as small elite projects without mass participation
- Rapid privatisation of the state-controlled economy resulted in parties that are intertwined with, and now dependent on, powerful economic interests
- The Czech people's natural distrust of government combined with weak, 'privatised' parties has resulted in a small, often ineffectual state
- The accelerating process of globalisation has put additional pressure on the nation-state, the foundation upon which liberal democracy rests
Pehe concludes that the 'jury is still out' on the question of whether the Czech Republic can build the requisite civil society and democratic culture to match their political and economic institutions.
Thumbnail image: Wallenstein Palace Garden, Prague. By Mike B in Colorado/Flickr