Czech Democracy, Political Establishment and the Citizen

Czech Democracy, Political Establishment and the Citizen
A personal assessment on the 12th anniversary of the 17th November 1989
at the 2nd NDDIE Conference - Prague, Nov. 16 - 18, 2001

Speech by Theo Formanek, a Czech politician


Ladies and gentlemen,

I was asked just the day before to give a talk here about my experience and opinions from my several very active years in the Czech politics and bring some remarks to the general politicians' and people's "state of mind" with respect to the paradigm of direct democracy (DD) in this country.

This is a personal statement only - without much detail or numbers and research results. Yet these may and will be supplied - together with my partners, we are setting up a group of experts, which should lead to a "competence centre" on democratic systems and the conditions in which they may work.

But first, let me tell you who I am.

My name is Theo Formanek, I am citizen of this country and I also am citizen of the country which many a people not only in the post communist countries could - and should - take a few lessons from, the Swiss confederation.

After 27 years of life in Swiss exile I came back to my native country and in '98, after about three years of tuning my "political ear" to the realities around me, I decided to take active part in Czech politics. With one single aim: to influence the thinking and acting of the then starting political party Unie svobody (US - Freedom Union) to center its political activities around what is called "civil society" (CS) here and what I, applied to politics, call participative democracy (based on it).

For two terms I was member of the highest body of the party as the representative of the South Bohemian region. Now - having to admit that the Freedom Union has turned into just another Czech political party, where the means of positions and power weigh more than the aim to serve the country - I am disillusioned and on the verge of leaving.

The reasons should be clearer from what I am going to talk about.

I am here for a threefold reason:

1. my real and formative experience with the Swiss political system, including direct democracy (DD)
2. my real and rather depressive experience with the political establishment as it has developed and is further developing in Czech Republic - and
3. my wish to do something about it.

I want to establish my frame of reference:

* I am going to be rather critical. My remarks are based on my personal attitudes, and may even seem to be generalizing.
* I wish you to note that whenever I speak about "they", "the people", "the politicians", "the establishment" etc, I mean rather the statisticallysignificant, trend setting (in the sociological sense) number of those I mention - not "all".
* When I speak about a different kind of democracy which this country is in need of, I do not mean the full Swiss model of DD - I try to speak rather about a participative democracy. The reasons are obvious: different historical backgrounds, different mentality, different value hierarchies...


First, it is not really democracy. Hard, isn't it? Please, follow this train of reasoning:

* The "elected" (about elections see below) representatives of the people - the MP's and senators - do not really represent the citizens, they represent the political parties which put them on the voting lists. Within the parties, it is not the plain membership who decides directly about who is going to be put where on the candidates lists. This is done by delegates of the electorate - something like regional electors.
There is an unbelievable amount of manipulation and corruption in this first level of "sifting"- not money but much more subtle corruption: trading of individuals and interest groups, offering and accepting services, advantages, promises for the future "division of territories" of influence. As very many, perhaps majority of those who want to "go into politics", are not well-off or rich people, they are motivated not by wish to serve the citizens and the country as such but by prospects of gaining personal prestige, influence, power and - last but not least - material wins.
The battles over nominations are one of the saddest and repulsive theaters in Czech political establishment - the premium namely, is very juicy. So - the "representatives of the people" are as a matter of fact created by the will of relatively small groups and strong individuals with specific interests which put them in electable positions of the candidate lists.
* Elections are not really elections but - in overwhelming number of cases - a mere confirmation by the voters of the decisions taken by "king makers" within the parties. The real election was done and finished by those who have the influence to decide about the composition of the lists.
* This is not all: the decision pressure (see Toflers, The New Civilization) and the complexity of decision-making forces the "elected representatives" to hire experts who supply them with specific knowledge or - rather - suggestions.
Thus, in the last analysis, the destinies of this country lie in the hands or are at least significantly influenced by a grey sphere of eco-financially connected groups with absolutely no mandate.

In the Czech Republic, population of some ten million, there are some 300.000 members of political parties. Nearly 300 - 1š of them are members of both chambers of the parliament. Out of these a fraction, perhaps some less than 80 (nobody can know for sure!), are really influential and are the "movers" - in the open and, more important - behind the scenes. In many cases these people are woven into intransparent eco-financial connections. And this is the reality about the Czech democracy "for the people, through the people and by the people".

The only conclusion I can offer: the representative democracy of this style and through politicians who mostly grew up in the totalitarian times, is infested by corruption and generates a representation which does NOT represent the people, does not need and even suppresses any feedback from the governed to the governing - unless helpful to its specific needs. The outer - the seemingly democratic layer - are just formal rules which are more or less kept (see the ill-famous opposition contract between ODS and CSSD) but the inside goal of the game is a grand deception of the citizens.

Why? Let us not be manicheistic. The behavior of the Czech political representation is not intrinsically evil. It is, however, a behavior which ensures it a non-transparent monopoly of power and gives it - the longer this mechanisms prevail and lead to success - the feelings and arrogant patterns of thinking and acting as the sole owner of the country and everything in it. They have the mandate, don't they?

This behavior and many negative phenomena in the society which were inevitable once Vaclav Klaus and his ODS opened the door for them by their limitless liberalism without a proper framework of "law and order". It was like putting dangerous bacteria on a very nutritious mental substrate of two generations grown up under the intrinsically immoral power-rule of communists.

The fruits are terribly bitter: words like "democracy", "free market", "capitalism", "freedom"... sound for many people like dirty words. "This is democracy?" the ask. "Well, the old régime was better."

If there are XX% of people who say this, it is an extremely sad and warning phenomenon. Very many people feel abused, detested, cheated - and more: they are frustrated, hopeless and do not understand what the real democracy IS, they have had no experience in two - three generations.Under the communists they could somehow orient themselves in the world: there was one clear and present enemy: the communist régime. They collaborated for wishful reasons - but they understood the world.

Now, the enemy is not easily identifiable and the world is difficult - they have to fight on many fronts. They hate it - not being told how to think and live. So they do not feel the priority of freedom because it is a tool for them with which they have not yet learned to operate. They also do not understand that democracy are not the formal rules - however followed - but state of the spirit.

By the bad examples of the egoistic, hateful and warlike, not cooperative behaviour of virtually all parts of the Czech political establishment in the last decade its members loaded it with heavy responsibility for degrading the understanding and acceptance of democracy and freedom and for hampering the country in its development to a decent, tolerant, law-abiding, citizen-oriented society.

From this point of view, the last decade seems to me to be - in terms of time of our lives - a rather lost time. The Czech society might have been much further on its road towards a real democracy. How very sad to say this on the very day of the 12th anniversary of 17th November 1989. How very sad to hear from so many: I do not know whom to vote for in the next elections. There is nobody here I could give my vote to.


I think - after my several years among the politicians - that their attitude to direct democracy and civil society is rather neurotic and in some even openly hostile. On the one side - e.g. Klaus' Civil Democratic Party (ODS), to a degree Zeman and parts of social democrats (CSSD), or just very cautiously sympathetic - but rather verbal, not practical, on the other.

The first side's motivation is, I believe easy to understand. To a significant part it is based on the mentality of its protagonist and creator of ODS - Vaclav Klaus. His view is simple:

* The only democracy is the representative democracy.
* The only accepted partner in the contest for influence and power is THE ORGANIZED MEMBER OF A POLITICAL PARTY, not the citizen.
* The role of the citizen in the democracy is to vote for a party which will then represent his wishes.
* The citizen initiatives, the intellectual groupings and independent activities with political aims do not represent anybody but themselves and therefore have no right to be heard and/or be followed.
* The mandate won in the elections is a "Freipass" for any and all political activity and the parties must be monopolistic owners of power, controllable only through power combinations within the two chambers of parliament.
* There should be no (political) life outside the parties.

Many - I am afraid the majority of people - accept this. They think, that having more parties than just one (as until 12 years ago) is democracy. That free elections (how free - see above) is democracy. That the Truth and the Right of 51% is democracy. They do not want to take part in politics because they think in the terms: "we elected them, so they should look after our happiness - that's what they are 'there' for". And so, again, as under communists, it is: "we and they"!

The other side - the parties of the so called Coalition of Four (Freedom Union, Christian Democratic Party-People's Party, Democratic Alliance, and Democratic Union) have more ear for the ideas of CS, some for direct democracy, but they stay in the phase of declarations programmatic statements. They did not - except some half-hearted moves and declarations- really reached out for the hand of several civic initiative organisations. I am afraid that they, too, have no imagination, "invention" and interest to try pushing the paradigm of DD. I believe they have two reasons for it - and I can only talk about the US which I think I know rather well.

* First, they see their primary role in finding a partner in another political subject, NOT citizens - i. e. a political party with which they could practice a mutual power-motivated co-operation in the parliament/senate. First goal: reach and keep the power.
* Second, they instinctively feel that the more the Czech politics opens to citizen initiatives and influence of the "unpolitical politics" (Havel's word), the less ruling freedom they will have. Given the above described genesis of the representative bodies, they would - by supporting DD - destroy or at least seriously limit their "right to power".

On the outside however, they explain this with the politically uneducated and passive citizen (which is quite true - but they do not try anything to educate and activate him) and the lack of legislative framework for DD. And they do not feel their responsibility for not being the very ones who can and should push for laying a ground for such a framework of the DD and not grasping the opportunity when they could be the first ones who sees the way out from the moral marasm of the Czech politics.

There are some signs, however, that some of the influential people in the Coalition of Four - 4K (Cyril Svoboda and Hana Marvanova and some others ) are willing to devote some of their energies to civil society. The program of the 4K for DD however, is limited to the proposition to elect the president through a direct popular vote. Mr. Svoboda even told me how he appreciated my Swiss experience with DD and how he plans to invite me to set up a working group which would write a set of theses, work out a basic program manifesto and would look after gaining more support for these ideas within the Coalition's membership. Unfortunately, this was summer 2001 - and there came up other priorities and problems since then: 2002 we have elections. It remained with nice words. My demand that the 4K presses for slow but steady legislative measures - communal law (direct vote for mayors, general assembly of citizens of a community having right to decide directly and bindingly by their vote in communal business, direct vote for heads of regional hetmans... and finally of course the president - simply an adapted Swiss model - was too bold for the 4K to even think of. The same with the program for a popular "education for DD" on all levels of the political structures of the 4K. And so, whenever the 4K talks about this, it stays on the level of mere verbal declarations about "support for CS".

People with pro and anti DD attitudes are, of course present in both "camps" and having no means to do some opinion research, I cannot give a qualified guess about the percentages and seriousness of attitudes on both sides. All in all, it seems to me that the time is not yet ripe enough for even the better part of our politicians to realize the inborn seeds of negative development in the countries with a totalitarian history if they stick to a purely representative model. They also do not see or they ignore the signs of the deepening split and antagonism between "the politics" and the citizen which is the direct result of their own doing. They also do not see the obsoleteness of the purely political and representative paradigm of governing a modern society (or such that wants to become one), which cannot survive - as democracy - without civic participation and feedback.

It was Aldous Huxley, who in his very pessimistic foreword (written after the World War II) to his famous Brave New World prophesied, that all societies of the future will be totalitarian - simply because of the technical and meritorial complexity of decision-making and governing.

I am afraid, that perhaps with the exception of Vaclav Havel and a handful of "self-appointed" intellectuals (the word of Vaclav Klaus) just a handful of Czech politicians and intellectuals are aware that the only way to avoid such a future is to educate and invite the citizen to participate in the making of his/her own destiny without forcing him to accept the belief that the only way is to become a part of the power-hungry political parties.

The great question in this country is: by what means can we solve the famous "chicken-egg problem": how can people force the political parties to accept and foster the paradigm of the DD and CS if they constitute a population of not so much citizens as rather of passive inhabitants and are governed by a political establishment with vested interests, oriented primarily to achieve and sustain monopoly of its rule? To break this circulus vitiosus, two vital preconditions have to be met:

* there has to be not only an active citizen, but also
* a legislative framework within which he/she can act.

Will the Czech politicians be willing to limit their own power by helping to prepare the conditions for something like that? I am afraid that the mentality of the contemporary and near-future generation of Czech politicians will never allow them to do that.


Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps I have spoken for too long, perhaps about things which are well known and perhaps with too much self-confidence to my views. I hope, however, that you understand that - in spite of seeing myself as a "citizen of world" - I feel strongly about this my country and I wish it a better deal. This is the main reason why I feel my duty and responsibility to be critical and hard in judging it.

I stress again that I do not hold my opinions for generally valid and am open to your criticism and questions.

Thank you.

Vase vybrane prispevky zaslane na adresu D. N. budou zverejneny