The Czech Transition: Politics before Economics

Article excerpt

Aviezer Tucker, Jana Balharova, Ivo Losman, Jan Nemec, Jan Nemecek, David Ondracka, Zdenek Pol1k, Roman Skyva, Martina-Vyrkova & Marketa Zidkova'

A group of Czech scholars examine the political and economic aspects of the post-Communist transition in the Czech Republic, and find that instead of adopting "shock therapy" to achieve a transition to a private enterprise economy, the Czech leadership concentrated on maintaining full employment in order to ensure the popular acceptability of privatization. However, they note the extent to which former members of the Communist hierarchy were able to benefit from the privatization of public enterprises.

Key Words: Czech Republic, Post-Communist Transition, Economic Privatization, Democratization

The general elections in the Czech Republic in June 1996 solidified a distinctively Western-European style of political culture in the Czech Republic. The ruling center-right three parties coalition composed of ODS The Civic Democratic Party, ODA The Civic Democratic Movement, and the Christian-Democrats received 99 of the 200 seats in the Czech parliament. The Social-Democrats received almost one third of the votes. The Communists received a little more than ten percent and the rightist Republican party a little less than ten percent. The ruling coalition's loss of absolute parliamentary majority should not obscure their winning a slightly increased share of the votes in relation to the 1992 elections; the loss of absolute majority is due to the complexities of distributing the votes of parties that did not pass the 5% threshold according to regional voting patterns in the Czech election law.

The establishment of a stable Western European political system in the Czech Republic is in sharp contrast to the return of former Communists to power in the second post-1989 elections in Lithuania, Poland and Hungary. We attempt to understand here the apparent smooth and successful Czech political transition. The most stark contrast is with Poland. Poland had a mass anti-Communist movement that was absent in the Czech Republic, where the dissident movement of Charter 77 numbered 2000 signatories. Yet, in 1993 Poland voted a reformed-Communist government that lost the 1997 elections. By contrast, the Czechs voted fairly consistently in the 1990, 1992, and 1996 elections.

There is a marked correspondence between the Czech public's evaluation of the economic transformation [see graph no.1] and the support for democratic parties. From the founding of the Czech Republic in 1993 until the onset of the economic crisis at the end of 1996, the percentage of respondents that evaluated the economic transformation as unsuccessful hovers below 20%, an identical 20% to the percentage the undemocratic Communist and Republican parties received together. Analysis of the regional voting patterns in the last Czech elections further supports the relation between economics and politics. The greatest support for the government coalition (58.84%) and the lowest support for the Communists and Republicans (11.17%) was in the most economically vibrant part of the country, the capital city of Prague. The lowest support for the coalition (35.7%) and the highest for the Communists and Republicans (24.12%) came from northern Bohemia, the most economically depressed part of the country.' Therefore, we try to understand the relations between Czech economic policies and their political effects.

An analysis of the Czech transition may form a basis for deciding if the Czech government has been smart or just plain lucky. Did Vaclav Klaus' government follow a better policy of transition than other East-Central European governments, or have the Czechs been lucky, having started their transition process with better initial conditions such as lower per-capita national debt, greater geographical proximity to the prosperous West, an unadaptable and an unreformed Communist party unlike as in Poland and Hungary, and an absence of the kind of clericalism that pushed Polish voters to support the reformed Communists. …