The Political Psychology of the Czech Nation: While the Czech Republic Has the Necessary Democratic "Hardware" Installed (Democratic Institutions), We Are Still Struggling to Install the Right "Software" (Social Capital, Democratic Mentality, and Civic Society)

Article excerpt

A little less than a century ago, the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, expressed that two generations or sixty years would pass before the newly-constitued democratic state of Czechoslovakia saw real democracy. Does the same hold true today for our twenty-year-old democracy?

The publisher of Pritomnost and this journal, M. J. Stransky, once provocatively noted that "Czechs do not want democracy." He articulated this sentiment throughout our first free decade in articles that he published in Pritomnost. Now we stand at the end of our second democratic decade, and we must recapitulate again. Do Czechs want democracy or not? Though many of Stransky's arguments still apply today, they still do not convince me that the situation begets such an overwhelming conclusion.

Do we have the right soil for democratic growth? How deeply is our totalitarian past rooted in our democratic present? What are our future prospects?

Some time ago now, my colleague I. K. Feierabend and I attempted to "diagnose" Czech pro-democratic tendencies. We sent probes into the psychology of democratism in Central and Eastern Europe, and compared representative samples of (several thousand) Czechs with Slovaks, Bulgarians and Belarusians. We sought to assess people's familiarity with the mindset necessary for democratic functioning: a) civic political culture b) civic ethos (the morals of civic society) and c) civic nationalism.

Civic Political Culture

Civic political culture mainly relates to a group's insight into political events, political convictions, active participation in interest groups, respect of laws, and ability to resist feeling estranged during difficult times. First and foremost, political culture applies to the people of a state, not to elected politicians. In accordance with these criteria, the Czech representative sample did fairly well. Czechs answered as one would expect from sophisticated and democratically-thoughtful citizens. Their democratism was defined by realistic reservation--it neither reflected the Belarusian's uncritical enthusiasm for democracy nor the disappointed estrangement found in Bulgarians and Slovakians.

Sociological research has affirmed the Czech's reserved sobriety towards democracy. The Public Opinion Research Center (CVVM) discovered that Czechs share a strong dissatisfaction with how democracy functions in their country; this does not mean, however, that they do not want it. Concurrently, (in similarly high numbers) Czechs agree with Churchill's opinion that democracy is the smallest of all evils. This conflict is motivational in nature, and still gives hope for the future.

Our study proved another fundamentally Czech characteristic: moral and immoral inflexibility. Czech inflexibility manifested as the inclination to rebel against the government and the reluctance to respect laws (even ones established under democracy). Evidently, Czechs did not acknowledge the responsibility that is required by living under the rule of law.

Civic Ethos and Decency

A major aspect of pro-democratic culture is civic ethos: civic virtues and morals. In Anglo-Saxon culture, this is referred to as civility. It includes decency (in the deeper sense of the word), honesty, trust, understanding the balance between freedom and responsibility, and tolerance to those who differ in social status, ethnic origin, lifestyle, etc.

In our research, Czech responses depicted a fairly benevolent, tolerant and trustworthy society. Czechs were more trustworthy of their fellow citizens than people in Belarus and Bulgaria were of their respective country mates. Czechs also showed greater personal responsibility, less inclination towards state paternalism and yes, even more diligence. They exhibited a high level of tolerance towards women's emancipation and homosexuality, but not towards people of different social groups. And even though Czech citizens did not exhibit great respect for law, they expressed a wish for stricter laws regarding certain social groups. …