Christian Democracy in the Czech Lands

Article excerpt

During the past twenty years in which political parties have enjoyed freedom in the Czech Republic, the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-ESL) has struggled to gain significant influence while Christian parties have flourished in neighbouring countries. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany remained dominant in the coalition government after its September elections. The Austrian People's Party, OVP, has maintained support of the vast majority in Austria, and Poland's Law and Justice is the second major political party in the country. In the upcoming Czech elections currently scheduled for June 2010, the KDU-CSL is at serious risk of gaining too few votes to be included in parliament. Why has the Christian democratic movement faired so poorly in the Czech Republic compared to these neighbours?

The only significant role that the KDU-CSL can claim in the last twenty years is its involvement in coalition governments. However, the manner in which it has shifted from an alliance with the centre-left Social Democrats after the 2002 election to an alliance with the centre-right ODS in the mid-nineties and later in 2006, calls into question its core commitments. The inability to pin down the Czech Christian Democratic Party within the traditional left-right spectrum is nothing new for Christian democracy in Europe. Since its origins, the European Christian democracy movement has never demonstrated a consistent stance on the political spectrum, combining commitments as diverse as social welfare on the left with traditional social values from the right. The European People's Party (EPP), a Europarty which unites many Christian parties including the KDU-CSL, is a great example of Christian democracy's reluctance to be labeled in terms of the traditional left-right spectrum. Referring to liberalism, socialism, green politics, and nationalism, "we Christian Democrats see the weaknesses in these ideologies which are bound to mislead us in the end," their basic programme states.

It is not only a challenge to identify the positions of Christian democratic parties vis-a-vis social democratic, liberal, or nationalist parties, but there is also significant diversity within the Christian democratic movement. At the end of the last century, Czech Christian democrats acted as a centre-right political party in opposition to the radical leftist government to the same degree that Western European Christian democrats opposed conservatism and emerging capitalism.

Czech Christian democracy stands in contrast to neighbouring versions of Christian democracy not only in terms of political programme, but also in terms of poll results. The Czech version of Christian democracy, unlike its neighbouring versions, has been losing ground. According to the latest polls, Czech Christian democrats may not gain enough votes to gain seats in the new parliament, as their support has dropped two percent in the last months. Several factors exist which make gains by KDU-CSL highly unlikely--some of which are beyond their control, but most of which are not.

TACTICAL MISTAKES

The dominant Czech political parties range narrowly from centre-right to centre-left while only a few stand far to the right or left. Differentiating between the two dominant Czech centrist parties comes down to two primary issues. The first is their view towards the European Union--the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) are Eurosceptic and the centre-left Social Democrats (ESSD) are Euro-friendly. The second is their view on the proper scope of government--the ODS supports a more limited government and the ESSD supports a more expansive government.

The KDU-CSL has remained marginally relevant in Czech politics on account of its moderate position in comparison with, for example, the monarchist party Koruna ceska, and far left parties such as the Communists. Since the KDU-CSL is close enough to the center and tentative enough in its positions, it is an attractive potential ally for the ODS and the CSSD. …