Politics After Communism
As we saw in Chapter 1, peacetime Czechoslovakia in the interwar period was the most stable and genuinely functional liberal democracy in the region. After 1989, the Masaryk inheritance therefore served as a reminder to Czechoslovak, and above all Czech, citizens that the standards they now aspired to had once been achieved before. The ideals of liberal democratic government, the rule of law and pluralism did not exist as mere abstractions. In the consciousness of the people, the transition to democracy could be taken as a reassertion of the national heritage and not as something alien or imposed from outside.
Quite how this expresses itself in the realm of practical politics is difficult to say. Its importance can perhaps be gauged by considering the experience of other countries in the region — Slovakia, as we will see in Chapter 8, is a good example — where anti-democratic forces have drawn inspiration from mythical golden ages when leaders earned their people's loyalty through strong or absolutist rule from the top. As communism gave way to freedom, dictatorial inclinations and national pride could easily become enmeshed. For Czechs, the great era of national assertiveness coincided with the flourishing of liberal democracy. Authoritarianism and nationalism represented a bad fit.
A decade after the Velvet Revolution it seems reasonable to ask how far the Czech Republic has managed to translate this initial set of advantages into practice. Above all, does it still remain appropriate to refer to the Czech Republic as 'post-communist' at all, or do the country's political problems roughly correspond to those which also affect the more developed democracies of the West?