Jan Macháček


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Czech Business Weekly

NGOs challenge Klaus’ version of democracy

13. 06. 2005
A few weeks ago, President Václav Klaus spoke at the Council of Europe convention in Poland about the grave dangers of “post-democracy.

” Now, we may not know for sure what “post-democracy” is, but the president certainly seems to. He warned against NGOism and human rightsism, and criticized intellectuals for hiding behind NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in an attempt to hijack politics, even though these people are not elected, Klaus said. In his words, “Various manifold forces [and] groupings try to make decisions on, or at least influence, various crucial, sensitive public issues without a democratic mandate.”

Klaus’ strong opinions on civic society are an old story that we can trace back to his emergence in the post-1989 political world. But this attack was the harshest, with the nastiest words being used. It was certainly the most strident since Klaus was elected president. And his speech must have taken many heads of state by surprise. Leaders of democratic nations usually support their NGOs, their private foundations and their flourishing civic societies. For those who did not experience Czechoslovakian communism, the Communists not only liquidated the free competition of political parties, but also successfully killed any possibility of citizens gathering voluntarily. Communism, in contrast to its original ideals, led to increased isolationism and individualism and created a “Leave me alone” attitude. People escaped to their cottages and took refuge in close family circles and did not care about the outer world. Former President Václav Havel perfectly diagnosed this society in his essays in the 1970s. Once again a free country, it was natural that it was Havel who not only spoke about free elections and parties, but also the importance of recreating civic society.

The world according to Klaus, on the other hand, is one in which those who wish to influence political life should enter a political party (read: existing political parties – Klaus does not like new parties) and should not cloak their political intentions in noble interests. Klaus likes to present himself as a pro-American politician, but American society has been historically based on a rich voluntary network of unions, foundations, groupings, etc. Klaus, in contrast, views democracy as limited to the cold engine of the electoral process.

There was some good news in all of this, however. The NGOs have demanded an apology from the president, a sign that society is less cowardly and more self-confident than it used to be. Also, Tomáš Pojar, the director of People in Need, the most influential of Czech NGOs, is likely to be a future deputy foreign minister with the clear support of Jan Zahradil (Civic Democrats, or ODS), who has been touted as a possible foreign minister. And although Pojar should be Klaus’ nemesis and the antithesis of his recently stated political philosophy, he seems to be welcomed by an ODS formerly chaired by Klaus.

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