Jan Macháček


Výsledky hledání

Czech Business Weekly

Unreformed region takes a press mauling

23. 10. 2006
It was a long time coming and perhaps none of us expected it would take the Hungarian PM to confess he’d been lying like a rug and subsequent riots in Budapest to set it off.

But the run of really bad international press now assailing Central Europe was all but inevitable. Perhaps the first sign the simmering water was rising to the boil came with the election to office of Poland’s sometimes nutty twin brothers as president and prime minister. Their nationalistic and extremely conservative attitudes haven’t gone down at all well, particularly with Western European media. Then came Slovakia’s elections. British weekly The Economist called the new rulers “a government of populists, racists and autocrats” threatening to undo pro-reform results of their predecessors.

The Czech Republic has largely managed to stay out of the line of fire. Growth is strong and healthy, investments are still flowing in, etc.

The Economist’s observation that Czechs “don’t bother to generate any government at all” seems more humorous than damning.

Nevertheless, the British weekly’s latest analysis of Central Europe contains crucial points the whole region would do well to sit up and take notice of. Our universities, it says, are ineffective, bureaucratic, self-centered institutions, with science and research starved of enough public purse funds. And, the weekly notes, these days we still enjoy budget revenue windfalls driven by high growth – but when this stops, will the West have to rush to the rescue?

These are sharp perceptions and unfortunately they seem to fit the image of the Czech Republic. We don’t have to search hard for the main cause. Not a single, united, reform-minded government exists regionwide, observes the magazine.

But let’s examine the causes of the dreadful post-communist political scene:

1. Absolute lack of political consensus. CEE countries’ proportional systems of political representation produce coalitions and compromises. We daily witness permanent confrontation between two unforgiving blocs representing each other as evil enemies.

Harsh mutual attacks are also common in Anglo-Saxon political cultures. But, taking Britain as an example, the institutions, courts, nonpartisan bureaucracies and media are stable and functioning. The system is mature, fulfilling its proper role. Contrast this with the post-communist countries. Politicians cooperate on issues in which they shouldn’t (MPs’ wages) and don’t cooperate on issues in which they should (pension schemes).

2. On the other hand, we witness the world trend of “compassionate conservatism.” Core ideas are surrendered by the right as they woo the middle class with left-wing promises (big government, big redistribution, big spending etc.). As the political parties’ policies coincide, the antagonism grows.

In Hungary the right-wing bloc is distinguished from the left mainly by its strong nationalistic attitudes. In Poland, the twins’ economic policies are more left wing than those of the post-communist parties. Similar trends are in evidence here. Finance Minister Tlustý’s budget “rewrite” failed to cut any important expenditure.

But at the end of the day, the western press’ stance on Central Europe (including The Economist’s) changes too dramatically. Western Europe’s politics also fails to produce excellent governments and politicians. Perhaps we’re learning everything from our older brothers far too quickly.

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