A New Velvet Revolution

PRAGUE: Rebellion by Czech TV journalists against a new director of the publicly-owned Czech TV marks the climax of a ten year battle between two concepts of democracy. The first concept is represented by former prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, the second by President Vaclav Havel.

Klaus sees political parties as the backbone of any democratic system and sees little place for civil society in politics. He deems the proponents of civil society “elitists” who refuse to be tested at the ballot box and who try to influence politics through informal mechanisms.

President Havel argues that a democracy based only on political parties and basic democratic mechanisms is deformed. In his view, political parties, although necessary, must be checked by a robust civil society. If civil society is too weak, parties will seek to dominate institutions that should remain independent. Over the past ten years President Havel has repeatedly asked the Czechs to be more active and to not let politicians control their lives.

Klaus’s vision of democracy had the upper hand for most of the past decade. Easily understood, it conformed to patterns of behavior most Czechs acquired during the communist era, when public and private spheres of life were rigidly separated. True, communism’s fall was brought about by a strong civic movement called “Civic Forum”, but that movement disintegrated once it achieved its goal. With its passing, people became passive once more.