Czechs disillusioned with their politicians

02-04-2004

We've heard about the politicians, but what about voters in the region. In the Czech Republic there is widespread cynicism about politics; after a period of dubious privatisations and dodgy deals in the 1990s, Czechs are now feeling the pinch as painful financial reforms begin to take effect.

Fourteen years after the fall of Communism, the prevailing attitude in the Czech Republic is one of disillusionment with the country's political elite.

Woman on street: "We don't see the differences between the political parties, and the politicians are like brotherhoods, among themselves. It doesn't matter from which party you are."

Man on street: "I don't think Czech politicians are very transparent. Having travelled widely through Europe I think people there are more in touch with their politicians, and our politicians are too detached from reality."

"The expectations of people after 1989 were very high. It's usual after a revolution that people have very high expectations."

Political analyst Vaclav Zak says Czechs were used to living in an ordered society after 40 years of Communism, and were simply unprepared for the turbulence of the 1990s.

"They thought if good people would be running politics everything will be OK. The people couldn't imagine that democracy, especially when it will be connected with large privatisation, that it will be connected with so many crimes, so much asset stripping, etc."

A recent study by the European Commission found that citizens of accession countries were less satisfied with life in general than people in existing European Union states. Does commentator Pavel Pechacek see a connection between that finding and Czech attitudes to politicians?

"Of course. People simply do not believe politicians here. It's like they do not care. They think that they have no will, no possibility to influence the policies which they do not like."

What chance is there then that Czechs will - at some point - begin to feel more a part of the political process? Mr Pechacek says he is hopeful, but it will take time.

"Once I talked to Bishop Vaclav Maly, who was a very popular figure in 1989, during the Velvet Revolution. And I told him 'Vaclav, it will take maybe a generation, because of that influence on people for more than four decades, which is so deep. And Vaclav Maly just smiled and said 'well, it will be rather two generations than one."

It would be wrong, however, to suggest Czechs have given up on democracy. Some 60 percent say they plan to vote in June in their first elections to the European Parliament, a good ten percent more than voted around the EU in the last elections.

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