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Freedom in the World 2009 - Czech Republic

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2009 - Czech Republic, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a6452bf2d.html [accessed 13 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Prague
Population: 10,400,000

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free

Overview

President Vaclav Klaus, a conservative, won a second five-year term in the February 2008 presidential election. However, the opposition center-left Czech Social Democratic Party strengthened its position in Senate and regional elections held in October.


Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War II, Soviet forces helped establish a Communist government. In 1968, Soviet tanks crushed the so-called Prague Spring, a period of halting political liberalization under reformist leader Alexander Dubcek.

In December 1989, a series of peaceful anti-Communist demonstrations led by dissident Vaclav Havel and the Civic Forum opposition group resulted in the resignation of the government, in what became known as the Velvet Revolution. The country's first post-Communist elections were held the following year. In 1992, a new constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were adopted, and the country began an ambitious program of political and economic reform under Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus of the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who became prime minister that year. In 1993, the state dissolved peacefully into separate Czech and Slovak republics, and Havel became president of the former.

Close parliamentary elections in 1998 led to control of the government by the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), although an "opposition agreement" between the CSSD and the ODS limited meaningful political competition and brought about several years of political gridlock. The CSSD won the 2002 elections, and Vladimir Spidla, the party's new chairman, became prime minister. Klaus won the 2003 presidential poll.

In May 2004, the Czech Republic joined the European Union (EU), fulfilling one of the government's most important goals. EU accession had required years of work to meet strict EU standards, including a stable market economy, a consolidated democracy, a cleaner environment, and laws protecting minority rights. In the country's first elections for the European Parliament in June 2004, the ruling CSSD secured just 9 percent of the vote, while the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) captured 20 percent. Spidla stepped down in favor of Stanislav Gross, who formed a new CSSD-led government with the same set of coalition partners: the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-CSL) and a free-market liberal party, Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU).

The CSSD was further weakened in 2005 by allegations of corruption and complaints from the opposition, which led to the collapse of the governing coalition in April. Jiri Paroubek replaced Gross as prime minister, and the CSSD formed a new government with the KDU-CSL and the US-DEU. The coalition held a bare majority, with 101 seats in the 200-seat lower house of Parliament.

The June 2006 parliamentary elections saw the CSSD and the KSCM capture 100 seats (74 and 26, respectively) while three other parties – the ODS, the KDU-CSL, and the Greens – also won 100 (81, 13, and 6, respectively). Months of negotiations failed to produce a viable government, as no party was willing to work with the KSCM, which refuses to apologize for the repression of the Communist era. A short-lived government of the ODS, KDU-CSL, and Greens failed a confidence vote in October after serving only one month, and the two largest parties – the ODS and CSSD – were unable to agree on a grand coalition due to personal and political differences. The ODS easily won regional and Senate elections in late October, strengthening its public position and offering a possible way out of the impasse.

In January 2007, President Klaus reappointed Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the ODS, who had remained in office in a caretaker capacity since the last coalition collapsed. Topolanek's new government – again consisting of the ODS, KDU-CSL, and Greens – narrowly won a parliamentary confidence vote that month after two CSSD lawmakers abstained. The government managed to pass a package of economic reforms in August, overcoming a hurdle that had threatened to bring down the ruling coalition yet again.

Klaus was narrowly reelected in February 2008, receiving 141 votes in Parliament in the last of six rounds conducted over three days. His main opponent, Czech-American economist Jan Svejnar, who was favored by the public, received 111 votes. The election broke new ground in several ways: Svejnar holds dual citizenship, the two candidates engaged in the country's first televised presidential debate, and lawmakers voted openly rather than using the traditional secret ballot, to avoid suspicions of corruption.

Regional and Senate elections were held in October 2008, with the opposition CSSD setting a new record for campaign spending on regional elections. The party won a majority of seats in the country's 13 regional legislatures. In the Senate contest, the CSSD captured 23 of the 27 seats at stake for a new total of 29, while the ODS fell to a total of 35, losing its majority in the 81-seat chamber. Smaller parties held the remainder.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Czech Republic is an electoral democracy. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the country has enjoyed free and fair elections. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, has 200 members elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate has 81 members elected for six-year terms, with one-third up for election every two years. The president, elected by Parliament for five-year terms, appoints judges, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but has few other formal powers. The prime minister, whose recommendations determine the cabinet appointments, relies on support from a majority in the Chamber of Deputies to govern.

The three largest political parties are the center-left CSSD; the center-right, market-oriented ODS; and the leftist KSCM. Parties must win at least 5 percent of the vote to enter the lower house.

Corruption affects many sectors of society, especially government and business. The government has taken little action to improve transparency and prevent graft. The Czech Republic was ranked 45 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is respected, although the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a document that forms part of the Czech constitution, prohibits threats against individual rights, state and public security, public health, and morality. The country's print and electronic media are largely in private hands. Under a 2001 law designed to limit political influence over Czech Television (CT), the state broadcaster, nongovernmental groups nominate candidates for the CT's governing council. In 2005, the Constitutional Court ruled that journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources. A bill banning the publishing of information from police wiretaps was approved in October 2008 by the lower house of parliament. At the end of November 2008, journalist Sabina Slonkova was fined 700 Euros for refusing to name the source of photos showing an illicit meeting between a lobbyist and an advisor to President Klaus, a story she reported on the website Aktualne.cz in February 2008. Internet access is unrestricted.

The government generally upholds freedom of religion. In 2006, Muslim authorities were denied an exemption from the registration law that would have granted them permission and state financing for activities including religious instruction in schools and performing marriages; they had not met the law's requirements for such benefits, including proof of membership equivalent to at least 0.1 percent of the population. Academic freedom is widely respected.

Czechs may assemble peacefully, form associations, and petition the government. Trade unions and professional associations function freely. Judges, prosecutors, and members of the armed forces and police may not strike. A new labor code that took effect in 2007 abolished several restrictions on freedom of association but requires trade unions within a single enterprise to act in concert when conducting collective bargaining.

The independent judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and high, regional, and district courts. There is also a Constitutional Court. Czech authorities in 2002 issued new guidelines to police and prison wardens, including improvements in short-term detention facilities. A law that took effect in October 2008 streamlined the selection procedure for Constitutional Court and Supreme Court judges and established disciplinary measures for those caught accepting bribes.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms gives minorities the right to participate in the resolution of matters pertaining to their group. A 1999 law restored citizenship to many residents, including Roma, who continue to experience discrimination. In 2001, Parliament approved legislation for the protection of ethnic minority rights, including the creation of a governmental minority council. However, in June 2007, the European Commission cited the country for not fully incorporating principles of racial equality into its laws, and racist violence has risen. The Czech Republic remains the only EU country not to have adopted a comprehensive antidiscrimination law, as required by EU membership. Although a Czech court in October 2007 issued the first judgment awarding financial compensation to a Romany woman who was involuntarily sterilized, the High Court in November 2008 overturned a decision requiring a hospital to compensate one Roma woman for forced sterilization. Promoting denial of the Holocaust and inciting religious hatred are illegal. The Senate in September 2007 passed a proposal to prohibit extremism – specifically Nazism and communism – and its symbols, but the measure seems to have stalled.

Property ownership, choice of residence, and fair wages are legally protected, and citizens generally enjoy all of these rights in practice.

Gender discrimination is legally prohibited. However, sexual harassment in the workplace appears to be fairly common, and women are underrepresented at the highest levels of government and business. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution remains a problem. The government has taken steps in recent years to strengthen the reporting and punishment of domestic violence.

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