Nations in Transit - Czech Republic (2005)
|Author||Jeremy Druker, Alice Drukerova|
|Publication Date||15 June 2005|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Nations in Transit - Czech Republic (2005), 15 June 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473aff08c.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
Private Sector as % of GNI: na
Life Expectancy: 75
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (39.2 percent), Protestant (4.6 percent), other (57.2 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Czech (81.2 percent), Moravian (13.2 percent), Slovak (3.1 percent), other (3.5 other)
|Judicial Framework and Independence||N/A||N/A||2.50|
The fifteenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution prompted a good deal of reflection in 2004 on the current state of the country's development. Much progress has been made since 1989, with the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union (EU) in May capping off an impressive push to adopt the corresponding legislation in time and improve existing deficiencies. Living standards are comparatively high, especially for a former Soviet bloc country, and economic prosperity continues to spread. The political system is stable and secure, fundamental freedoms guaranteed, and the media varied and largely independent. That said, the country and its leaders often appear to be plodding along without any grand strategy to advance the Czech Republic to the next stage of development. Too many reforms remain unfinished in key areas, such as the fight against corruption, the pension and health care systems, the transfer of authority to regional administrations, the speed of the judicial system, and integration of the Roma minority.
Unfortunately, the major events of 2004 indicated that the political elite is short on personalities and an overall vision necessary to transform the Czech Republic into a thriving democracy in practice, not just on paper. Faced with dissent within his fragmented Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the CSSD's massive defeat in the country's first elections to the European Parliament, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla resigned, triggering the fall of the government. His successor, the popular Stanislav Gross, successfully formed the same fragile coalition as had Spidla, with only a few new faces, but he did not deliver on expectations that he would revive his party's fortunes. The CSSD's worst loss ever in the fall Senate elections was another blow to the coalition, lessening the chances of serious reform in the near future. Low turnout in these elections and those for the regional administrations demonstrated the widespread apathy and lack of civic engagement that continues to plague the country.
National Democratic Governance. The governing coalition survived a midyear shake-up and, for a short time, appeared to be gaining momentum with the young, pragmatic Gross at the helm, having quelled rebels within the CSSD. However, Gross's judgment quickly came into question over matters as wide-ranging as personnel decisions, police matters, and economic policy which, when combined with the fragility of his coalition, made it difficult for the government to overcome the system's main shortcomings: a lack of transparency and effective regulation, a minimal amount of input from civil society, a contentious political atmosphere, and a slow-operating public administration. The country does often resemble a fully functioning democracy stable and secure, with many checks and balances in place but it is short on leadership that will force the changes necessary to improve efficiency and accountability. As a result, the national democratic governance rating is set at 2.50 a promising figure, but still mediocre for a consolidated democracy.
Electoral Process. It was a disappointing year for civic engagement as low voter turnout tarnished all three of the Czech Republic's elections. Only 28 percent of the electorate took part in the country's first elections to the European Parliament, which dealt the final blow to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's leadership of the CSSD and the government. Already under fire from rebels within his party, Spidla resigned, prompting the collapse of the government. However, the shaky coalition held together with a few, mostly cosmetic, changes. The CSSD was again thrashed in fall elections to the Senate (18 percent turnout) and regional governments (around 30 percent). With little to no progress in political party development and the inclusion of the Roma minority, the country's rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 2.00.
Civil Society. The reputation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has continued to grow, with roughly half the population characterizing NGOs as influential in helping to solve society's problems. Volunteerism and donations are both on the upswing. On the other hand, many politicians consider the more advocacy-oriented organizations, especially those that attempt to influence public policy, as unnecessarily interfering in and complicating their work. Many officials would prefer that NGOs operate strictly as service providers. The legal environment, already unaccommodating for NGO fund-raising through taxpayer incentives, worsened with the passage of a new Law on Value-Added Tax. While extremist groups kept a low profile in 2004, there was a growing willingness on the part of leading Social Democrats to cooperate with the Communist Party (KSCM), still an outcast on the political scene. The official CSSD party line, however, remains unchanged: No coalition with the Communists is possible. The rating for civil society remains the same at 1.50.
Independent Media. Czech media are independent and diverse, but critics continue to speculate over behind-the-scenes political and financial interference. Public television remains especially vulnerable since the year saw little development in its precarious financial situation. Still, its news programs showed improvement in terms of political balance and overall quality, and commercial stations also continued to demonstrate more independence than several years ago. Appearing to slow, if not stop, its slide toward infotainment, the daily press practices a decent, if unremarkable, level of journalism – though it is short on quality investigative stories and analytical pieces. Unknown assailants attacked the editor in chief of the country's top investigative paper, but threats and assaults remain rare. Overall, relative improvements in quality and editorial independence justify a slight increase in the rating for independent media from 2.25 to 2.00.
Local Democratic Governance. Over the past few years, the system of local government has improved considerably, especially at the regional level. The regions have made considerable progress tackling problems in fields that are neglected by the central government, including education and health care. General awareness of the new regional powers has risen, even though voter turnout remains low. However, the flow of funds from the center has failed to keep pace with the addition of newly added responsibilities, leaving local administrations short on cash and frustrated over the low percentage of their budgets that they actually control. With a solid system of local democratic governance enshrined in law and starting to prove its worth, but needed improvements in securing resources and capacity that would enable local authorities to fulfill their duties, the local democratic governance rating is set at 2.00.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The Czech Republic's accession to the EU has sparked the beginning of a revolution in the judicial sphere. While the new linkage of the judicial system to European law will likely improve the quality and independence of the judiciary, EU membership does not automatically bring judicial reform, which is left up to member states. In that regard, the country still has serious work to do in speeding up court cases; passing legislation to prevent police abuse, combat discrimination, and safeguard property rights; and guaranteeing judicial independence. Since the implications of EU accession have yet to be widely felt and judicial reform has not progressed significantly, the country's ranking for judicial framework remains at 2.50.
Corruption. The level of corruption in the lives of ordinary citizens is slowly being reduced, but much of Czech society believes that graft is still widespread in the upper echelons of power, on both national and local levels of the public administration. Despite shortcomings in the regulation of conflicts of interest, the government has still not enacted more effective legislation. The same is true in the area of public contracts, which are still seriously lacking in transparency. In the most high-profile case of the year, a coalition deputy announced that people connected with the opposition, including a lobbyist, had tried to bribe him to vote against the government. As a result of government inaction, the Czech Republic's corruption rating stays the same at 3.50.
Outlook for 2005. European Parliament elections clarified just how deep the gulf has become between the ruling parties and the opposition over further European integration, with the Civic Democrats (ODS) and the KSCM skeptical about the European project in general and antagonistic to the European Constitution in particular. The triumph of the anti-Constitution viewpoint, also backed by President Vaclav Klaus, will receive increasing attention in the upcoming debate over the document's acceptance, and could determine the course of Czech politics for years to come, as well as the country's position in Europe.
National Governance (Score: 2.50)
The institutions of governance in the Czech Republic are stable and democratic. No single party dominates the political scene, and regular rotations of power occur on the national and local levels. Political parties generally agree on the nature and direction of democratic change, with one major exception the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSCM), which has never served in a post-1989 government. The party continues to attract those nostalgic for the old regime (support hovers around 20 percent) and to frighten away those who worry that the KSCM will one day sit in power and backtrack on reforms. The refusal of other parties to work with the KSCM has greatly complicated the process of forming stable coalitions, since the party's 41 seats in the lower house are essentially off-limits for negotiation.
While other parties may agree on the general direction of the country's development, they clash sharply on many of the details and still show a remarkable tendency to avoid compromise, preferring inflammatory attacks that keep the general political discourse at a comparatively low level. Vladimir Spidla, prime minister and chairman of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) until he resigned from both positions in June, had succeeded in bringing a fresh attitude of modesty and decency to the prime minister's job. Since the country's independence, that position had been held almost exclusively by charismatic personalities prone to arrogance and harsh attacks on the opposition and the media. Spidla, on the other hand, managed to maintain a statesmanlike air and create a more constructive atmosphere within the Parliament. His replacement, Stanislav Gross, has long been popular with the public, but his moral scruples and judgment have come under intense scrutiny since he assumed power. Gross faced a torrent of criticism for standing by his chief of staff, Pavel Pribyl, after the press uncovered evidence that Pribyl had led police troops ordered to contain anti-Communist demonstrators in January 1989. Although Pribyl ended up resigning, the case prompted the media to look into the questionable, pre-1989 backgrounds of other members of Gross's administration and circle of friends.
Gross was also roundly criticized for failing to rein in spending, as his government included billions of crowns for various interest groups in the 2005 budget just in time for the fall elections. These allocations appear to be unstructured and impulsive handouts, adding to the impression that the government's economic policy continues to rely on short-term solutions instead of implementing real reform in the health care sector, pension system, and other areas. That approach has caused the deficit to balloon in the past few years, though the government has finally implemented some sharp cutbacks.
The intersection of political and economic interests remains a subject of much speculation, owing in part to the lack of transparency in major business deals involving the state. While the country's highest control body, the Supreme Audit Office, has uncovered massive irregularities and overspending on various government contracts, politicians generally ignore its findings, calling the agency incompetent and toothless. Current law does not even allow the Supreme Audit Office to impose sanctions, reports the independent weekly Respekt.
While a Law on Freedom of Information is in effect that might shed light on government practices, journalists do not often invoke their rights and officials continue to be overly secretive. In September, the legislative council of the government for the second time sent back to the National Security Service a proposed Law on Secret Information and Security Clearances. The Coalition for Restricting Information Within Democratic Limits, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), had criticized the proposal for its vague demarcations of secret information, the new powers given to the security services to acquire personal data from various public administration systems, and the unreasonably privileged role given to secret information from NATO and the European Union (EU), according to a report by Transparency International Czech Republic.
Also problematic is the government's failure to pass effective conflict of interest legislation or any regulation of lobbying of the executive and Parliament. The general population still tends to believe that politicians benefit financially from their positions and use their influence in illicit ways. According to opinion poll research conducted in the fall, only 25 percent of respondents said they trusted the Chamber of Deputies (the country's lower house), while the figure was even more dismal for the Senate (20 percent), reports the news daily Mlada Fronta Dnes.
Critics also point to the continued practice exercised by political parties of nominating individuals to serve throughout the public administration, even at lower levels, and on the supervisory boards of companies partially owned by the state. This custom has increased both instability and clientelism, while interfering in the maturation of the civil service, already hampered by low wages, a poor reputation, and a corresponding turnover in qualified experts, according to the UN's Human Development Report. The Law on Civil Service, which will enter into force in 2005, should accelerate the gradual improvement now under way. In general, however, watchdogs such as the Czech branch of Transparency International agree that the public administration must be modernized and professionalized more rapidly and that financial controls need to be strengthened. Negative findings from those controls must then lead to concrete change.
While the legislature is independent from the executive branch, critics charge that such autonomy has not prevented the Parliament from passing an excessive number of poorly prepared laws. There is a chronic lack of skilled experts to assist in writing and editing legislation, as well as poor communication and insufficient cooperation among ministries and other bodies of the public administration. As a result, the Parliament sometimes hurriedly passes error-filled laws, which then require revision. For example, the 1991 Law on Commercial Activity has been amended 61 times, and the Law on Tax Income, adopted in 1992, has been amended 55 times, notes a report by the CESES Institute at Charles University.
It doesn't help matters that the executive and the legislature rarely consult civil society for input on proposed legislation. This points in part to the lack of independent public policy actors but also reflects the inability of most politicians to consider civil society a potentially important contributor to policy discussions. Legislators are still much more likely to meet with lobbyists behind closed doors than attend NGO-organized events with ordinary citizens debating key issues. Since various forms of "direct democracy" (plebiscites, petition drives, demonstrations, and so forth) are also underdeveloped and underused, public pressure remains minimal. Thus, policy making is still almost exclusively the domain of government officials, with little outside input.
While the legislature and the judiciary are generally thought to exercise sufficient supervision with respect to the military and security services, a scandal involving the widespread use of wiretaps called into question some of the safeguards over the police. The police's own data indicate that at least 10,000 phones were tapped by the end of 2004; this rate, which represents more than a threefold increase over the 1999 figures, is reportedly one of the highest in Europe. Opposition politicians have long complained of wiretapping, although they have not furnished actual proof. One newspaper also reported that even the president, Vaclav Klaus, had unknowingly been recorded when he spoke with a businessman friend whose phone was bugged. Judges must approve each wiretap, but they rarely deny requests and their decisions are not closely monitored. There have been calls to establish a parliamentary committee to provide oversight, but others charge that this approach could violate the judiciary's independence.
Some analysts believe that the Constitution creates an overlapping of executive power between the government and the president. Actual confrontations related to this "overlap" depend largely on the personality of the president, since the position is chiefly ceremonial yet retains some important powers. For example, the president selects an individual to form a government and nominates members of the Czech National Bank governing board and justices of the Constitutional Court.
While President Klaus, an often divisive fixture on the Czech political scene since the revolution, surprised many observers by standing above the fray at the beginning of his tenure, that impression has changed in recent times. In key areas such as foreign policy, Klaus has attempted to expand his real influence on the policy-making process surpassing any steps taken by his predecessor, Vaclav Havel. Despite the government's criticism of his activities, he has espoused his well-known Euro-skepticism at various international forums, clashing with the official government line on issues such as the European Constitution and the introduction of the euro. And in November 2004, in an undisguised attack on the independence of the judiciary, Klaus condemned the Supreme Administrative Court's decision to abolish the Senate election results in one Prague district on the grounds that campaign violations had occurred. A candidate of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which Klaus founded and chaired for years, had allegedly won the disputed election. Such meddling has sparked concerns that the ODS's expected win in the next parliamentary elections, plus its current dominance in the regions and Senate, could upset the constitutional balance of powers in the Czech Republic.
Electoral Process (Score: 2.00)
The Czech Republic is far beyond the fundamental electoral challenges faced by other parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. No one doubts the fairness of the electoral process, and reports never surface of intimidation, fraud, or any other type of manipulation on the part of the authorities. Political organizations have no problems either registering or campaigning. While a shaky coalition government has been in power for the last few years, the system itself is solidly multiparty, with a strong opposition and diversity at all levels of government.
The Czech Republic uses a parliamentary system with two houses. Real political power resides in the Chamber of Deputies, the 200-seat lower house, to which deputies are elected by proportional vote on party ballots. The 81-seat Senate is elected on the basis of single-mandate districts. Though serving as a check on the Chamber of Deputies, the upper house is the weaker of the two parliamentary bodies and continues to suffer low regard among the general public and some political parties. The Senate can return approved bills to the lower house, but the Chamber of Deputies can override the Senate by a simple majority. In a joint session, both houses elect the president for a five-year term by a simple majority.
In 2004, the Czech Republic did not conduct parliamentary elections, but the year did see the fall of the government. In 2002, Vladimir Spidla, leader of the left-wing CSSD, formed a weak coalition with the centrist Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the small right-of-center Freedom Party (US-DEU). The coalition had only a one-vote majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Throughout 2003 and early 2004, that majority became more difficult to hold together owing to dissenting voices among the CSSD's coalition partners and rebels within the CSSD itself. Supported by former prime minister Milos Zeman, the rebel members openly criticized Spidla's leadership and accused him of compromising the party's left-wing ideals.
The final blow for Spidla was his party's crushing defeat in the June 12 elections to the European Parliament, the country's first such elections following its accession to the EU in May 2004. CSSD came in fifth with only 8.8 percent of the vote, down from the 30 percent the party had garnered in the 2002 parliamentary elections. On the other hand, the two main opposition parties fared very well, with 30 percent for the ODS and 20.3 percent for the KSCM. Two newly formed groups also acquired mandates: the Association of Independent Candidates European Democrats (SNK-ED; 11 percent) and the Independents (8.2 percent).
While the European Parliament elections served as a midterm review for the coalition, the poll also spelled out just how deep the gulf has become between the ruling parties and the opposition over further European integration, with the ODS and the KSCM skeptical about the European project in general and antagonistic to the European Constitution in particular. The triumph of the anti-Constitution viewpoint, which will receive increasing attention in the upcoming debate over the document's acceptance, could determine the course of Czech politics for years to come, as well as the country's position in Europe.
Spidla had more immediate worries. At a June 26 meeting of the CSSD's central committee, 103 out of 169 members raised their hands against him, leading him to resign. According to the Czech Constitution, the resignation of the prime minister automatically ends the government's mandate. President Vaclav Klaus then entrusted Stanislav Gross, the interior minister, with forming the next government. Although only 34 years old, Gross is a veteran of the Czech political scene, having risen up through CSSD ranks from the age of 19 to become known as one of the country's most skilled backroom dealers.
After several weeks of deliberation, Gross emerged with a new government that looked very much like the previous one. The old and new cabinets comprised the same parties, with only four members of Spidla's team not brought back to serve with Gross. Spidla left the domestic political scene to take a post as the country's next EU commissioner.
While Gross momentarily succeeded in quelling the dissent within his own party and launched a massive PR campaign, his efforts came to naught when the CSSD was beaten soundly in the fall elections to the Senate and regional administration. The ODS won 18 Senate seats and the CSSD none. Gross responded to the results the worst ever for the CSSD by saying that the low turnout (only 18 percent) should call into question the continued existence of the Senate, a comment labeled sour grapes by the other parties. The election thrashing left most political commentators doubting that the CSSD would have the strength or courage to tackle any of the country's most severe problems, such as health care and pension reform.
The electorate's indifference during these and other elections around 30 percent voted in the regional polls and 28 percent in the elections for the European Parliament continues to be a troubling phenomenon. (It remains unclear whether the low participation in various elections in 2004 was less a continuation of a long-term trend and more a reflection of the populace's dislike of the Senate and ignorance of the European Parliament.) Apathy has certainly played a key role in the stunted development of direct or participatory forms of democracy such as petitions, demonstrations, and referendum drives, notes the UN's Human Development Report. Use of these tactics has increased in the past few years with some success, yet the starting point was low a legacy of the 1990s. During that era, the political elite, led by then prime minister Vaclav Klaus, viewed these alternative methods of public involvement in political life as illegitimate and the machinations of interest groups. That attitude remains to this day among some government representatives, and President Klaus, unsurprisingly, has not become the booster for civic involvement that former president Vaclav Havel once was.
Current legislation on communal referendums has also been a major impediment to increasing public engagement in the political life of the country. According to the law, a referendum is valid only if at least 50 percent of the electorate participates. As a result, a highly charged vote on moving the train station in the city of Brno at a cost of billions of crowns was declared invalid after a scant 25 percent of the population showed up at the polls (and voted overwhelmingly against moving the station). Even seemingly important issues in smaller towns and villages such as closing a nursery school or founding a hospice have attracted minuscule turnouts. Examples such as these have discouraged local activists and politicians who believed that issues closer to home would reverse voter apathy, reports the newsweekly Tyden.
The continued low membership in political parties does not help the situation. The largest party by far remains the KSCM, with around 95,000 members, followed by the ODS (23,138), the CSSD (16,381), and the US-DEU (1,535), from data provided by the parties. Several new parties formed in time to compete in elections to the European Parliament, but these also have very small membership bases. The low figures persist despite generous state funding parties must receive only 1.5 percent of the vote (well under the 5 percent threshold for seats in the Parliament) to qualify.
The parties' low membership base has clear repercussions for the political elite; with relatively few members to choose from for prominent party and government positions, the parties often recycle the same personalities, leading to a feeling among the public and media that talented new faces rarely surface. A key example is Prime Minister Gross's current cabinet, which features only a handful of neophytes. Parties also often reward loyalty rather than expertise, handing out ministries to individuals whose only qualification is their long service to the party. Add to these deficiencies the continued existence of poor management and insufficient democracy within parties, mediocre policy teams, and still too often the arrogance of power, and it becomes clear why many analysts believe the current political class does not possess the capacity to push the country forward at a dynamic pace. There are serious doubts that the almost certain triumph of the ODS in the next parliamentary elections will change much. Leading members of the elite are unable to seek, let alone achieve, consensus on issues of national interest and major reforms.
In addition to these problems, the country's largest minority, the Roma, are effectively shut out of participation in national politics. Although the number of Roma is estimated at 200,000 to 250,000, there are currently no Roma parliamentarians. Prospective Roma politicians find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation: mainstream parties believe that Roma candidates on their candidate lists may do them more harm than good among average voters, while Czech Roma are not organized politically to a point where the parties would compete actively for their votes. There are, however, a handful of Roma who are active on the local level.
Civil Society (Score: 1.50)
The reputation of nonprofit organizations has continued to grow, now fully recovered from several scandals that tarnished the sector in its early years of post-Communist existence. Most Czechs now see NGOs as not only legitimate but valuable instruments for creating and preserving social cohesion. Roughly half the population characterizes NGOs as influential organizations that help solve social problems and are essential to a well-functioning democracy. Hand in hand with this growing respect has been an increase in donations from both companies and individuals. In a wide-ranging survey on civil society issues conducted by the STEM polling agency in April 2004 and reported on the NROS Web site, 47 percent of respondents said that they had made a donation to a nonprofit organization, up 4 percent from 2000.
Volunteerism has grown dramatically since 2000, with twice as many people (32 percent) now saying that they had performed unpaid work for an NGO. Yet the population as a whole continues to think of volunteerism as a way to make up for the state's deficiencies rather than as a vital part of civil society that enriches normal life a legacy of 50 years of dependency on the state and its services under the Communist regime. Two thirds of those questioned in the STEM survey believed that there would be no need for volunteerism if the state fulfilled all its responsibilities. Three quarters thought that, in contrast with the state, people who volunteer do not actually have the power to solve society's problems.
Four kinds of NGOs exist in the Czech Republic: civic associations, public benefit organizations, foundations, and foundation funds. The most common form by far is the civic association a legal entity comprising groups of people in pursuit of a common interest. By September 2004, the Ministry of the Interior had registered 52,687 civic associations, ranging from political think tanks to hobby groups and sports clubs. The total number of foundations was 360. According to the Czech Statistical Office, there were 4,940 church charities, 889 foundation funds (similar to foundations but not operating any of their funded assets), and 1,001 public benefit organizations (entities that provide general services to all recipients under the same conditions).
The relationship of the political elite to the nonprofit sector is varied. Through grants, the state provides extensive financial support to NGOs, with policies toward the sector coordinated through the Council for NGOs. NGOs themselves have the ability to influence decision making in the council and through various advisory bodies at ministries. In the country's most recent UN Human Development Report, Pavol Fric, one of the country's leading experts on the nonprofit sector, described the relationship between the public administration and NGOs as mainly positive, even though most NGOs still feel more like supplicants than true partners.
On the other hand, many politicians consider more active organizations, especially those that attempt to influence public policy, as unnecessarily interfering in and complicating their work. The political elite is particularly wary of what it considers more "aggressive" forms of action, such as demonstrations and petition drives, and is quick to label the initiators as politically motivated even though they usually are not. Many officials would prefer that NGOs serve strictly as service providers, filling in where the state cannot or will not, according to the UN report. This attitude may help explain the remarkably small number of truly independent public policy organizations or think tanks in the Czech Republic.
The legal environment already unaccommodating for NGO fund-raising through taxpayer incentives worsened in 2004. In connection with the country's entrance into the EU, the Parliament passed a new Law on Value-Added Tax that lowered to 1 million crowns (US$ 43,000) the limit above which organizations must pay a value-added tax. For NGOs that make money through their own activities, the change is significant, since no distinction is made between for-profit and nonprofit organizations. In addition, several foundations that make up the Donors Forum coalition have been unsuccessful in their long-running attempts to force a change in tax laws that would allow individuals to give 1 percent of declared taxes to socially beneficial projects. These legal deficiencies appear to be the result of the state's insensitivity to the plight of NGOs rather than a concerted effort to put financial pressure on their activities and limit their impact. Local donations, on the part of individuals and companies, are now increasingly critical as foreign funding has become more difficult to obtain since the Czech Republic's "graduation" into the EU.
A decline in international funding already a problem, especially at the local level may make some NGOs even more dependent on the government for financial support. Following administrative reform, municipalities and regional governments have more responsibilities but remain short of cash. With no formal rules for working with NGOs and less transparency than on the national level, the process of handing out these limited funds is more vulnerable to cronyism and connections, according to the UN's Human Development Report. While at the national level NGOs usually keep a strict distance from political parties, the situation is very different on the local level. "Active" citizens are often members of local civic organizations and at the same time local political representatives.
Journalists have become much more likely to seek out members of NGOs to comment on government initiatives and proposals, especially if other civil society actors, such as unions and professional chambers, are included in this assessment. The local press also regularly covers the activities of local nonprofit organizations, which are increasingly seen as a vital part of the community.
While Czech civil society is certainly more vibrant than even a few years ago, grassroots initiatives that bring about change are still not commonplace. People do engage to some extent. The STEM research found that 14 percent of respondents had participated in a protest demonstration over the past five years; 43 percent had signed a petition; and 12 percent had written at least one letter to a newspaper. But motivation is often limited to a core group of activists. Several referendums have not had sufficient participation because the Law on Communal Referendums states that over 50 percent of registered voters must take part for a decision to be valid.
Regarding the "negative" side of civil society growth that is, the emergence of extremist organizations the situation in the Czech Republic appears to have settled down. Violent attacks on foreigners and the Roma minority occurred less frequently than in the 1990s and stayed largely out of the headlines. However, the prognosis of the Ministry of the Interior for 2004 was that extremist groups on both the Left and the Right would continue their attempts to unite and expand their activities, as well as increase cooperation with foreign extremist groups. As noted on its Web site, the ministry also predicted that these groups would intentionally avoid violent attacks in order to keep a low profile.
The ministry report did not label the KSCM an extremist group, although many in Czech society would disagree with that assessment. Unlike its counterparts in other Central European countries, the KSCM remains largely unreformed, having failed to renounce unambiguously its past. In 2004, there was evidence of a growing willingness on the part of leading Social Democrats to cooperate with the KSCM, an outcast on the political scene since the Velvet Revolution. In the second round of Senate elections, the CSSD even appealed to its voters to support KSCM candidates in areas where they were running against candidates of the right-wing ODS. Such moves worried some who had predicted that the two parties would start to cooperate initially on the local level, thereby "legitimizing" a partnership nationally. Others, however, have countered that any moves to free the Communists from their political ghetto have been made by individual politicians, including President Vaclav Klaus, but do not represent a major political shift. The official CSSD party line explicitly prohibits a coalition with the Communists, and KSCM support for individual bills proposed by the ruling coalition has not exceeded the level of cooperation, for example, between the Communists and the ODS. In fact, the two opposition parties voted unanimously several times in 2004 in their attempts to thwart some government policies or to depose the government in a vote of no confidence.
Independent Media (Score: 2.00)
For the most part, the Czech media display sufficient independence and practice a decent, if unremarkable, level of journalism. Press freedom has long been secure in the Czech Republic, and no major media are state owned. Media are generally free of political or economic bias, though allegations still surface of pressure from both business and political interests.
The national print media offer a diverse selection, from several above average daily newspapers to news/society weeklies to dozens of magazines for women and hobbyists. Foreign corporations own many of these publications, including almost all the dailies. (Media-related legislation includes minimal ownership restrictions and none on foreign ownership.) In contrast with the situation a mere six or seven years ago, the "serious" press has now matured to a point where they offer more balanced political coverage and opinions. They have, however, been influenced by the worldwide trend toward infotainment and run an increased amount of "fluff" centered on domestic and international celebrities. Only on rare occasions do any of the newspapers publish comprehensive analyses that get to the heart of policy issues, preferring shorter articles that tend to sensationalize parts of the story. Still, they do provide the population with an adequate overview of the main events and issues facing society.
According to ABC Czech Republic, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Mlada Fronta Dnes sold a daily average of 299,373 copies in September 2004, as compared with the tabloid Blesk at 516,582, Pravo at 177,187, Hospodarske Noviny at 65,643, and Lidove Noviny at 71,918. Respekt, a respected independent weekly, suffers from low sales (16,800 copies). More successful are Tyden (53,597 copies) and Reflex (57,620 copies), both respected weeklies for culture, society, and politics. A high-quality Sunday newspaper appeared for the first time in the Czech Republic Nedelni Svet, published by the same company as Tyden. Many Czechs also receive their news from Web sites run by the major dailies, though overall Internet usage (estimates vary widely, but probably around 20 percent of the population) continues to lag behind that of the West, largely as a result of very high dial-up costs. However, the market has heated up in the area of high-speed mobile phone access, which should boost those numbers significantly.
Even with the wide range of publications available, true investigative journalism remains at a premium, appearing occasionally in some of the daily newspapers and on some television stations, but regularly only in Respekt. Instead, newspapers such as Mlada Fronta Dnes or Lidove Noviny delight in running front-page exposés of the poor driving habits of ministers or faux pas at events in Brussels. Otherwise, scandals often result from leaks rather than the type of extensive (and costly) investigations that change policy.
Reservations about the overall quality and courage of the press apply to an even greater degree in the regions, where the company Vltava-Labe-Press (VLP), owned by Germany's Verlagsgruppe Passau, has achieved a near monopoly. VLP owns 76 publications, including many in every Czech region, making it extremely difficult and expensive for any other player to enter the market. (Cross-ownership regulations concern broadcast media only.) For the most part, these papers the main source of information for approximately one fifth of the population focus on generating revenue rather than practicing groundbreaking journalism and performing the role of public watchdog. A reporter at the Liberec VLP daily was fired for wanting to write about corruption scandals at the local municipal hall, and another VLP paper printed an apology for publishing an article that delved into problems in the CSSD, one of the paper's big sponsors. In August, however, VLP surprisingly hired a Radio Free Europe veteran, Lida Rakusanova, to take over as national editor in chief. Rakusanova installed an ethics code that warns against conflicts of interest and the practice of placing hidden advertisements in articles.
Even with the limited amount of hard-hitting journalism, attacks or planned attacks on investigative reporters do occur from time to time. At the beginning of 2004, the editor in chief of Respekt ended up in the hospital after being attacked by two men in front of his house. Suspicions were raised that the assault was connected with the paper's investigations into organized crime in the north Bohemian city of Most. In the summer, the daily Pravo reported that a Czech television journalist, Jiri Hynek, had received death threats in connection with his reporting on a high-profile bankruptcy fraud case. While Czech TV officially denied the report, Hynek insisted that the potential killers had received an offer of 1 million crowns (US$43,000) to murder him. Hynek had also reportedly been threatened over another story he had done on imports of fertilizer from Russia.
Media critics, such as Milan Smid, a professor at Charles University, have charged that some media have shied away from stories that place top advertisers in a poor light. As Smid has written, only Respekt and several other smaller publications criticized Czech Telecom's monopolisitic behavior before telecommunications deregulation. Smid also alleged that public television broke the story about the financial problems at Fischer, the country's largest travel agency, because the commercial media did not want to upset a powerful advertiser. More broadly, some critics have charged that commercial TV stations occasionally ignore stories that might harm their parent companies' financial interests. However, these stations are more politically balanced than they were several years ago, when the most powerful station, TV Nova, was often accused of supporting the ODS. (The December sale of TV Nova back to Central European Media Enterprises an American company that lost control of the station in 1999 after a falling-out with Nova's then director and license holder is not expected to affect news programming.)
Journalists are loath to complain about these ethical violations; they fear dismissal and know all too well the small size of the media market, where the number of applicants for any new position far outweighs the demand. (Along those lines, true media criticism hardly exists in the mainstream press because journalists refrain from antagonizing possible future employers.) Furthermore, some foreign media owners have been denounced for not adhering to the same employment standards they follow in their home countries. The lack of a collective bargaining agreement on the national level between publishers and the Trade Union of Journalists means employers are bound only by normal labor law. The union, which counts few influential members, has played a largely toothless role in its post-Communist history. It does, however, work in the field of media ethics, which includes the setting of standards.
Unfortunately, the public television, Czech TV, is unable to fill in the market's gaps in terms of independence and high-quality news programming. Czech TV's news programs have improved in recent years, but the station's continued financial difficulties make it particularly vulnerable to political and business interests. The Chamber of Deputies controls the level of viewer fees the station's lifeblood but again failed to pass a proposal in 2004 that would have raised the fees. The Chamber of Deputies also appoints the supervisory boards of both Czech TV and Czech Radio, as well as the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting. Hard proof of direct pressure from politicians or financial groups on public broadcasters rarely surfaces, but anecdotal evidence suggests that interference still takes place, with timid responses from management.. The overall situation at Czech Radio is better, but probably because the stakes in terms of lucrative contracts and influence on the population are lower.
In another blow against Czech TV, many media analysts also believe that TV Nova and Prima TV cooperate on programming and pricing strategies but that their ownership structures are too opaque to prove collusion and price setting. It is also widely assumed that the stations' powerful lobbying has had an undue influence on parliamentary deputies, resulting in laws that tend to favor commercial stations over public broadcasters. Some critics have called for a less politicized, more powerful broadcasting regulator that could investigate unclear ownership issues or other potential improprieties. More competition would also help significantly and will likely occur once digital television gets off the ground. However, up to now the debate on digitalization has fallen victim to a heated dispute over the regulation of licenses, and progress has been slow.
These impediments have kept market shares for the broadcasters relatively stable. TV Nova's market share is around 43-44 percent, as compared with 22-23 percent for Czech TV Channel One, 21-22 percent for TV Prima, and 8-9 percent for Czech TV Channel Two, according to IP/RTL Group Key Facts Television 2004.
Local Governance (Score: 2.00)
Though long delayed, the development of local government structures and authority has become one of the country's bright spots in recent years. Landmark legislation passed in 1997 led to the creation of 14 regions, which started to function in 2001. The central government handed over significant powers to these regions in fields such as education, health care, and road maintenance. Additionally, 205 newly created municipalities took over for 73 district offices, which ceased all their activities by the end of 2002. Self-governed regions and municipalities own property and manage separate budgets. Voters directly elect regional assemblies, which then choose regional councils and regional governors. The regional councils may pass legal resolutions and levy fines. Directly elected municipal assemblies elect municipal councils and mayors. Municipalities wield considerable power over such areas as welfare, building permits, forest and waste management, and motor vehicle registration.
Some analysts now label the creation of the regions as one of the most important steps in the country's modern-day history. The regions have made considerable progress in tackling problems neglected by the central government. The education system is a prime example. Although the birth rate dropped rapidly since the end of Communism and reduced the number of pupils, the state failed to take the unpopular steps of closing schools and firing teachers. Since acquiring the power to act, some of the regions have moved much more forcefully, shuttering schools and tying funding more strictly to the number of students. The deep savings will go toward better equipment and higher salaries for teachers, reports Respekt. These improvements have emboldened regional administrations to seek more power and money from the state for education, and some regional leaders have even called for all funds connected to high schools to go directly to the regions instead of through the Ministry of Education, according to Lidove Noviny.
One area where shortcomings have been noted, however, is in environmental protection. According to Respekt, local businessmen and building companies still outmuscle the public interest and have managed to push through proposals that would have damaged national parks had the central administration not blocked their implementation.
Overall, the success in regional management and greater autonomy has made a strong case for allowing regional governments to manage more of their money. They currently control only 14 percent of their budgets, a fact that causes consternation among local leaders. For the other 86 percent, regions essentially act as middlemen for the state, sending money on to predetermined recipients, reports Tyden. That has meant that major, region-initiated projects are currently out of reach. A new bill under debate would raise the amount of funds under management of the regions to roughly 50 percent, reports Lidove Noviny.
Just as vexing for local politicians has been the failure of funds flowing from the center to keep pace with their newly added responsibilities. Local politicians complain regularly that the central government has transferred major tasks to them without the money that would allow them to do their jobs well. The funds they do receive, they say, should also be based more on their communities' relative wealth rather than sheer size. The regions are allowed to keep only a tiny fraction of the tax money they help collect 3 percent although the new bill that relates to regional financing would increase that figure fivefold, reports Tyden. While the government has assisted occasionally approving, for example, a transfer of billions of crowns to help bail out impoverished hospitals that support has not been sufficient. The municipalities, in turn, believe the regions do not yet have the competencies, money, or experience necessary to effectively influence local development.
Public knowledge about regional authorities has improved considerably but still leaves much to be desired. It is necessary to clarify for average voters the various competencies of the municipalities, regions, and central government. Before the fall elections, a poll conducted by the Factum Invenio agency showed that an unusually high number of people had no opinion about their regional administration, with 40 percent claiming ignorance even about the services these bodies provide. A third said they could not properly evaluate the work of their representatives. Another poll, conducted by the SC&C agency on the eve of the regional elections, revealed that half of the respondents did not know the name of their regional governor. Such ignorance translated into disappointing turnouts at the polls in the regional elections in November 2004 (around 30 percent) and at the local level (down 17 percent between 1994 and 2002), according to Respekt.
Adding to the confusion, the law allocates a broad range of responsibilities to regional governments, but in practice the transfer has been gradual and the regions have not yet assumed full control over all promised areas. Competencies have sometimes been transferred, but legislation that would force change along with "ownership" has lagged behind. For instance, the regions now receive funds to take care of socially vulnerable citizens, yet no specific law exists to bind the local authorities to certain minimum standards (there are only guidelines). Not surprisingly, some regions have taken the initiative and improved the system, while others have done little, claiming they don't have the money for major changes.
Despite these challenges, some regional politicians have already made names for themselves, indicating that the development of local governance has also had a positive overall effect on the political elite, increasing its breadth and variety. Politicians are now making their names in the regions, becoming "stars" of their respective parties without feeling pressure to immediately move to Prague and take up positions in the central government. Increasingly, success at the local and regional levels is seen as a conduit to greater power on the national stage.
Policies concerning the regions have also sent shock waves through the national political scene. In the fall, the CSSD united with the Communists to pass legislation forbidding regional governments from transforming hospitals into for-profit enterprises, a move that upset the CSSD's center-right coalition partners and worried critics about the possibility of greater cooperation between the CSSD and the Communists. Some regions had grown tired of operating inefficient, indebted hospitals and changed their status to try to force a shift in attitude and performance. Initial financial reports in the Plzen region, for example, have indicated much lower losses than in the past, according to Respekt.
Judicial Framework and Independence (Score: 2.50)
The Czech Republic's accession to the EU has set the stage for a revolution in the judicial sphere. The Czech judicial system like those of all EU member states is now intricately linked to EU legislation. In cases where European legislation clashes with domestic laws, the former takes precedence over the latter. That new reality has the ability to change not only the lives of individual citizens, but also relations among the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature. However, while European integration will bring improvements, EU membership does not automatically bring judicial reform, which remains the domain of member states and is still a critical problem in the Czech Republic.
The four-tier judicial system consists of district courts (86), regional courts (8), high courts (2), and the Supreme Court. The Czech Constitutional Court is a well-respected institution that may be addressed directly by citizens who believe their fundamental rights have been infringed. The mandates of nine Constitutional Court judges expired in 2003, and the controversy over the naming of their successors lingered far into 2004. President Vaclav Klaus repeatedly sparred over his nominations with the Senate, which must give its approval. The dispute created a case backlog and crippled the court's ability to deal with certain cases, until the appointment of a twelfth judge in June finally created a plenum. Klaus will likely have fewer problems in the future because the ODS, which he founded and led for a decade, swept to victory in the fall Senate elections. The verdict is still out on whether the new court will be as strong and independent in its current composition.
Although the Czech judiciary is constitutionally independent, the minister of justice appoints, transfers, and terminates the tenure of the presidents and vice presidents of the courts. Recent attempts at reform largely preserved the Ministry of Justice's central role in overseeing the judiciary and drew criticism that the executive continued to compromise the true independence of the courts, as noted in a report issued by the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy. However, there is more talk about the potential for abuse and systematic pressure on judges to follow the ministry line than about cases of overt meddling, which remain relatively rare. Even so, in 2004 there were several instances of politicians questioning high-profile court decisions that concerned restitution cases and the rerunning of a Senate election.
Some analysts such as Ivo Slosarcik, an expert at EUROPEUM on the impact of integration on the legal system have surmised that the country's accession to the EU and adoption of EU law could significantly shift the balance of power. Czech judges now have the ability to essentially countermand the Parliament and rule certain pieces of legislation incompatible with EU law. The independence and prestige of lower courts may also increase, since even an ordinary court has the possibility of communicating directly with the European Court of Justice. Thus, these new circumstances carry the potential to raise the status of the Czech judiciary in relation to the executive and legislature, as long as knowledge of European law spreads through the system. While young judges have taken university courses in EU law, the same is not true of their older colleagues, who must educate themselves on these changes. Courts, in fact, still employ a number of Communist-era judges and officials, many of whom remain opposed to needed reforms.
Some judges may potentially look upon EU accession as more of a burden complicating their heavy caseload than a blessing that might increase their independence. That would especially be the case if their salaries, much improved over the past decade, are suddenly cut because of the enormous budget deficits racked up by the government in recent years.
This critical financial situation has also led to a tacit cap on hiring new judges, with new appointments slowing to a crawl. As a result, judges in waiting they spend three years as trainees before being appointed will have no choice but to go to the private sector, which will have a long-term negative effect on the development of the judiciary. That will be especially true in areas of the country where courts remain shorthanded and/or inefficient. The Ministry of Justice has established a judicial academy, but the school is understaffed, underfinanced, and located in an unattractive site several hours from Prague. A school for judicial clerks has existed since 1995.
The sluggishness of court proceedings continues to be a major impediment to improving the image of the judicial system. In June, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled against the Czech Republic in a complaint filed by a woman who said it had taken more than seven years to settle a property dispute; at the time, it was the eighth case the country had lost because of the slowness of its courts, according to the Prague Post. In 2003, the average length of a civil case was 771 days in a district court and 757 days in regional courts and city courts in Prague. However, some of the figures may be deceptive, as a few very complicated cases can increase the average considerably. In general, while large problems remain in some areas such as the settling of commercial cases (in 2003, the figure was 1,420 days, according to Mlada Fronta Dnes) the backlog seems to be lessening and the overall situation appears to be improving slowly. Laggards also now face a greater likelihood of disciplinary action or even dismissal, as one judge found out in November 2004. She was fired for having a backlog of 50 unresolved business disputes.
Some judges may be slow and others incompetent, but as a whole, the judiciary is considered largely free of corruption. That view, however, was shaken by the April arrest of Usti nad Labem Regional Court judge Jiri Berka. Charged with criminal conspiracy and other counts, Berka is suspected of playing a central role in a bankruptcy fraud ring that led to the stripping of assets at a series of companies.
With some exceptions, fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms section of the Constitution are generally thought to be well protected in the Czech Republic. Over the past few years, the government overhauled the criminal code, which now places more of an onus on the prosecution and stricter rules on custody. Further change will occur once the country finally adopts the constitutional amendment that will allow the Czech Republic to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The country has also dragged its feet on passing antidiscrimination legislation in line with the UN Convention and European standards. Although an amendment to the labor code in 2001 mandated equal treatment for all employees, implementation lags behind as women remain underrepresented in senior positions and are paid significantly less than men for similar jobs. The situation is especially dire in high politics, where few women hold seats in the Parliament or attain other positions of leadership. Only two ministers are women, and there are no women regional governors. A poll in late December found 52 percent of Czechs in favor of obligatory quotas for women on party candidate lists, reports Mlada Fronta Dnes.
Discrimination against Roma in employment and housing is also a serious problem, and a government report released in January 2005 showed that the situation had worsened over the past few years. The report, which compared the current state of Roma affairs with that of the second half of the 1990s, found 75 percent of Roma out of work for over a year and at least 18,000 Roma living in ghettos that were growing in size. There were a few bright spots, however. Fewer Roma children are being shunted off automatically to special schools for the mentally handicapped, and many more are entering higher education, according to Mlada Fronta Dnes.
Activist groups complain that existing legislation fails to adequately protect suspects and prisoners against various rights violations. A report released in March by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) concluded that police brutality in detention cases remained prevalent. The CPT reported cases of brutality where the police both detained and questioned individuals and said that the authorities had still not introduced basic safeguards such as the right to have an attorney present during every interrogation.
The CPT research took place two years ago, but activists such as the League of Human Rights insist that the situation has not changed since then, especially at the foreigners' detention facility near Plzen, and that police brutality is often targeted at Roma and other "outsiders" in poorer parts of the country. The country still lacks an independent monitor of detention facilities and, in general, an independent investigative body empowered to look into charges made against the police. Current review boards comprise current or former police officers and do not give the impression of impartiality. In 2000, Stanislav Gross (as interior minister) withdrew from debate the Law on Police legislation that activists say would have improved such control mechanisms.
Corruption (Score: 3.50)
Corruption is another area where gradual improvements may be more a testament to the country's overall maturation than the result of concrete actions taken by either the governing elite or the population at large. Ordinary people still complain about having to pay bribes or "give gifts" in exchange for expediting services, as excessive regulation continues to plague parts of the public administration, such as the land registry, building permit offices, and commercial registry. Yet these are exceptions rather than the rule, and most people are able to conduct their daily lives without engaging in corrupt behavior.
This overall decrease in the level of small-scale corruption does not extend to the political arena, where many view existing anticorruption measures as insufficient to dismantle the intricate web of connections between political and business elites. These impressions are sustained by the general public and also reflected in expert surveys such as the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perceived level of corruption among politicians and public officials. In the 2004 survey, the Czech Republic ranked 51 (out of 146 countries), with a rating of 4.2 (10 indicates a country without corruption). That is a slight improvement over 2003, when the country was number 54 with a rating of 3.9. The Czech office of Transparency International cited the nontransparency of public contracts as the most pressing problem.
One of the reasons for only a slight improvement in the Transparency International ratings was the failure of the government to pass more effective conflict of interest legislation despite widespread criticism that the current regulations are insufficient and allow loopholes. The government has prepared a much more powerful Law on Conflict of Interest that will encompass elected representatives at all levels, from ministers down to local politicians. The new minister of justice, however, withdrew the proposed legislation from cabinet-level discussion without offering a public explanation, and the future of the bill is currently unclear. If not passed in the near future, the specter of elections in 2006 would make its controversial acceptance unlikely, warns Transparency International. The Ministry of the Interior has made clear its own intentions to pass legislation that would require property declarations from selected groups of state employees, such as police, judges, and other nonpolitical officials. But this initiative is in the early stages.
In a recent regional survey about anticorruption measures, Prague fared particularly poorly. The study, which Transparency International and the polling agency GfK Praha conducted in spring 2004, compared the existence of anticorruption tools with their perceived efficiency in the public administration of the capital cities of the Visegrad Four countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary). Prague finished third when judged on the mere existence of anticorruption tools relatively strong in codes of ethical conduct and above average in terms of internal audits, but weakest in instruments preventing conflicts of interest. In the second part of the survey, which questioned experts on the actual efficacy of these tools, the Czech capital lagged considerably behind the other cities, drawing the worst rating in every category except public information policies. Overall, Budapest came in first, while Prague landed in last place.
Corruption-related cases were often in the news in 2004, including allegations of one of the highest-level bribery cases in the country's short history. The story broke in late August when a newly minted coalition deputy, Zdenek Koristka of the Freedom Union Party, told a newspaper that people connected with the opposition ODS had offered him a bribe of 10 million crowns (US$430,000) to withhold his support of the government in a crucial parliamentary vote of confidence. After an investigation, the police arrested a lobbyist and an adviser to the ODS party chairman and charged them with attempted bribery. A few weeks later, however, the regional state attorney said the arrests had been unlawful and ordered the charges dropped for lack of proof. The ODS claimed the whole case was politically motivated, while Koristka stuck by his accusation.
The Koristka case also prompted a parliamentary debate on the need for a code of ethics to regulate meetings between deputies and lobbyists. Currently, lobbying at neither the executive nor the parliamentary level is regulated, leaving the door open for widespread speculation about illicit, behind-the-scenes deals. While the leaders of the five parliamentary parties agreed on the need, analysts doubted whether a code and not a law would change the current situation much.
There were other high-profile corruption cases in 2004. The state prosecutor's office appeared likely to charge former regional development minister Petr Lachnit with breach of trust based on several controversial leases (which allegedly bilked the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars) that he signed while in office. If charged, Lachnit, who served under former prime minister Milos Zeman, would be the first minister since the fall of Communism to be prosecuted for corruption-related charges. In another case that dominated headlines, Usti nad Labem Regional Court judge Jiri Berka was charged with criminal conspiracy and other counts and suspected of playing a central role in a bankruptcy fraud ring. Karel Cermak, justice minister at the time, labeled the case the greatest corruption scandal ever in the country's judiciary.
Perhaps because the most publicized cases of corruption have occurred largely in the upper echelons of power, an increasing number of citizens have given up hope that the government will effectively root out corruption. They also do not believe that they share responsibility for eradicating illegal behavior. Instead, many see those who do take action the whistle-blowers as "rats" rather than as courageous individuals determined to change the system, a holdover from the informant system of the Communist regime, notes a UN Human Development Report. Whistle-blowers also do not receive adequate protection either in law or in practice, according to Transparency International. To a certain extent, the media has picked up the slack, exposing potential conflicts of interest and outright corruption, but investigative journalism remains a time-consuming and expensive luxury that many media believe they cannot afford.
While lack of direct proof derailed Koristka's case, the same could not be said for charges of corruption that sullied one of the country's most cherished pastimes: soccer. Rumors had been rampant for years of match fixing and finally prompted the police to bug the phones of some soccer officials. In May 2004, the police announced that they had videotaped the sports director of the Synot club as he handed a referee a bribe of 175,000 crowns (US$7,600). Later that month, according to the Prague Post, the police said that up to 14 clubs in the 16-member First League had been implicated in match fixing. Most observers did not place much hope in the ability or willingness of soccer's governing body to clean up the mess, an opinion borne out by the subsequent weakness of the disciplinary actions.
Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online, an Internet newsmagazine covering Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. Alice Drukerova, a freelance journalist, assisted in the research for this report.