CZECH REPUBLIC: Harsh Words 5172-czech-republic-harsh-wordsCZECH REPUBLIC: Harsh Words15 February 1998 Amere two weeks after a party finance scandal brought down the Czech government, President Vaclav Havel delivered a scathing address to both houses of Parliament. The 9 December speech was a biting attack on what he termed the government's arrogant, blind-eyed obsession with improving macroeconomic indicators rather than developing the rule of law and an active civil society. Though Havel did not mention the names of any parties or politicians, most people take the criticism as a direct attack on the actions and style of Vaclav Klaus, the country's long-time prime minister. Klaus called the speech confrontational, while some members of his Civic Democratic Party vowed not to support Havel's bid for re-election. Some excerpts:

... Many people-the opinion polls corroborate this-are disturbed, disappointed or even disgusted by the general condition of society in our country. ... It appears to me that our main fault was pride. Because of the fact that the transformation process progressed in our country practically continuously since November 1989, without being impeded by any major political changes, we really got, in some respects, farther than others-or at least it seemed so. Apparently, this went to our heads. We behaved like a spoiled, only child, or like the top of the class who believe they can give themselves an air of superiority and be everyone else's teacher. Oddly enough, this pride was combined with a kind of provincialism or parochialism. We disrupted, for example, our close political cooperation with our nearest neighbors-that which used to be called Visegrad-because we thought we were superior to the rest of the group. Now that we have been invited, together with these nations, to join the European integration groupings, and we see they have gotten farther than we have in a number of respects, we must exert a great deal of effort to restore that cooperation. ...

Fascinated by our macroeconomic data, we disregarded the fact that this data, sooner or later, also reveals that which lies beyond the macroeconomic or technocratic perception of the world: the things that constitute the only imaginable environment for any economic advancement, although their weight or significance cannot be calculated by accountants: things such as rules of the game; the rule of law; the moral order behind that system of rules, which is essential for making the rules work; a climate of coexistence. The declared ideal of success and profit was turned to ridicule because we allowed a situation in which the biggest success could be achieved by the most immoral ones, and the biggest profits could go to unpunishable thieves. ...

And what is the situation of our economy? Why are we, who considered ourselves to be, or who truly were, a model of speedy economic transformation suddenly faced with difficulties? Why is our economy now growing more slowly than, for instance, the Polish economy? I do not share the view held by some of you that the entire transformation started from the wrong foundations, was wrongly devised and wrongly directed. I would rather say that our problem lies in the very opposite: the transformation process stopped halfway, which is possibly the worst thing that could have happened to it. Many businesses have been formally privatized, but how many have concrete, visible owners who seek increasing effectiveness and care about the long-term prospects of their companies?

... When speaking here-and this is not the first time that I do so before members of parliament-about the nonprofit sector, reform of public affairs administration, and other things as such, I speak, as you well know, about that which is called civil society. This means a society characterized by a systematic opening of room for the most diverse self-structuring, and for the broadest possible participation in public life. This kind of civil society brings with it, essentially, a twofold impact: first, it allows a human being to develop all of the facets of human personality, including that which makes a person a social animal, desirous of taking part in the life of his or her community; secondly, it constitutes a true guarantee of political stability. The more a community develops all organisms, institutions, and instruments of a civil society, the more resistant it is to various political windstorms or upheavals. It was not by chance that civil society was the target of the most brutal attack by communist regimes. They knew very well that their greatest adversary was not any particular non-communist politician, but an open society possessing solid structures built from below, and therefore, largely immune to manipulation.

Our country, as we all know, is now undergoing a political crisis. ... Many, however, perceive this crisis as a collapse of the regime, or of democracy, or as the end of the world. In my view, such feelings may be a consequence of the fact that we have not yet even built the foundations of an advanced civil society whose life encompasses a thousand different levels, and which, therefore, does not need to feel existentially dependent on one government or one political party.

If I blame those who are now resigning for something, it is not so much any concrete flaw. What I blame them for most is an apathetic or almost hostile attitude toward everything that bears even a distant resemblance to a civil society, or that which could create it. It is precisely because of this apathetic attitude that the fall of one government-indeed a banal thing in a democracy- appears to be almost a classical drama, and, to some extent, even becomes one: many people believe themselves to be faced with the collapse of a certain concept of the state, a certain world outlook, a certain set of ideals.

However unpleasant and distressing our present experience is, and however dangerous it may be in certain respects, it can be a valuable lesson, and may eventually bring some good: it can set off a catharsis-the traditional climax of all classical dramas. It can generate a feeling of profound purgation and redemption, of reborn hope, of liberation. ...

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- Translation provided by the Czech News Agency (CTK). 5172-czech-republic-harsh-words

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