While still in power the Czech government, consisting of two right-wing parties and one centrist party, was continuously facing scandals involving over-priced and dysfunctional public procurement contracts, which were caused by officials’ aspiration to play profitable business into the hands of “befriended” companies. The final blow to the government was delivered by the prime minister. His mistress, who worked as chief of staff of the government, misused the secret services to snoop around people for personal reasons. This affair also uncovered state corruption. Investigations are still in progress. At the same time, Czech citizens’ lives worsened steadily.
Demonstrations & Protests
It came as no surprise that peoples' concerns and frustrations manifested themselves in a large number of protests. They ranged from spontaneous demonstrations in the town squares of larger cities to demonstrations with one hundred thousand participants in the capital city of Prague, launched by trade unions and several civil society organizations.
Most participants in these demonstrations personally believed that the government would become conscious of the consequences of its actions. However, the only reaction to the demonstrations from the government and the press was to praise how democratic our country is.
The organizers of the largest demonstration with 100.000 participants in April 2012 however also made their mistakes. The participants were not given any information on the “next steps”. Furthermore, the main speaker at the demonstration, the chairman of the confederation of the trade unions of the Czech Republic, was seen immediately after the demonstration in a restaurant with the minister of finance, the symbol of everything the people were protesting against. The result of this disappointment was a sharp reduction of peoples' activity and the decrease of the number of people protesting. It seemed that all the energy which had been channeled into the protests was wasted. Yet, at the same time, the protests were not in vain.
The Czech Movement for Direct Democracy
We, the Movement for Direct Democracy, or briefly in Czech “HzPD” are a citizens' movement. We pursue the development and promotion of direct democracy. We were founded in 2002.
Headed by the prominent humanist philosopher, Milan Valach, the movement took part in the protests, and we did not falter. We explained and promoted the principles of direct democracy with petition stands and posters. Also, our members of the Movement for Direct Democracy took part as speakers in many of the demonstrations. Also, we debated with interested people questions concerning direct democracy. The format of smaller circles allowed for more informed, detailed and in-depth discussion.
Critical endorsement of political parties promoting direct democracy
Our political work resulted in that two parties, which are running for candidacy in the upcoming elections, have given a prominent place to direct democracy in their election programs. These parties are the Czech Pirate Party, belonging to the Europan family of pirate parties and the political movement “Dawn of Direct Democracy”. The Movement for Direct Democracy gave both these political organisations a so- called “critical endorsement”: This means that we support them in the media. Also, some of our members take part in their promotional events. Two members also are candidates for “Dawn of Direct Democracy”. The “critical” part of our endorsement takes the form of a detailed monitoring of key documents and public appearances of leading figures. We intend to bring to attention deficiencies, which could threaten the implementation of real direct democracy or devalue it. For example, right now we draw attention to the harming effect of high turn-out requirements on the validity of referendums.
Under the pressure of these two new parties and the public opinion in general, other parties are also beginning to talk about direct democracy in their election programs. However, it is obvious to us that their concern for direct democracy in the election is not genuine. This is because they impose requirements on the validity and issues where referendums should not be allowed. We publicly unveil these practices.
We, the people behind the Movement for Direct Democracy, have made some way from the time when most people were unacquainted with the notion of direct democracy. In comparison, today direct democracy is an important election issue. Most recent events have shown that the time of election campaigning can be very fortunate for the promotion of direct democracy. It is not uncommon that people, who normally shy away from political debates, participate in discussions in the pre-election period. Many of those, who previously took part in the demonstrations, now participate in the pre-election publicity. They distribute flyers, often printed on their own expenses, others prepare promotional items. A feeling of belonging and sharing the same purpose arises amongst us.
At the time we need to point out however that we are still far away from realizing direct democracy in the Czech Republic. The introduction of an effective national referendum and other elements of direct democracy still requires much action. We require much effort and we need coordinated action within the EU.
Text by Jiri Matuszek on behalf of the Czech Movement for Direct Democracy, HzPD, www.hzpd.cz