|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||76.19 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||5.57 7|
- National Democratic Governance rating declined from 5.00 to 4.75 due to the political leadership’s continued failure to address Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s conflicts of interest as well as the government’s chaotic response to the second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
- Local Democratic Governance rating declined from 6.25 to 6.00 due to the inability of regional governments to effectively confront the pandemic along with fiscal reforms that could leave regional governments underfinanced.
As a result, Czechia’s Democracy Score declined from 5.64 to 5.57.
By Lenka Buštíková
The Czech Republic or Czechia is a consolidated democracy marred by some problems. The country’s party system, anchored by the Social Democrats (ČSSD) on the left and Civic Democrats (ODS) on the right, was dismantled in 2013 when an anti-establishment populist party, ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), won 18.7 percent of the vote and joined the governing coalition as a junior partner with the ČSSD.1 Over time, ANO, founded by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, successfully siphoned off ČSSD voters by moving policy platforms to the left and by using media in Babiš’s Mafra holding to denigrate his political opponents and elevate his successes. Due to the fragmentation of the opposition, PM Babiš, a former businessman who amassed a fortune through his access to state subsidies and European Union (EU) developmental funds, has dominated Czech politics ever since. In 2017, ANO won over 30 percent of the vote and formed a minority coalition government with the ČSSD. The coalition has ruled with the support of the unreformed Communist Party (KSCM), with the prime minister consulting key policy and personnel decisions with the communists. This has represented a major break in the Czech political system. Since 1989, the KSCM had always been in opposition at the national level. Yet the power of the KSCM has been enhanced by populist President Miloš Zeman, elected in 2013, who uses political fragmentation and his proximity to the KSCM to bully parties in power. Three parties with anti-establishment rhetoric (ANO, the radical right party of Tomio Okamura, and the socially liberal Pirates) now control a majority of seats in Czechia’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of Parliament.
Regional and Senate elections (for one third of seats in Parliament’s upper chamber) were held in October 2020, during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the ANO-led government announced that people in quarantine would not be permitted to vote. The opposition parties contested this decision and the government prepared a bill (later passed) that provided for drive-through voting and a special mobile electoral commission allowing infected and quarantining citizens to cast their ballots.2
The regional and Senate elections further weakened the standing of the ČSSD and exposed ANO’s low coalition potential. ANO did poorly in the Senate elections, while in the regional elections, it increased its mandates from 176 to 178 seats. However, ANO is now down to just three regional governorships due in part to the ability of smaller liberal and conservative parties to build coalitions that excluded it in most regions. Two parties emerged stronger from the 2020 regional elections: the Czech Pirate Party and STAN (Mayors and Independents). The Pirates, the second strongest party, grew its standing from 5 to 99 mandates. STAN went from 38 to 69 mandates. Both parties joined most regional coalition governments, and their successes contributed to the exclusion of ANO from power at the regional level.3
The Social Democrats (ČSSD)—a staple of Czech politics since the 1990s—have been fighting for their survival. In 2020, the party lost 4 regional governors and 88 mandates (winning only 37 mandates). In recent polls, the party’s public support hovered around the 5-percent electoral threshold, and it is far from certain whether the party will gain seats in the upcoming national elections in fall 2021.4
Public support for the country’s far-right parties is stable at a low level. In the 2020 elections, the extremist party SPD, led by Tomio Okamura, won over 6 percent. Another new far-right party, Tricolor, gained less than 2.5 percent of the vote. Overall, the regional and Senate elections verified a trend in Czech politics (and elsewhere in Europe): anti-establishment parties are on the rise.
In the run-up to the fall elections, the government relaxed pandemic mitigation measures in order to boost its popularity. In August, PM Babiš bragged that the Czech Republic was “best in Covid” and that the pandemic was under control.5 The government became aware of worrisome trends in September but did not act accordingly because the reimplementation of restrictions would contradict the official narrative. This decision paved the way for a massive surge in coronavirus cases and deaths during the second wave of the pandemic. The country thereby went from being one of the best performers on COVID-19 to perhaps the worst. By mid-October, the Czech Republic had recorded more new cases per capita than nearly any other country in Europe.6
COVID-19 dominated Czech politics in 2020. The government reacted right away to the first wave of the pandemic with tough mitigation measures. However, as it raged, the public-health crisis exposed the state’s ineffective public administration and its lack of capacity to plan and implement policies in a predictable and systematic manner. Furthermore, the pandemic was politicized due to tensions in the fragile governing coalition. The government’s ability to effectively coordinate was undermined by PM Babiš’s aversion to delegating responsibilities and his desire to be the sole politician in the media spotlight.
The civic sector initially compensated for the state’s shortcomings. Citizens produced and distributed homemade masks, and universities and startups developed masks from new nanomaterials. Innovation in 3-D printing led to the production of protective shields, PPE, and medical equipment. Citizens donated food and supplies to hospitals, senior care facilities, and to first responders. Civic actors also helped mitigate the state’s failure to address the challenges of distance learning in disadvantaged communities, where students lacked computers, internet access, and, most importantly, food. Groups organized a social media campaign that collected and repaired used laptop computers to distribute to disadvantaged children so they could participate in online learning.
The civic sector also advocated for transparency in state procurement processes during the crisis and served as a bulwark against government efforts to abuse power and restrict civil rights. When the state of emergency was lifted, the civic movement Million Moments for Democracy organized a large demonstration on June 9 to demand more transparency and government accountability. This presented a challenge for police, since the health minister (ANO) suggested that the protest was illegal and asked law enforcement to prevent it. The police, however, declared that they would protect citizens’ constitutionally enshrined right to protest. The event took place, with demonstrators wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Aside from anti-government protests, there were also anti-mask protests, which were mostly peaceful. The civic sector also helped to increase transparency, establishing a COVID-19 information portal in the wake of the government’s chaotic pandemic response. In addition to interpreting restrictions, the portal also provided information on testing, ICU-bed availability, and general information on the spread of the virus.
PM Babiš used the pandemic emergency to solidify his grip on the media market, which is politically imbalanced due to the concentration of media ownership in the country. This trend began in 2013, when Babiš purchased the large Mafra media group, which became a subsidiary of the Agrofert conglomerate owned by the Babiš trust. Mafra’s leading print daily reaches 2.4 million readers, while its online portal reaches about 3.4 million daily users. During the pandemic, it was revealed that the state had propped up the Mafra media group, with state-owned companies, such as the Czech railways, de facto subsidizing Mafra through paid advertising. Furthermore, state aid to alleviate the pandemic’s negative impacts on cultural institutions disproportionately benefitted Mafra compared to other media groups.
The prime minister also used the pandemic to stack the council of the public broadcaster, Czech Television (ČT), installing loyalists or individuals uncommitted to liberal pluralism.7 The ČT Council, a public body overseeing the broadcaster, dismissed its five-member supervisory board in November, raising questions about the legality of the move. The independent Czech Television has represented a threat to PM Babiš with its wide-reaching platform for voices critical of the government. During the year, Babiš worked to undermine the director of Czech TV, who may be dismissed by the ČT Council.
The Czech Republic is a net immigration country. However, public opinion strongly opposes any openness to refugees. Socioeconomically disadvantaged Roma, which form a significant portion of the group’s population, face social exclusion, and the pandemic exacerbated educational inequalities for Roma children. Yet, due to pressure from the EU and domestic advocacy, the situation for Roma in Czechia is slowly improving.
The pandemic forced the government to increase its share of debt from 28.5 to 36.9 percent of GDP. The government also introduced a new income tax law that will reduce state budget revenue as well as regional and municipal revenues. Since regional governments were tasked with the COVID-19 response, this will further reduce their ability to combat the ongoing pandemic.
Furthermore, in 2020, the European Commission finalized an audit of PM Babiš’s conflicts of interest, which did not exonerate him. Since the companies in Babiš’s Agrofert holding misused EU monies, the EU refused to reimburse some projects funded through structural funds. The Ministry of Finance did not force Agrofert to return the subsidies, which likely means that Czech taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
The elections in fall 2021 will reveal whether ANO can maintain its dominant position in Czech politics. Changes to the electoral law are expected to strengthen smaller parties and undermine ANO’s position. The catastrophic failures of the Czech state during the pandemic may stimulate an impetus to reform the healthcare system and depoliticize public administration.
- 1. See: Czech Statistical Office, https://www.volby.cz/pls/ps2013/ps2?xjazyk=CZ
- 2. “Czech Election Starts With Drive-Ins,” Prague Morning, October 1, 2020, https://praguemorning.cz/czech-election-starts-with-drive-ins/
- 3. See: Czech Statistical Office, https://www.volby.cz/pls/kz2020/kz61?xjazyk=CZ
- 4. See: Kantar Polling, https://cz.kantar.com/trendyceska/
- 5. On the COVID-19 response in the Czech Republic, see: Petra Guasti and Lenka Buštíková, “A Marriage of Convenience: Responsive Populists and Responsible Experts,” Politics and Governance, 8(4), pp. 468-472; Lenka Buštíková and Pavol Baboš, “Best in Covid: Populists in the Time of Pandemic,” Politics and Governance, 8(4), pp. 496-508; Petra Guasti, “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Central and Eastern Europe: The rise of autocracy and democratic resilience,” Democratic Theory, 7(2), pp. 47–60
- 6. Robert Tait, “Czech Republic goes from model Covid-19 response to brink of second lockdown,” The Guardian, 11 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/11/czech-republic-goes-from-…
- 7. “In the middle of pandemic, Czech Television risks repeat crisis,” Tim Gosling, IPI, December 6, 2020, https://ipi.media/in-the-middle-of-pandemic-czech-television-risks-repe…
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||4.755 7.007|
- In 2020, the pandemic policies of the Czech government were vigorously contested by the opposition and civil society. The official response to the COVID-19 crisis was chaotic and poorly communicated to the public. However, with the exception of the first state of emergency in March, approvals for subsequent states of emergency were thoroughly debated in Parliament.1
- Regional and Senate elections (for one third of seats in Parliament’s upper chamber) were both held in October 2020. The election results exposed the low coalition potential of ANO (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s party, and weakened the Social Democrats (ČSSD). In the regional elections, ANO increased its mandate from 176 to 178 seats. However, the party lost two regional governors due in part to the successful coalition-building among smaller liberal and conservative parties that excluded ANO in most regions.2
- ČSSD, a party staple of Czech politics since the 1990s, fought for its survival during the year. In the 2020 elections, the Social Democrats lost 4 regional governors and 88 mandates (winning only 37 mandates). In public opinion polls at year’s end, the party’s support was hovering around the 5-percent electoral threshold.3 Overall, the regional and Senate elections strengthened anti-establishment parties.
- In the run-up to the fall elections, the government loosened pandemic mitigation measures in order to boost its popularity. As a result, the second wave of coronavirus brought a massive surge in cases and deaths. By mid-October, the Czech Republic had recorded more new cases per million people than any other major country in the world.4
- The COVID-19 crisis exposed the reality that the Czech state had been hollowed out over the years and was being poorly and weakly governed. The state, in fact, failed to properly track coronavirus cases or to prepare for the second wave of the pandemic.
- In 2020, the European Union (EU) confirmed that the Agrofert holding’s “blind trust,” which PM Babiš had established to avoid conflicts of interest, did not achieve this purpose. Consequently, the EU announced that it would not reimburse Czech projects funded within the EU structural funds scheme to boost small and medium-size enterprises. The Czech government, however, made no effort to extract the related subsidies from Agrofert.5
- Instead, the government attempted to alleviate the prime minister’s conflicts of interest by proposing an amendment in June that would decrease transparency in company ownership. The change would obfuscate the fact that Babiš indirectly controls and benefits from Agrofert and its subsidiaries. In its review of the amendment, Parliament removed the section on trust funds that would have benefited the prime minister.6
- The biggest infringement on civil liberties during the year was a travel ban instituted early in the spring. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government forbade Czech citizens from leaving the country, a measure reminiscent of the Iron Curtain era. The ban lasted several weeks but was eventually eliminated following judicial review.7
- 1. Petra Guasti, “Populism in power and democracy: Democratic decay and resilience in the Czech Republic (2013–2020),” Politics and Governance, 8(4), pp. 473-484; Petra Guasti, “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Central and Eastern Europe: The rise of autocracy and democratic resilience,” Democratic Theory, 7(2), pp. 47–60
- 2. See: Czech Statistical Office, https://www.volby.cz/pls/kz2020/kz?xjazyk=EN
- 3. See: “Poll of Polls,” Politico Europe, https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/czech-republic/
- 4. Covid-19: How the Czech Republic's response went wrong,” BBC News, October 26, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54639351; “Czech Republic records highest rate of new coronavirus infections and deaths per capita in EU,” CNN, October 29, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-pandemic-10-29-20-intl/…
- 5. “Commission confirms conflict of interest finding against Czech PM Babiš.” Politico Europe, December 1, 2020, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-auditors-confirm-andrej-babis-confli…
- 6. “Sněmovna vyškrtla z návrhu zákona o evidenci majitelů část, která mohla podle kritiků pomoci Babišovi,”Czech Television, November 19, 2020, https://ct24.ceskatelevize.cz/domaci/3228858-snemovna-vyskrtla-z-navrhu…
- 7. Aureliusz M. Pedziwol, “COVID-19 restrictions eased in the Czech Republic: 'Long live freedom!',” DW, April 27, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-restrictions-eased-in-the-czech-republic…
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||6.757 7.007|
- The COVID-19 pandemic dominated Czechia’s Senate and regional elections in October. Opposition parties criticized Prime Minister Babiš and ANO for the sharp increase in coronavirus cases in the fall and the government’s weak coordination and lack of transparency that undermined the pandemic response. In their electoral campaigns, the opposition also criticized the misuse of EU funds by PM Babiš’s Agrofert holding and advocated for “change” and new leadership; their primary objective was to weaken ANO and Babiš.1
- There were no significant election irregularities reported, but voting processes had to be adjusted because of the pandemic. The government initially planned to prohibit COVID-positive and quarantining citizens from voting. The opposition pushed back, and the government was forced to prepare legislation that, among other things, allowed drive-through voting and provided for a special mobile electoral commissions to visit quarantining voters.2
- The Senate elections filled one third of seats in Parliament’s upper chamber. The ruling ANO party won only a single seat out of those 27. The largest winner, STAN (Starostové a nezávislí, or Mayors and Independents), took the most seats, and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) won 3 seats. None of the illiberal anti-establishment parties, such as the Communist Party (KSCM) or the far right, were able to win a Senate seat. Most seats were won by opposition candidates under a variety of coalition arrangements.3
- In the regional elections, held at the same time, ANO was much more successful. It received 21.82 percent of the vote, which led to an increase in mandates from 176 to 178. However, ANO lost two regional governorships as democratic opposition parties formed strategic coalitions to successfully compete. ANO’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats (ČSSD), continued its political decline. ČSSD won only 4.92 percent of the vote, which signals it might not be able to cross the 5-percent electoral threshold in the 2021 fall elections. ČSSD lost four regional governors and 88 mandates.4
- Similar to the Senate elections, STAN was strengthened by the regional results. A liberal political movement, STAN’s leadership draws on mayors as well as regional and community-level leaders. The party advocates for decentralization, budgetary prudence, and civic engagement in politics. STAN received 6.4 percent of the vote, which translated into 31 new mandates and 3 regional governors. The Czech Pirate Party (Česká pirátská strana, or Piráti), the biggest challenger to ANO’s dominance, won 12.02 percent of the vote. The party dramatically increased its number of mandates from 5 to 99. STAN and Pirates joined most regional coalition governments.5
- Support for Czechia’s extremist and anti-system parties remained stable during the year. The far-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a přímá demokracie, SPD) won 6.13 percent of the vote in the regional elections. A new far-right party, Tricolor (Trikolóra), received 2.49 percent of the vote. The Communist Party (KSCM), which tacitly supported the ANO-ČSSD governing coalition, received 4.75 percent of the vote. The support for anti-system parties came mainly from socially and economically disadvantaged regions, but the strength of citizen-party linkages has significantly weakened since 2013.6
- Czech political parties are obliged to publish financial reports, and party funding and campaign financing are overseen by the Office for Economic Supervision of Political Parties and Political Movements (ÚDHPSPH).7 After reviewing the Senate and regional elections, ÚDHPSPH found only a few irregularities. Seventeen regional parties and 23 Senate candidates did not publish their financial reports within the required 90-day window and were issued fines.8
- At the same time, according to Transparency International (TI), almost all political parties were not fully transparent, failing to either itemize their campaign spending or fully disclose their donors. Pirates received the best marks from TI,9 whose findings, it should be noted, do not imply that parties violated the law.
- 1. “Krajské volby jsou šancí na změnu, shodli se lídři opozice v debatě Deníku N. Za rok musí ale „sáhnout i do jiných rybníčků” [Leaders of the opposition agreed that the regional elections represent a chance for change], Deník N, September 22, 2020, https://denikn.cz/446099/krajske-volby-jsou-sanci-na-zmenu-shodli-se-li…
- 2. “Elections in the Czech Republic: 2020 Senate and Municipal Elections: Frequently Asked Questions,” IFES, September 30, 2020, https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/ifes_faqs_elections_in_the_cze…
- 3. See: Czech Statistical Office, https://www.volby.cz/pls/senat/se?xjazyk=EN&xdatum=20201002. A coalition of ODS+STAN+TOP09 won two seats. ODS won two seats. SEN 21 won two seats. Pirates won one seat. A coalition of HDK+ TOP+SE+Z+LE won one seat. A coalition of TOP 09+LES won one seat. A coalition of STAN+ Piráti+TOP won one seat. Five other seats were won by other candidates. Also: “Opposition parties win big in Czech Senate election,” AP, October 10, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-senate-elections-andrej-babis…
- 4. See: Czech Statistical Office, https://www.czso.cz/csu/czso/volby-2020.The second strongest party was Pirates with 12.02% of the vote. The following political parties received between 4.5% and 7% of the vote: ODS, SPD, STAN, KDU-ČSL, ČSSD and KSČM.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. See: Úřad pro dohled nad hospodařením politických stran a politických hnutí (ÚDHPSPH), https://www.udhpsh.cz
- 8. “Press Release,” ÚDHPSPH, October 1, 2020, https://www.udhpsh.cz/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/TZ_17_23_nezverejnilo…
- 9. “Transparentní volby” [Transparent elections)}, Transparency International, https://www.transparentnivolby.cz/kraje2020
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||6.006 7.007|
- The Czech civic sector vigorously organized to compensate for the state’s failures during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spring, civic groups organized the production and distribution of do-it-yourself masks and donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals and frontline workers. The nongovernmental organization Watchdog pressured the government to increase its transparency about pandemic mitigation measures and access to medical data, such as the number of ICU beds and healthcare data at the regional level. The sector pushed for a data-driven approach to the crisis and pressured the government for greater transparency into its policymaking process. Civil society actors also called for transparency in the awarding of procurement contracts during the pandemic.1
- Czechia’s first protest against the government’s COVID-19 response was called by the movement Million Moments for Democracy on June 9, 2020, in Old Town Square in Prague and 166 other cities. The police signaled that they were prepared to protect citizens’ right to assembly; meanwhile, Health Minster Adam Vojtěch waited until only a few hours before the demonstration to announce that the organizers were exempt from the ban on public gatherings over 500 people. The protests in Prague and elsewhere were orderly. Protesters wore masks and were socially distanced. The protesters questioned the government’s procurement contracts during the pandemic and criticized ANO’s effort to take over advisory boards that oversee public media, as well as PM Babiš’s conflicts of interest.2 It is estimated that several thousand people protested on June 9.3
- Additionally, Million Moments for Democracy organized anti-government protests calling for greater transparency and clarity in the government’s pandemic measures, some events occurring virtually.4 During the pandemic, the number of protest participants was limited, and social distancing and masks were required. Most rules were followed during the civil protests, but there were also more disorderly anti-mask protests.5 However, most demonstrations were peaceful, and police generally did not engage with protesters. Overall, the pandemic did not undermine freedoms of expression and assembly in the Czech Republic.
- The Roma minority faces unequal access to education and employment. Consumer debt affects the Roma community as well, (8–10 percent of Czechs cannot pay their debts).6 The 2020 “Lex Covid” restricted insolvency proceedings during the pandemic, which helped Roma and others among the most vulnerable populations in the country.
- The Czech Republic is highly secular, and the separation of the state from churches will be concluded by 2042.7 By that year, the state has agreed to pay full financial settlements for properties confiscated by the state under the communist regime that no longer can be returned (under a 2012 law on the compensation of churches). All religious groups depend on the state budget.
- While its impact is marginal, in 2020, the Catholic Church intensified its pro-life and anti-LGBT+ activism. The group March for Life (Hnutí Pro život ČR) organized monthly processions that ended with a Catholic Mass. Another organization, Movement for Life, offered cash payments and monthly stipends to women who considered abortion during the pandemic in order to sway their decision. The offer was denied to women with multiple children, which excluded many Roma women.8
- In 2020, Czechia postponed ratification of the Council of Europe’s 2016 Istanbul Convention, which condemns violence against women. Conservative parties and the Catholic Church were the main opponents of the ratification.9
- 1. The organization Hlídací Pes (Watchdog) monitors public procurement, state effectiveness and public goods delivery at the local level. During the pandemic, when hospitals were overflowing with patients, the watchdog publicized capacity of hospitals, which helped medical professionals to make informed decisions about patient transfers. Hlídací Pes also monitors public institutions and organizations in terms of their corruption risk profiles. See: Robert Břešťan, “Veřejné zakázky jako lék na „covidovou“ nezaměstnanost, ale i festival podivných nákupů,” Hlídací Pes, August 20, 2020, https://hlidacipes.org/verejne-zakazky-jako-lek-na-covidovou-nezamestna…; Robert Malecký, “Úřady dostaly „energetický štítek“ korupčních rizik. Hlídač státu spouští svůj K-index,” Hlídací Pes, September 15, 2020, https://hlidacipes.org/urady-dostaly-energeticky-stitek-korupcnich-rizi…; Markéta Hronová and Michaela Ryšavá, “Hlídač státu zveřejnil kapacity nemocnic, informace neměli ani někteří zdravotníci. Čísla jsou proměnlivá, oponuje ÚZIS,” Hospodářské noviny, September 22, 2020, https://archiv.ihned.cz/c1-66819530-hlidac-statu-zverejnil-kapacity-nem…
- 2. “Češi opět vyšli do ulic. Proti Babišově vládě demonstrovali lidé po celé zemi” [Czechs took to the streets again], Deník.cz, June 9, 2020, https://www.denik.cz/z_domova/cesko-demonstrace-babis-vlada-20200609.ht…
- 3. “Milion chvilek napíná energii k volbám. Zaplnil i Staroměstské náměstí” [Million moments is gearing up for the elections], Deník.cz, June 9, 2020, https://prazsky.denik.cz/zpravy_region/demonstrace-milion-chvilek-babis…
- 4. “Rok změny: Největší online demonstrace” [The year of change: The largest online demonstration). Milion chvilek pro demokracii], Million Moments, November 11, 2020, https://milionchvilek.cz/clanek/rok-zmeny-nejvetsi-online-demonstrace
- 5. “Anti-lockdown demonstration turns violent in Prague,” Euronews, October 18, 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/18/anti-lockdown-demonstration-turns-v…
- 6. See: Mapa exekucí. http://mapaexekuci.cz/index.php/studie-a-analyzy/kvalitativni-vyzkum/; “Zátěžový test domácností,” Czech National Bank, July 2, 2020, https://www.cnb.cz/export/sites/cnb/cs/financni-stabilita/.galleries/te…
- 7. The separation of church and state should conclude in 2042 after the state pay the full compensations based on the 2012 Law on the Compensation of Churches and Religious Communities. See: Ministry of Culture, Law 428-2012, https://www.mkcr.cz/doc/cms_library/zakon-c-428_2012-sb-o-majetkovem-vy…. A quick summary of the law can be found here: “Churches to Get Restitution for Seized Property,” New York Times, January 11, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/world/europe/czech-republic-churches…
- 8. “Nesoudíme. Pomáháme,” Hnutí Pro život, March 3, 2020, https://hnutiprozivot.cz/nesoudime-pomahame. The upper limit of the offer was a cash payment of 50,000 Czech Crowns to a pregnant woman. If she expected a third child, the offer stated that Hnutí Pro život might help as part of their strategy that focuses on middle income families. In this case, the organization was willing to contribute to mortgage payments or to an already existing investment loan.
- 9. “Vláda odložila jednání o Istanbulské úmluvě. Česko ji podepsalo roku 2016, ale dosud neratifikovalo” [The government postponed the ratification of the Istanbul Treaty], Lidovky.cz. July 27, 2020, https://www.lidovky.cz/domov/vlada-odlozila-jednani-o-istanbulske-umluv…
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||5.005 7.007|
- Concentration of private ownership in Czechia’s media sphere has skewed the country’s political competition. The Mafra media group, a subsidiary of the Agrofert holding, continued to advocate on behalf of the prime minister and his ANO party in 2020,1 while PM Babiš used the pandemic to solidify his grip on the media market. This process started in 2013 when Babiš purchased Mafra.
- During the pandemic, it was revealed that the state had propped up the Mafra media group. State-owned companies, such as Czech Railways, de facto subsidized Mafra through paid advertising.2 The large media group dominates the daily print market and is estimated to have 2.4 million readers, with an online audience of around 3.4 million daily users.3 Furthermore, state aid for cultural institutions to alleviate the negative impacts of the pandemic disproportionately benefitted Mafra compared to other media groups.4
- PM Babiš also used the pandemic to stack the council of the public broadcaster, Czech Television (ČT), installing a loyalist chair, Pavel Matocha, and two members uncommitted to liberal pluralism, Hana Lipovská and Xaver Veselý.5 The ČT Council, the public body overseeing the television, dismissed its five-member supervisory board in November, raising questions about the legality of the move. PM Babiš made attempts during the year to undermine ČT’s current director, who may be dismissed by the council.6
- ČT’s wide national reach gives a significant platform to voices critical of the government,7 and the public broadcaster is the most-trusted media source in the Czech Republic.8 In November, protests organized by Million Moments for Democracy, conducted in cars in front of the ČT premises, called out PM Babiš’s efforts to weaken the public broadcaster and curb its independence.9
- 1. Martina Vojtěchovská, “The gradual takeover of the Czech media system,” CIMA, 2015, https://www.cima.ned.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Capture8_CzechRepub…; Martin Ehl and Vaclav Stetka, “When Oligarchs Buy Media: A Central European Tale,” The American Interest, November 30, 2018, https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/11/30/when-oligarchs-buy-med…; Václav Štětka, “Digital News Report,” Reuters Institute, 2019, https://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2019/czech-republic-2019; Věra Dvořáková, “Alarming attacks on the freedom of the press in the Czech Republic,” The New Federalist, May 29, 2020, https://www.thenewfederalist.eu/alarming-attacks-on-the-freedom-of-the-…
- 2. “Former Czech Railways director says ‘there was interest’ in MAFRA to receive biggest ad deals,” Prague Radio International, 20 May 2020, https://english.radio.cz/former-czech-railways-director-says-there-was-…
- 3. Petra Guasti, “Populism in power and democracy: Democratic decay and resilience in the Czech Republic (2013–2020),” Politics and Governance, 8(4), pp. 473-484
- 4. Sobina Slonková, “Vláda chystá miliardovou pomoc médiím,” Neovlivní.cz, June 23, 2020, https://neovlivni.cz/vlada-chysta-miliardovou-inzerci-na-pomoc-mediim-n…; “Babišova vláda chystá pomoc médiím. ‚Záleží na rozpočtu, teď nemůžeme rozdávat nic,‘ říká Zaorálek,” iRozhlas, June 23, 2020, https://www.irozhlas.cz/kultura/koronavirus-podpora-media-ministerstvo-….
- 5. “Odvolat před volbami ředitele ČT Dvořáka? Babiš by byl blázen, malérů má dost a dost” [To sack the director of the Czech TV Dvořák before the elections? Babiš would be a fool], Aktuálně.cz, March 18, 2020, https://nazory.aktualne.cz/komentare/odvolat-pred-volbami-reditele-ct-d…
- 6. “Rada České televize si otevřela cestu k odvolání ředitele Dvořáka. Seznam Zprávy” [The Board of Czech TV opened the door to sack director Dvořák], Seznam Pravy, March 16, 2020, https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/rada-ceske-televize-si-otevrela-cest…
- 7. On consumption of media under political influence and illiberalism, see: Václav Štětka, “Digital platforms and the shadow of illiberal democracy: Lessons from Central and Eastern Europe,” Euromedia Research Group, November 20, 2020, http://euromediapp.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/2020-11-EuromediApp-S…
- 8. Václav Štětka, “Digital News Report,” Reuters Institute, 2020, https://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2020/czech-republic-2020/
- 9. “Před Českou televizí demonstrovali lidé v autech. Bojí se o její nezávislost” [People protested in front of the Czech TV in cars. They are worried about its independence], November 17, 2020, Deník.cz, https://www.denik.cz/z_domova/ceska-televize-dozorci-rada-nezavislost-v…
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||6.006 7.007|
- The COVID-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses, shortcomings, and lack of capacity in the Czech central government. Similarly, regional governments (including regional public health agencies, hygiena) lacked the capability to coordinate a pandemic response.
- There are 14 hygiene stations in the Czech Republic, one in each of the country’s 14 regions.1 These authorities are responsible for public health issues, such as monitoring the spread of infectious diseases, data collection, and tracing. Yet these hygienas are understaffed and underpaid, as well as lack resources. During the crisis, they conducted coronavirus tracing using pen and paper. The average age of doctors working in these agencies is 60 years old.2 All 14 stations were overwhelmed during the pandemic. Former chief of the hygienas, Eva Gottvaldová, was sacked on March 12 for lacking medical expertise to deal with the pandemic.
- In December, the government passed a new income tax law,3 which will reduce state budget revenue as well as the income of regions and municipalities. Since regional governments are tasked with responding to COVID-19, this action will further reduce their ability to combat the pandemic.
- 1. See: Státní zdravotní ústav, http://www.szu.cz/knihovna/hygienicke-stanice-a-zdravotni-ustavy
- 2. “Hygienické stanice se potýkají s nedostatkem lidí. Odborníky se nedaří najít i kvůli nízkým platům” [Hygiena stations struggle with the lack of personnel], iRozhlas, June 11, 2020, https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/zdravotnictvi-hygienicke-stanice-l…
- 3. “Konec superhrubé mzdy a snížení daně z příjmu pro miliony zaměstnanců” [The end of super-gross wages and income tax cuts for millions of employees], Idnes, December 22, 2020, https://www.idnes.cz/zpravy/domaci/snemovna-danovy-balicek-zruseni-supe…
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||6.006 7.007|
- Czech courts are independent, but the country’s justice system worked slowly in 2020 due to the pandemic.1 During the state of emergency, the government attempted to restrict civil rights. The most egregious action was the ban on travel for Czech citizens instituted in March, a measure reminiscent of the Iron Curtain era. The travel ban was abolished by the Prague Municipal Court in April.
- The judiciary was instrumental in pushing back against executive overreach during the year. In addition to blocking the travel ban, the Prague Municipal Court ruled on April 23 that four emergency measures imposed by the government did not comply with law.2 Among the measures were limits on freedom of movement and closure of large shops. The government complied with the court’s ruling by modifying some measures and dropping the travel ban. The Senate had threatened to bring the travel ban to the Constitutional Court, which increased pressure on the government to scrap the measure.
- The Constitutional Court continued to consider two important cases in 2020. The first related to the timing of the announcement of the 2021 general election (for all 200 members of Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies). A group of senators claimed that President Zeman had called the election early in order to boost the prime minister. The second case, submitted in 2017 by a group of senators, challenges the electoral law. The decision is expected in early 2021 and will significantly influence the 2021 legislative election.
- The rights of prisoners are largely respected in Czechia, and inmates may participate in national elections. During the pandemic, the country’s prison population decreased by 5.6 percent.3 However, there were more than 200 people jailed for petty thefts committed during the lockdown.4
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dealt with 349 applications concerning the Czech Republic in 2020, of which 348 were declared inadmissible or thrown out. The ECtHR delivered a judgment on one application that found at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), in the case of Tempel v. the Czech Republic concerning repeated first-instance and appeal proceedings over a decade on a charge of murder.5
- Czech police only loosely enforced pandemic restrictions during the year, rarely issuing steep fines or assertively dispersing public gatherings. No significant instances of police brutality occurred in relation to the pandemic response.
- 1. “Koronavirus omezil i práci policie a soudů. Vyšetřovatelé nevyslýchají, soudci pracují doma” [Coronavirus slowed down the courts and police], Hospodářské noviny, March 30, 2020, https://archiv.ihned.cz/c1-66742470-policie-nevyslycha-soudci-pracuji-d…
- 2. “Městský soud v Praze zrušil opatření omezující volný pohyb a maloobchod,” April 23, 2020, Advokátní Deník, https://advokatnidenik.cz/2020/04/23/mestsky-soud-v-praze-zrusil-ctyri-…
- 3. “Prisons and prisoners in Europe in pandemic times,” Council of Europe, November 10, 2020, https://www.coe.int/en/web/human-rights-rule-of-law/-/mid-term-impact-o…
- 4. See: https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/trest-benesova-zlocin-nouzovy-stav… and https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/kradez-nouzovy-stav-soud-rozsudek-…
- 5. See: “Czech Republic,” ECtHR, https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/CP_Czech_Republic_ENG.pdf
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||4.505 7.007|
- In 2020, the European Union (EU) confirmed that the “blind trust” that Prime Minister Babiš had established for his Agrofert holding did not alleviate his conflicts of interest. Consequently, the EU announced that it would not reimburse Czech projects funded within the EU structural funds scheme to boost small and medium-size enterprises. The Czech government, however, made no effort to extract the related subsidies from Agrofert coffers.1
- Instead, the government tried to remove Babiš’s conflicts of interest by proposing an amendment that would merely decrease transparency in company ownership. A provision in the amendment would have obfuscated the fact that Babiš indirectly controls and benefits from Agrofert and its subsidiaries. The government withdrew the amendment upon evidence revealing the companies’ real owners, and under criticism from the opposition and Transparency International.2 In June, the amendment was reintroduced,3 but the Chamber of Deputies later removed the offending provision.
- Political corruption and lack of transparency in public procurement are common in Czechia. In 2020, the police investigated high-profile political corruption that involved the presidency, looking into irregularities in contracts of the Lány Forestry Administration, which falls under the Office of the President.4
- Another highly publicized case was the investigation into public procurement in the Brno city district, which led to the dissolution of the ANO party organization in Brno. The main defendant, Jiří Švachula, is a prominent ANO politician and a former deputy mayor of the city district. This large-scale investigation, nicknamed “The Gutter,” is a probe into past public procurement contracts and may suggest that all public contracts awarded in the Brno city district have involved bribing public officials.5
- A scandal erupted in October when Bečva River was severely contaminated. An investigation looked into whether a chemical factory in PM Babiš’s Agrofert holding may have played a role in poisoning the river,6 the largest environmental catastrophe since 1989. The contamination killed all fish and other organisms along many kilometers of the Bečva. The investigation was stalled at year’s end.7
- The government’s public procurement processes during the state of emergency were marred with chaos, lack of transparency, and corruption. In the Supreme Audit Office’s review of the government’s COVID-19 response, it criticized the state’s lack of preparedness and a weak pandemic plan, which was last updated in 2011. The state audit office also criticized discrepancies found in the purchases of PPE and medical equipment between the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior. Furthermore, the PPE purchased was of poor quality and the transporting of equipment from abroad was poorly coordinated. The state audit office ultimately concluded that the procurement contracts were disadvantageous to the state.8
Author: Dr. Lenka Buštíková is Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on party politics, voting behavior, clientelism, and state capacity, with special emphasis on Eastern Europe. Her book Extreme Reactions: Radical Right Mobilization in Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press), exploring how far-right parties mobilize against politically ascendant minorities, received the Davis Center Book Prize in political and social studies (2020). She is currently serving as an editor of the journal East European Politics.
- 1. “Ministerstvo průmyslu a obchodu dostalo od auditorů špatné hodnocení za správu evropských dotací. Za to, že neposlechlo Evropskou komisi a neodepřelo Agrofertu peníze z EU” [The Ministry of Industry in charge of European subsidies was given a bad evaluation from the auditors. It did not listen to the European Comission and did not deny EU subsidies to Agrofert], March 24, 2021, Seznam Pravy, https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/havlickovi-urednici-zastirali-babisu…
- 2. “Vláda přerušila projednání novely, která by nahrála Babišovi ve sporu o střet zájmů” [The government interrupted a discussion of the amendment that would help Babiš in his conflict of interest accusations], Novinky.cz, March 16. 2020, https://www.novinky.cz/domaci/clanek/vlada-prerusila-projednani-novely-…
- 3. “Vláda schválila zákon o evidenci skutečných majitelů. Podle kritiků pomůže Babišovi,” Czech Television, June 1, 2020, https://ct24.ceskatelevize.cz/specialy/koronavirus/3110000-vlada-schval…
- 4. “Šéf Lán Balák stanul před soudem. "Jsem nevinný," tvrdí Mynářův muž,” Aktualne.cz, October 22, 2020, https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/domaci/sef-lan-balak-stanul-pred-soudem-podr…
- 5. “Corruption in Brno-Střed Town Hall: Everything You Need To Know About Operation Stoka,” BRNO Daily, 17 January 2021, https://brnodaily.com/2021/01/17/brno/corruption-in-brno-stred-town-hal…
- 6. “Czech environment ministry looks into ‘poisoned river’,” Euractiv. November 25, 2020, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/short_news/czech-environment-…
- 7. “Otrava Bečvy stále bez viníka. Ministerstvo vymýšlí, jak řešit příští havárie. ‚Nedostatečně,‘ zní z opozice” [The poisoning of river Bečva is still without a culprit], iRozhlas. March 14, 2021, https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/becva-vysetrovani-kyanid-ministers…
- 8. “Stát podcenil přípravu na pandemii. Nákupy ochranných pomůcek provázel chaos, výrazné cenové rozdíly, nedostatky v jejich kvalitě i problémy s dopravou” [The state underestimated pandemic preparations. The purchases of protective gear were marred by chaos, significant discrepancies in expenditures, poor quality and problems with transportation]. Supreme Audit Office, March 22, 2021, https://www.nku.cz/cz/pro-media/tiskove-zpravy/stat-podcenil-pripravu-n…
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