Czech Republic

Consolidated Democracy
76
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 75.60 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.54 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
76 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • Civil Society rating improved from 6.00 to 6.25 due to the surge of activism around the 2021 parliamentary elections and pressing social issues, such as the response to COVID-19 and personal bankruptcy reform.
  • Judicial Framework and Independence rating declined from 6.00 to 5.75 due to the cursory investigation of the forcible arrest and death of a Romani man in which police were cleared of wrongdoing, underscoring the unequal treatment of Roma by the justice system.
  • Corruption rating declined from 4.50 to 4.25 due to the ongoing failure to address former prime minister Andrej Babiš’s conflicts of interest and the proliferation of questionable public-private deals under his rule, epitomized by the ČD-Telematika case.

header2 As a result, the Czech Republic’s Democracy Score declined from 5.57 to 5.54.

The major political event in the Czech Republic in 2021 was the October elections to the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the parliament), from which two opposition coalitions—the right-wing SPOLU and centrist PirStan—emerged with a 108-seat parliamentary majority, delivering on their pledge to form a government that would uphold democratic standards and the rule of law and oust the populist ANO 2011 party of billionaire incumbent Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The democratic transfer of power was marred by circumstances surrounding the hospitalization of President Miloš Zeman on October 10 and the handling of constitutional documents (including summoning the new parliament following the general elections) and presidential pardons by Zeman’s advisors, moves that were later probed by police and military intelligence.

These investigations were sparked by a hospital report stating that Zeman was incapable of carrying out his duties, raising the question of whether he was fully conscious when documents bearing his signature were signed, or if they were signed by the president at all. The report also pushed members of the Senate (the upper house of the parliament) to discuss the possibility of triggering Article 66 of the constitution, enabling the removal of presidential powers for reasons of incapacity.

This was the second time that steps to trigger Article 66 had been considered. In June, the Senate foreign affairs committee put forward a proposition1 to address the incapacity of President Zeman2 in response to an April speech in which he discussed classified portions3 of an intelligence report,4 showing (in the committee’s view) a lack of comprehension and ability to handle intelligence findings on the Russian GRU’s involvement in the 2014 Vrbětice ammunition depot explosions. A Senate majority did not ratify the committee’s proposition, but it later released a report (in January 2022) in which it referred to the president, PM Babiš, and former interior minister Jan Hamáček’s handling of the Vrbětice findings as contradictory to national interests, adding that they had deliberately limited the scale of international response.

Although President Zeman suffers from a serious medical condition,5 and questions over his faculties persist, at year’s end he was exercising his constitutional powers in public view, appointing the new prime minister, Petr Fiala.6 He also raised objections to Fiala’s nominee for foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, signaling his intent to continue pushing the boundaries of the presidency’s largely ceremonial role.

Czech democracy is also marred by the increasing, unchecked role of the country’s largest conglomerates in political and economic life. The most obvious entanglements emanate from former PM Babiš’s influence over the holding Agrofert, which he placed in a trust while governing yet deemed a problematic conflict of interest by a final European Union (EU) audit7 released in April.8

Moreover, conglomerates such as EPH, PPF, SevEn Energy benefited from their relationship with the state and the majority-state-owned ČEZ while Babiš’s ANO 2011 party was in power. Importantly, these business interests dominate the country’s protracted and painful energy transformation,9 and also own much of the print media market.10 PPF, implicated in controversial private and public business deals with EPH11 and the ANO-led government,12 is the country’s telecommunications behemoth, controlling cable and data infrastructure, one of the largest mobile operators, and the most popular TV Nova. The lack of media plurality in the Czech Republic limits public discourse and allows cultural and political flashpoints to obscure discussions of crucial social issues, the economy, and climate change.

Concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, Czechia became one of the worst-hit countries during the first three months of the year despite repeated warnings and calls by experts for a more effective government response as early as summer 2020. This trajectory repeated toward the end of 2021 as the number of infections again rose tragically.13 The unprecedented death toll translated into plummeting public support for the government as the campaign before the October elections took off. However, over the summer months, the ruling ANO 2011 party was able to stop its slide in the polls; it nearly emerged victorious, trailing just half a percentage point in votes behind the right-wing SPOLU formation.

ANO 2011 benefited from its massive negative online campaign primarily targeting the once-ascendant Pirate Party through social media, as well as disinformation websites14 . This effort included harsh criticism of the energy policies of the EU and green politicians, as well as aggressive anti-immigrant and nationalist rhetoric. In milder forms, these tropes frequently appeared in outlets of the country’s largest media houses—namely, Czech News Center and Mafra, controlled by businessmen Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč, and PM Babiš, respectively, each holding interests in key sectors of the economy.

As a result, the Pirate Party, despite its centrist policies, was misleadingly painted across major media as radical, inexperienced, dangerous to the economy, and allegedly in favor of banning cars or the mandatory housing of refugees in citizen’s homes. Over the course of the year, support for the coalition PirStan (Piráti a Starostové, “Pirates and Mayors”) dropped by almost half, and the Pirate Party’s presence in the new parliament was further marginalized by the number of preferential votes recorded for its junior coalition partner, the Mayors and Independents Party.15

Analysts pointed out that the Pirate Party had become synonymous with the EU, a long-term target of domestic political criticism.16 Even though a majority of Czechs are still satisfied with the country’s EU membership, this view has been slowly yet steadily diminishing,17 and EU support is lower than in neighboring countries, including Poland.18 The SPOLU (“Together”) formation comprises a strong Euroskeptic wing,19 which was able to capitalize on criticism of the Babiš-led government as well as the campaign against the pro-EU Pirates.

Other efforts to contain public discourse within a particular ethnocentric frame include the depiction of the tragic death of the Romani man Stanislav Tomáš at the hands of Czech police or the racist behavior of Czech soccer players, managers, and fans. Racist profiling by police and racist behavior during soccer matches were downplayed by politicians and a number of media outlets during the year.

Concentration of power in circles with access to state institutions manifested in a number of controversial corruption cases in 2021. Notably, the ANO 2011 politician Jaroslav Faltýnek was searched and questioned by police20 in ongoing high-profile investigations, such as the “Stoka” case that first surfaced in 2015. Faltýnek’s ties to a network of bailiffs, which were exposed after reporters from the independent outlet Seznam Zprávy got hold of Faltýnek’s personal notebook, cast doubt on his and ANO’s impartiality during the year’s parliamentary votes on personal bankruptcy and enforcement reforms.

Czechia’s new, right-leaning government faces major challenges: continued instability around COVID-19 (only 62 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of year’s end);21 a strained public budget; significant support for extremist, anti-EU, and anti-system parties; a host of unresolved social issues (incomplete bankruptcy reform,22 housing, and the pension system); and perhaps most importantly, the country’s protracted transformation of an energy market dominated by several conglomerates.

header3 At a Glance

Czechia is a democratic country but suffers from the proliferation of business interests in politics. The 2021 general elections, while free and fair, were negatively impacted by disinformation, and an official report warning of this development was obstructed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Czech civil society is vibrant yet faces rhetorical attacks from disinformation outlets as well as politicians. Concentration of media ownership with diverse business interests, combined with disinformation, hamper the media environment. Government at the local level is fragmented and under-resourced in some areas. The death of Stanislav Tomáš in police custody brought attention to the systemic disadvantages and racism that Czech Romani face in the country’s justice system. The prevalence of corruption in Czechia was highlighted by revelations of the improper influence of business interests in government.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 4.755 7.007
  • Due to the dramatic surge in COVID-19 infections in winter 2020 and early spring 2021, Czechia remains one of the worst-hit countries in the EU/EEA in death toll per capita.1 The healthcare system was seriously strained, nearing or reaching maximum capacity in February–March. The government was widely criticized for mishandling the pandemic,2 particularly for imposing late measures and failing to properly communicate measures along with vaccination policies3 to the public, as well as to counter disinformation about vaccines.4 Statements downplaying the challenges to regional hospitals in western Czechia were voiced by government officials in February (see “Local Democratic Governance”).5 Also that month, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš helped supply the University Hospital in Brno with Ivermectin even though this medication was widely deemed unsuitable for treating COVID-19 and the health minister had warned against its use.6 Babiš also traveled to Hungary and Serbia to discuss use of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine although it was not approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
  • Between September 2020 and May 2021, there were five reshuffles at the top of the health ministry (three in the first five months of 2021). Adam Vojtěch returned to the ministry in May after Petr Arenberger was unable to comply with the income and property declarations required of cabinet members.7 The shortest tenure was Robert Prymula’s (38 days), which ended in October 2020 after he was pictured flouting lockdown measures with Jaroslav Faltýnek in a late-night meeting at a restaurant that was supposed to be closed.8 Jan Blatný was dismissed by PM Babiš in April amid the deteriorating COVID-19 situation, a move that raised questions of whether Blatný was scapegoated or his opposition to the contemplated introduction of Sputnik vaccines played a role in his dismissal.9 10
  • In April, the Czech authorities’ confirmation of the Russian GRU’s involvement11 in the 2014 Vrbětice ammunition depot explosions, and President Miloš Zeman’s subsequent public statement downplaying the Czech police’s conclusions, led the parliamentary Senate to consider triggering Article 66 of the constitution to remove Zeman’s presidential powers.12
  • In June, the Babiš government survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence13 for its failure to effectively deal with the pandemic, its inability to rally international support against Russia following the Vrbětice revelations, and PM Babiš’s entanglement with Agrofert, underscored by the EU’s final report on his conflicts of interest.14
  • Despite its difficulties, Babiš’s ANO 2011 party performed well in the general elections, winning the most mandates (72) in Parliament’s 200-seat Chamber of Deputies, one more than the SPOLU (“Together”) coalition, which nevertheless won a slightly larger share of the vote.15
  • The elections on October 8–9 transformed the country’s political landscape. The vote saw the emergence of a center-right majority, and Petr Fiala, chairman of the conservative ODS party (part of the SPOLU coalition), assumed the post of Prime Minister designate. With the Pirate Party marginalized, the core of the victorious coalition is similar to the previous ODS-led governments, which collapsed amid serious corruption scandals and paved the way for ANO 2011 in 2013. The election also saw more than one million “wasted votes” for parties not represented in Parliament, one of the worst totals recorded in the country’s post-1989 history. Left-wing parties, including the Social Democrats (a stalwart of Czech politics since 1989) and the Communist Party (which advocates distinctly non-left-wing policies such as intolerance for immigration), were relegated from Parliament altogether. The Communist Party, which has never distanced itself from being implicated in communist-era crimes, is now absent from Parliament for the first time since 1946. While some of these shifts may be attributed to demographics, such as the large Communist Party membership base being comprised of seniors, another factor pointed out by analysts and commentators is that ANO 2011 has been able to take over the left-wing electorate.16
  • The deterioration of President Zeman, around the time of the elections, eventually led the Senate to again initiate steps to trigger Article 66, this time on health grounds. This move was prompted by a medical report that Senate President Miloš Vystrčil had obtained from the head of the Military University Hospital in Prague stating that Zeman was incapable of carrying out presidential duties.17 The Article 66 process was eventually halted after a medical advisory body was set up to monitor Zeman’s condition. In late November, Czech Radio reported that presidential advisors pursued Zeman’s early release despite objections from hospital staff in order to avert triggering Article 66.18 During the president’s hospitalization, he continued to exercise his powers, e.g., signing the decree to convene the new parliament.
  • A criminal police and military intelligence inquiry into the circumstances of President Zeman’s hospitalization and possible forgery of his signatures on decrees was launched,19 drawing media attention to the president’s advisors and their possible links to foreign actors and local scandals (see “Corruption”). In January 2022, several outlets reported that a classified counterintelligence document was run through a shredder in the president’s office after investigators requested the document for fingerprint examination.20
  • By early December, Zeman was back at work and presiding in negotiations over the new cabinet (eventually formed by ODS’s Petr Fiala and backed by ODS’s partners in the SPOLU and PirStan coalitions). He even objected to Prime Minister Fiala’s cabinet nominees, although the president’s role in the nomination process is largely ceremonial. On December 8, PM Fiala stated that he would bring a case to the Constitutional Court if Zeman tried to block his cabinet nominees.21 Zeman relented, swearing in Fiala and his cabinet on December 17,22 paving the way for the parliamentary vote of confidence in January 2022.
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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
  • A February Constitutional Court ruling1 in a case brought by Senators of various political stripes led to extensive changes to the electoral law on the methodology for distributing parliamentary mandates to parties. The ruling found that the previous D’Hondt method was inadequate for securing a proportional distribution of mandates.2 The ruling also changed the electoral threshold for coalitions to enter Parliament to 5 percent, the same as for individual parties and movements.
  • Despite expectations that such changes could secure more seats for smaller opposition parties who form coalition blocs (like SPOLU and PirStan), this was not necessarily the case, as the October elections showed. It remains to be seen how effective the new methodology (using the Imperiali quota) will be in securing more proportional representation.3
  • President Zeman was publicly critical of the court ruling. He openly endorsed PM Babiš and his ANO 2011 party4 during the electoral campaign, promising in June to give a governing mandate to the largest political party—poised to be Babiš’s ANO—rather than to the largest coalition (Babiš’s opponents) after the elections.5 This announcement represented a break with Czechia’s democratic tradition and undermined voters’ faith in the political system in light of the Constitutional Court ruling and subsequent changes to the electoral law.
  • The summer and fall were dominated by manipulative attacks against the Pirate Party, which included the Babiš campaign’s misleading videos6 portraying Pirates as demonstrators demanding a ban on cars, open borders for refugees, direct rule by Brussels, lower pensions, and taxes on the “successful.” This negative campaign tapped into the long-term smearing of the EU, or “the West” in general, which has been among the most frequent themes of disinformation websites monitored by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic platforms,7 and merged with Euroskeptic and anti-green narratives disseminated by conservative media.8
  • Moreover, PM Babiš reportedly obstructed a report by state authorities on the impact of disinformation on the elections.9 According to Aktualne.cz, the Ministry of Interior’s Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats10 submitted the report in May warning against the lack of coordinated state effort to counter disinformation targeting the elections. Importantly, Czech intelligence agencies have issued public statements citing the frequency and impact of disinformation on society.11 To the extent that disinformation echoed Euroskeptic and anti-green narratives coming from conservative media, including outlets owned by the largest publishing houses in the country, Mafra and Czech News Center (which, in turn, are owned by Babiš’s Agrofert and tycoons Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč, respectively), they lowered the standard of the preelection debate.
  • According to an analysis of voter preferences by Palacký University in Olomouc, SPOLU was able to mobilize the university and business-owning electorate and outperform ANO 2011, even in smaller cities. ANO and the far-right party Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a přímá demokracie, SPD) in general did well in locations with a high percentage of unemployment and people trapped in the debt crisis.12
  • On campaign financing among the parliamentary parties, the Czech branch of Transparency International gave the best evaluation to the coalition PirStan (Pirates–Mayors and Independents) and the worst rating to the far-right coalition Trikolora Svobodní Soukromníci (Tricolor Citizen’s Movement), closely followed by the Communist Party and ANO 2011.13
  • The method for allocating mandates in the Chamber of Deputies was challenged by PirStan in several regions, but rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court14 . The coalition argued that a more precise definition of the use of the Imperiali quota is needed, as well as a Constitutional Court ruling specifically on methods for allocating representatives, which led the coalition to challenge the decision by Supreme Administrative Court at the Constitutional Court. Illustrating this issue, in the general elections, the SPOLU coalition won the largest number of votes, but ANO 2011 received more deputies following the allocation of representatives.15 Constitutional Court rejected the challenge on procedural grounds in January 2022.16
  • In the general elections on October 8–9, the following parties and coalitions crossed the 5-percent threshold necessary for entering Parliament: the center-right SPOLU coalition received 27.79 percent of the vote and 71 seats; the populist ANO 2011 won 27.12 percent and 72 seats; the liberal, centrist coalition PirStan won 15.62 percent and 37 seats; and the far-right SPD won 9.56 percent and 20 seats. Just below the threshold were the new right-wing anticorruption party Přísaha (“Oath”) with 4.68 percent and the center-left former parliamentary Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) with 4.65 percent. Just several thousand more votes for Přísaha would have likely created a completely different postelection situation in which populist political parties with a mixture of anti-establishment, nationalist, and anti-EU rhetoric would have had a strong chance to form a majority cabinet.17 According to the STEM polling agency, “dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country” was among the strongest factors compelling voter participation in the election.18
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 6.256 7.007
  • Czechia has a vibrant array of civil society groups that are active in domestic life. NGOs frequently provide materials necessary for key legislative measures, such as crucial aspects of the personal bankruptcy and enforcement reform in 2021 (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”),1 or interpretation of existing legislative framework to the lay public.2
  • The Million Moments for Democracy protests, which culminated in June 2019 with the largest demonstration since November 1989, were disrupted by COVID-19 measures when gatherings of people were prohibited. Yet they continued in various forms during the year, such as the painting of white crosses symbolizing victims of the mishandled COVID-19 surge, but were more visible in urban centers or online.3
  • The tragic death of the Romani man Stanislav Tomáš after his arrest in June was met by a series of protests (#RomaLivesMatter) against prevalent racism, police profiling, and discouraging Czech Roma from reporting official misconduct. The civic sector spoke out against other forms of discrimination towards the Roma minority as well as ostracization and ghettoization of entire Roma communities.4
  • An October poll by the Median agency showed that a majority of the Czech population views “coexistence” with Czech Roma as problematic,5 but more open views towards Czech Roma were recorded among younger generations.
  • A commemoration honoring the life of Romani concentration camp survivor and Czech partisan Josef Serinek, first held in 2021, linked Romani struggles with antifascist resistance and non-urban regions, yet the event was not covered by major media.6
  • Support of extremist and anti-system parties remained at similar levels in 2021, namely, SPD at 9.56 percent. But there were a number of new right-leaning political parties, such as Přísaha (4.68 percent), the coalition Trikolora Svobodní Soukromníci (2.76 percent), and Volný blok (1.33 percent), which all together represent nearly 20 percent and share strong anti-immigration, anti-EU rhetoric and target minorities or “un-adjustable” communities.
  • The large representation of conservative parties in Parliament is a source of concern,7 especially given that Czechia has not adopted the Istanbul Convention against domestic and gender-based violence. Some members of the winning SPOLU coalition issued negative statements concerning same-sex marriages; in September, Marián Jurečka, leader of the Christian and Democratic Union–Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL), even conditioned his party’s participation in the future government on blocking same-sex marriage legislation,8 which the outgoing Parliament unsuccessfully attempted to pass in 2021.9
  • Anti-vaccination protests were frequently joined by high-profile political figures like former PM and president Václav Klaus and famous entertainers,10 but they did not feature clashes with the police as occurred during the October 2020 protests against pandemic-related restrictions.
  • Environmental activists and NGOs were regularly attacked during the year by disinformation websites, which misleadingly depicted them as agents of EU green policies intended to bring about totalitarian rule and ban people from purchasing or driving cars with internal combustion engines.11
  • In June, President Zeman made derogatory remarks towards transgender people, calling them “disgusting.”12 Under Czech law, which the Constitutional Court upheld in 2021, transgender people may only legally change their assigned gender after undergoing reassignment surgery and sterilization.13
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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
  • Despite the dominance of Czech News Center and Mafra publishing house, the country has a number of independent outlets providing quality content, including not only the public broadcasting services (Czech Television and Czech Radio) but also print and online outlets like Deník N, Deník Referendum, Alarm, and Hospodářské noviny, as well as a number of media with critical commentary towards the government, such as Hlidacipes.org, Britské listy, Forum24, though with more limited reach.
  • Several outlets, including the public Czech TV, Deník N, Respekt weekly, and Seznam.cz, were denied entry to some of President Zeman’s press conferences in 2021 and labeled as disseminators of disinformation by presidential advisors.1 Reporters from several world news agencies were also denied entry to PM Babiš and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s press conference in Prague in September.2
  • The public television council was repeatedly subjected to accusations and political pressure from appointees close to ANO 2011, SPD, and the Communist Party3 as well as individual members of parliament questioning Czech TV’s standard of reporting and accusing it of corrupt management. This was particularly visible when conservative council member Hana Lipovská accused Czech TV director Petr Dvořák of conflicts of interests and even requested police protection during council meetings.4 Accusations against Dvořák were examined by a supervisory body and found to be unsubstantiated.5
  • While Czech TV is still the most respected source of information in the country, trust in the public television has been declining for some time. In 2019, Czech TV’s head of public relations argued that this trend was the result of smear campaigns magnified by populist politicians.6
  • Following domestic and international concerns7 over pressure on Czech TV, there were legislative proposals to introduce more checks and balances in the process of electing council members, most notably by empowering the Senate to elect half of the council. The Senate operates according to different election cycles than the Chamber of Deputies, so this would make it harder for politically coordinated council appointments to destabilize the public broadcaster, which is what ANO 2011, SPD, and the Communist Party did in 2021.8 As of the end of 2021, the legislative proposals were not adopted.
  • Disinformation has undermined trust in the media, often targeting EU institutions, “the West” in general, and political parties with the most pro-EU policies, particularly the Pirates. Some of the key disinformation narratives are reflected in mainstream media. This, combined with several large outlets’ giving soft treatment to PM Babiš, ANO 2011, and their allies, creates an unbalanced media environment.9 10 State companies also disproportionately advertised in media owned by Babiš’s holding Agrofert.11
  • COVID-19 disinformation is widely circulated in social networks. According to Newton Media monitoring, criticism of vaccination policies has been largely overtaken by websites spreading disinformation, making these the major source of articles on vaccination criticism.12
  • High-profile politicians and businesspeople frequently resort to threats of legal action and intimidation in response to reporting on their actions. One of the most prominent cases included Interior Minister Jan Hamáček, who sued the website Seznam Zprávy in May after it quoted anonymous sources claiming the minister had planned to travel to Russia to offer the Kremlin behind-the-scenes negotiations over statements about the GRU’s role in the Vrbětice ammunition depot explosions before information of Russia’s involvement emerged publicly.13
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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
  • Czechia’s system of local governance, comprising 13 self-governed regions and the capital Prague, was in the past criticized by leaders across the political spectrum1 as over-fragmented into an excessive number of regions, but by 2021 it is a well-established form of local governance.
  • At the height of the pandemic surge in January–March, the country’s strained healthcare infrastructure led hospitals in western and northern Bohemia (Karlovy Vary and Ústecký regions) to intensify cooperation with hospitals on the German side of the border, which was met with undue criticism2 from the deputy health minister and PM Babiš, who downplayed the critical situation.3
  • The long-running “Stoka” scandal from Brno (see “Corruption”) showed a number of national politicians questioned by police in controversial municipal and regional investigations in South Moravia. The two most prominent names included the son of Jaroslav Faltýnek of ANO 2011 and Pavel Blažek of ODS, who became Minister of Justice in Petr Fiala’s cabinet. There was an uptick in politicians questioned by police following testimony obtained on the alleged privatizing and renting of Brno city-owned apartments on favorable terms.4
  • Planned enlargement of the Dukovany nuclear power plant in the Vysočina region is vocally supported by regional nongovernmental actors such as the association Energetické Třebíčsko, which advocates for the development of nuclear energy in regions where existing nuclear power plants are located (Vysočina and South Bohemia).5 However, judging by its composition, this regional NGO appears to represent interests of service providers in the nuclear energy field, which environmental NGOs argue is pursued at the expense of renewable energy resources.6
  • A dispute between Czech Republic and Poland over operation of the Polish Turów coal mine near the Liberec region in northern Bohemia highlighted the issue of Czechia’s protracted energy transformation as well as the transnational impact of mining on water resources and air quality. Under a signed deal, criticized by environmental and transparency NGOs, 35 million of the total €45 million paid by the Polish side would go to the Liberec region,7 whose governor, Martin Půta, promised to invest in a clean water pipeline, a significant construction contract typically awarded from a short list of experienced companies.
  • An overlooked issue for regions is energy decentralization: renewable resources represent less than 10 percent of the energy mix,8 and greater decentralization would involve dismantling the predominant power constellation that has defined energy policies for much of Czechia’s post-1989 history. Energy costs are currently borne unequally,9 and regions like Ústecký and Moravskoslezský, home to heavy mining activity, could become “losers” in the energy transition.10
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 5.756 7.007
  • Introduced as a proposal in 2021, the Whistleblowers Protection Act reflects the Directive (EU) 2019/1937, although the latest versions of the Czech bill were criticized by watchdogs for not providing sufficient protection1 . Notably, a well-funded and politically independent national public office serving whistleblowers is missing from the proposed legislation.2
  • Appointments of judges during President Zeman’s hospitalization in October and November were questioned in relation to the circumstances of his condition and authorization and may cause delays in the operation of courts.3
  • In May, the Supreme State Prosecutor, Pavel Zeman (no relation to the president), resigned citing continuous pressure from Justice Minister Marie Benešová as well as pressure over the public statements on the Vrbětice findings.4 Benešová, on the other hand, filed an allegation against Zeman of abusing his position in an earlier case to intervene on behalf of an old acquaintance. Zeman denied the charge and continued to work as a regular prosecutor,5 but the situation sparked speculation on the real reasons prompting his resignation.6 The OECD cited Zeman’s resignation in its criticism of political meddling in the appointment of state prosecutors in the Czech Republic,7 pointing to long-term issues with securing “investigative and prosecutorial independence”8 in the country. Justice Minister Benešová rejected the criticism.9
  • The death of the Romani man Stanislav Tomáš in June after his arrest in the northern Bohemian town of Teplice sparked worldwide outrage and raised questions about the use of excessive force by Czech police;10 the Tomáš family later filed a criminal complaint against the police.11 Even before the circumstances were independently investigated, Czech politicians, including PM Babiš and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček, made public statements in support of the police.12 In October, the police released a press statement13 citing a medical report and concluding that there was no connection between the arrest of Tomáš and his death, instead alleging intoxication as the direct cause of death. The statement was disseminated by leading media14 without including statements from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) or the Tomáš family’s lawyers, who stressed that the medical report should not be interpreted as clearing the police of allegations of misconduct.
  • Earlier, statements attributing collective guilt to Czech Romani for their disadvantaged situation in Czech society were made by the country’s ombudsman, Stanislav Křeček, whose office is supposedly obligated to protect Romani from ostracization and racial profiling by the authorities. Křeček drew criticism from NGOs and calls for his resignation over statements blaming Romani for turning city neighborhoods “into ostracized locations.”15
  • These incidents illustrate the disadvantages that Czech Romani face when confronted by police and state authorities, and how this discrimination cuts across institutions and conflates with public and media discourses on Romani—which predominantly center white Czech speakers and narratives as key constructs of the idea of the Czech nation while estranging Romani.
  • In August, a compensation scheme to Romani women who were sterilized without their informed consent from 1966 to 2012 was signed into law.16
  • In July, reform of the legislation on personal bankruptcy and enforcement was approved after more than two years of negotiations and delays.17 However, key aspects of the reform are still missing, most notably the so-called territoriality rule, which would authorize bailiffs to operate only within the jurisdiction of the relevant court. Other missing aspects include adjusting personal insolvency conditions to reflect EU directives. Currently, creditors and bailiffs are motivated to pursue debt collection as a lucrative business activity. While not all bailiffs instigate enforcement proceedings to maximize their profits, the current legislation leaves enough room for the accumulation of charges related to existing debts significantly beyond their value. In addition, creditors sometimes reward bailiffs per their success rate; and bailiffs, although in principle regulated by courts, may operate across all of the territory of Czechia without restrictions, thereby turning enforcement proceedings into an essentially private business enterprise that can drive citizens into ever-deeper spirals of debts.18 Existing legislation contributes to this significant burden shouldered by a large segment of the workforce (over 700,000 adults19 ) trapped in enforcement proceedings after years of unregulated and predatory lending, legislative inaction, strict requirements for declaring bankruptcy, and extensive bailiff rights.
  • Throughout 2021, a number of cannabis users and journalists covering cannabis use were prosecuted by law enforcement and excessively punished, including an editor of the online magazine Legalizace.20
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
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. 4.254 7.007
  • Since its first stint in government in 2013, ANO 2011 has been accused of serving the vested interests of its founder, former PM Andrej Babiš, who is also the party’s key sponsor. Babiš’s Agrofert conglomerate is directly or indirectly the recipient of many national and EU subsidies and contracts. As one example, Agrofert’s Preol is a dominant producer and key supplier of biofuel ingredients to the state oil utility ČEPRO under legislative conditions that favor biofuel ingredients in an effort to achieve greener fuel production.1 Agrofert’s dominance led Deník Referendum to dub Babiš the “Yellow Baron”2 in reference to the yellow color of fields of rapeseed—a key biofuel ingredient.
  • The circle of unelected advisors to President Miloš Zeman maintained their posts throughout 2021, despite being implicated in a number of widely reported corruption probes and allegations of contacts with foreign power. These include Martin Nejedlý’s contacts with high-ranking Russian Federation officials allegedly discussing the Dukovany NPP enhancement3 – a project which according to the 2021 annual report of the Czech counterintelligence has been targeted by Russian intelligence4 – or Vratislav Mynář’s role in the Lány Forrests (part of the Presidential summer residence) corruption case where court in May ruled that head of the Lány Forrests, Miloš Balák, is guilty of manipulating public tender and passed a three years of prison sentence to him.
  • A number of cases illustrate how the country’s most prominent tycoons have made use of ANO 2011’s access to state institutions. The “Faltýnek notebook” affair exposed contacts and records of private business meetings of Jaroslav Faltýnek, former head of ANO 2011’s parliamentary faction and former party vice-chairman (who also served as Agrofert CEO), in his efforts to secure state subsidies for associates’ projects and attempts to disguise his stakes in private companies or to appoint loyalists to important public posts.5
  • Faltýnek’s notebook also included references to contracts awarded to bailiffs6 at the Prague Transportation utility, where Faltýnek had no executive position, for the controversial and lucrative practice of debt collecting under the country’s personal insolvency and enforcement legislation. Despite having to step down from posts at ANO 2011 after a series of scandals exposing his failure to comply with COVID-19 restrictions in October 2020, Faltýnek was elected to Parliament in October 2021 and represented ANO in negotiations over the allocation of posts in the new Chamber of Deputies.7
  • In June, the state company ČD-Telematika, which manages fiber-optic and cable infrastructure, bought back 29 percent of its shares from the late billionaire Petr Kellner’s PPF Group for 850 million CZK. The same shares were earlier traded between several companies, including that of the billionaire owner of Creditas, Pavel Hubáček, for 505 million CZK, and initially offered for 198 million CZK in 2014, raising questions about the excessive profit that PPF made off the buyback.8
  • Court hearings related to the “Stoka” (“Gutter”) investigations, which began in 2020 and turned into one of the largest corruption scandals of recent years, continued throughout 2021.9 The case dates back to a police raid in the city of Brno and involves alleged schemes10 to influence public procurements awarding contracts and city-owned apartments to bidders supported by local cartels. The former ANO 2011 municipal politician Jiří Švachula was implicated in the case; other prominent figures questioned in the investigations included Jaroslav Faltýnek’s son, Jiří, also a member of ANO 2011, who held a post at the Brno city heating utility (Teplárny Brno)11 and received loans from Hubáček’s Creditas,12 as well as the new justice minister, Pavel Blažek, of ODS.
  • PM Babiš was one of the highest-profile politicians caught in the leaked documents known as the “Pandora Papers.”13 Babiš was found to have used a series of offshore brokers to secretly purchase a lavish, €13 million estate in France. It is yet another instance of one of the country’s richest citizens using sophisticated offshore schemes to hide property; previously, the “Panama Papers” involved Petr Kellner and PPF, and the “FinCEN Files” involved a number of Czech banks, with PPF Banka arguably the most active in relation to its small client portfolio.14
  • The above cases are illustrative of how ANO 2011 has assumed the role of “broker” between private interests (predating the political rise of Andrej Babiš) and the state. Major conglomerates are linked through a chain of favors and business interests obscuring the separation between politics and business. It remains to be seen whether, or to what extent, the new government will be able to address this proliferation of business interests into politics.
  • In 2021, several senators challenged the late 2020 amendments to the Waste Act, which retroactively forgave private waste management companies for failing to pay millions of crowns in fees associated with the use of public landfills.15 The largest offender is AVE CZ, owned by Daniel Křetínský16 . There are strong suspicions that the amendments, slipped into a new version of the law, were inserted by a pair of parliamentarians at the behest of the waste management lobby.17

Author: Albin Sybera, a Czech national living in Slovenia, is a freelance journalist and non-resident fellow at the Warsaw-based think tank and magazine Visegrad Insight. He is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, where he is researching constructions of Czech national identity in Czech print media in November 1999 and in November 2019. His stories, commentaries and analyses regularly appear in international outlets, including Balkan Insight, Just Security, and bne IntelliNews; he is also a regular commentator and YouTube channel host for the Britské listy website focused on Czech culture, media, and politics. Previously, he collaborated with the Prague-based think tanks European Values Center and Comenius Society, and clerked at the Czech Republic Environmental Fund. Sybera holds degrees in Philosophy from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada (BA, 2006), and Reading European Cultures from University of Glasgow, Scotland (MLitt, 2008).

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