Freedom in the World
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Following the 2006 parliamentary elections, neither of the two largest parties on the center-left and center-right were able to form a majority coalition including any of the smaller political parties. The deadlock lasted from June 2 and 3 until the end of the year with no permanent government formed.
Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soviet troops helped establish the Communist People’s Party of Czechoslovakia in 1948, and the country was renamed the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1960. In 1968, Soviet tanks crushed the so-called Prague Spring, a period of halting political liberalization led by reformist leader Alexander Dubcek.
In December 1989, a series of anti-Communist peaceful public demonstrations led by dissident Vaclav Havel and the Civic Forum resulted in the resignation of the Czechoslovak government in what became known as the Velvet Revolution. The country’s first post-Communist elections were held the following year. In 1992, a new constitution and Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were adopted, and the country began an ambitious program of political and economic reform under Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus. A leading figure in the ruling center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Klaus became prime minister the same year. In 1993, the state dissolved peacefully into the Czech and Slovak Republics and Havel became president of the new Czech Republic. In 1997, Klaus resigned amid allegations of corruption in the ODS.
Close parliamentary elections in 1998 brought about Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) control of the government, although the ODS managed to negotiate control of key government positions. This “opposition agreement” between the CSSD and the ODS limited meaningful political competition and brought about several years of political gridlock. The next parliamentary election to the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) was held in June 2002, and a by-election to the Senate (upper house) took place in November 2002. The CSSD secured the most votes, and Vladimir Spidla, the party’s chairman, became the new prime minister. Klaus won the February 2003 presidential poll.
In May 2004, the Czech Republic joined the European Union (EU), fulfilling one of the government’s most important goals. EU accession had required years of work to reach strict EU standards, such as the creation of a stable market economy, a consolidated democracy, a cleaner environment, and laws protecting minority rights. Czechs took pride in “returning” to Europe’s mainstream after the Communist era.
In the country’s first elections for the European Parliament, in June 2004, the government was soundly defeated: the CSSD secured just 9 percent of the vote, while the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) captured 20 percent. Prime Minister Spidla, who was humiliated by the results, stepped down in favor of Stanislav Gross, also of the CSSD; Gross formed a new government that included the same parties as the previous one: the CSSD, the Christian and Democratic Union–Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-CSL), and a free-market liberal party, Freedom Union–Democratic Union (US-DEU).
The CSSD was further weakened in 2005 when it was revealed that Gross had purchased an apartment that was thought to have been more expensive than he could afford on his government salary; Gross then failed to adequately explain how he had secured a loan for the purchase. Allegations of corruption and complaints from the opposition led to the collapse of the three-party governing coalition in April. Jiri Paroubek replaced Gross as prime minister, and the CSSD re-formed a coalition government with its partners: the KDU-CSL and the US-DEU. The coalition held a bare majority, 101 seats of 200, in the lower house of Parliament.
The June 2-3, 2006, parliamentary election continued the country’s tradition of political turmoil. On the left, the CSSD and the KSCM captured 100 seats (74 and 26). The other three parties winning seats—the ODS, the KDU-CSL, and the Greens—also won 100 (81, 13, and 6, respectively). Months of negotiation failed to produce a workable government, as no party was willing to work with the KSCM, which refuses to apologize for the repression of the Communist era. No combination of large and small parties proved feasible; a short-lived government of the ODS, KDU-CSL, and Greens failed a confidence vote in October after serving only one month. The two largest parties—the ODS and CSSD—were unable to agree on a grand coalition due to both personal and political differences. The ODS leader, Mirek Topolanek, remains caretaker prime minister. The ODS easily won local and Senate elections in late October, strengthening its public position and possibly creating a way out of the impasse. Meanwhile, the Czech economy performed surprisingly robustly in 2006 given the political stalemate.
The Czech Republic is an electoral democracy. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Czech Republic has enjoyed free and fair elections. The Chamber of Deputies (lower house of Parliament) has 200 members who are elected for four-year terms by proportional representation, and the Senate (upper house) has 81 members, elected for six-year terms, with one-third of the senators replaced every two years. The president, elected by the National Assembly, a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, for a five-year term (with a maximum of two subsequent terms), appoints judges, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but has few other formal powers. The prime minister relies on support from a majority of members of the Chamber of Deputies to govern.
The three largest political parties are the center-left CSSD; the center-right, free-market ODS; and the Communist KSCM. In 2006 parliamentary elections, two other parties passed the 5 percent threshold required to enter the Chamber of Deputies: the KDU-CSL and, for the first time, the Greens.
The Czech Republic continues to confront remnants of the Soviet legacy, including significant corruption that affects many sectors of Czech society. The Czech Republic was ranked 46 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption is frequently exposed in the press, which has led to high-level government resignations.
Freedom of expression is respected in the Czech Republic, although the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a document that forms part of the Czech constitution, prohibits threats against individual rights, state and public security, public health, and morality. The country’s print and electronic media are largely in private hands. In 2000, the Law on Free Access to Information took effect, and Parliament amended broadcasting laws to meet EU standards. In 2001, the legislature adopted a bill designed to limit political influence over Czech Television (CT), the state broadcaster. Passage of the legislation helped to end a standoff at CT between journalists and management, in which a government-appointed director was seen as excessively close to the prime minister. Under this law, nongovernmental groups, rather than politicians, nominate candidates for the CT’s governing council, the body that controls the selection of CT’s director. In 2005, the Constitutional Court helped protect investigative journalism by ruling that journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources. Internet access is unrestricted.
The government generally respects freedom of religion. A 2002 law that provides for the registration and regulation of churches, including pay for clergy, has been criticized by the Roman Catholic Church as unduly restrictive of its activities. In 2003, the Church won a judgment against a government decision to deny registration to a Church-run medical center. In 2006, Muslim authorities petitioned for permission and financing for activities including providing religious instruction in schools and performing marriages. Academic freedom is widely respected in the Czech Republic.
Czech citizens may assemble peacefully, form associations, and petition the government. However, civic organizations are not as well developed as in other parts of Central Europe. Trade unions and professional associations function freely. Judges, prosecutors, and members of the armed forces and police may not strike. In 2003, the government’s proposed fiscal-reform measures generated considerable opposition from the country’s trade unions, including a major one-day strike in September by the teacher’s union, in which more than 70,000 teachers reportedly took part.
The Czech Republic’s independent judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, a Supreme Administrative Court, and high, regional, and district courts. There is also a Constitutional Court. Since a 2002 visit by Council of Europe authorities resulted in criticisms of ill-treatment by police and shortcomings in detention facilities, Czech authorities have issued new guidelines to police and wardens, including improved short-term detention facilities.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms gives minorities the right to help resolve matters pertaining to their group. A 1999 law restored citizenship to many residents, including Roma (Gypsies), who continue to experience discrimination. In 2001, Parliament approved legislation for the protection of ethnic minority rights, including the creation of a governmental minority council. Promoting denial of the Holocaust and inciting religious hatred are illegal. In 2005, the government proposed symbolic compensation for some of the ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II, though this proposal is controversial and has resulted in no actual material compensation.
Property ownership, choice of residence, and fair wages are legally protected, and citizens generally enjoy all of these rights.
Gender discrimination is legally prohibited. However, sexual harassment in the workplace appears to be fairly common, and women are underrepresented in the highest levels of government and business. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution remains a problem. The government has taken steps in recent years to strengthen the reporting of and punishment for cases of domestic violence.