Vol 1, No 22
22 November 1999
C U L I K ' S C Z E C H R E P U B L I C:
Evaluating a Decade
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic: People's situation has worsened since the fall of Communism. Is this what the West intended?
Jan CulikAt the beginning of November 1999, the Czech opinion poll agency IVVM (Institut pro vyzkum verejneho mineni) cooperated with its colleague agencies CBOS (Centrum badania opinii spolecznej) in Poland and the Hungarian TARKI institute on a public opinion poll, asking people about their views on the situation since the fall of Communism. The sample questioned was between 1000 - 1500 individuals in each country. It would appear that most citizens regard the fall of Communism as positive, in spite of many negative developments since 1989, which seem to have had an impact on their lives.
Table 1 - Was the fall of Communism worthwhile?
As you can see, the fall of Communism was most decisively welcomed by the citizens of Poland, of whom 67% are of the opinion that the great event had been worth it. In the Czech Republic, 55% of people are of this opinion and Hungary is in the grip of disillusionment: 46 per cent Hungarians think the fall of Communism was worth it, 40% are of the opinion that it was not. The most important gain for people from the fall of Communism seems to be that they can travel freely (if they have the money for it, that is).
Table 2 shows the interesting fact that both the Hungarians and the Poles feel they can influence public affairs in the place they live and in the country generally better than before 1989. In the Czech Republic, however, people are divided: the same number feel that the situation is better as they do that it is worse. In many other respects people feel that the situation is much worse than before 1989. They feel lack of security of employment, they have problems with finding jobs, they feel insecure about crime. In Poland and Hungary people feel they have suffered a considerable fall in living standards, they feel much less contented and (especially the Hungarians) that they have little free time.
Who is to blame?
Whilst it is difficult to spin conspiracy theories on this subject, the former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has managed to do so. In a speech delivered at Bregenzo in June this year Klaus argued that at the beginning of the 1990s the newly liberated post-communist countries opened themselves guilelessly to aggressive pressure from international capital and the liberalised global markets. (See this article in Britske listy [in Czech]). This, in his view, has produced an economic crisis in Central and Eastern Europe, similar to the current crisis in Latin American and in Southeast Asia.
Klaus puts the blame for these developments fairly and sqarely on the International Monetary Fund. He argues that undoubtedly the post-communist countries were in a mess after decades of Communism, but the already difficult situation was seriously aggravated by the IMF and other international financial institutions who imposed absurdly restrictive monetarist policies and high interest rates on the post-communist countries. (Some commentators have argued that if similar policies had been imposed on the advanced economies of the West, even they would have got into serious difficulties). Klaus argues that as a result of this silly Western approach, the transformation strategies in the post-communist countries have been discredited in the eyes of the local population and the situation in the next few years will not be easy.
The crux of Klaus's conspiracy theory lies in the fact that he now argues that the emerging Central and East European countries were deliberately impoverished by Western financial institutions: "it was the aim of a very concrete and very well interconnected interest group made up of international advisers, auditors, investment bankers and bureaucrats from international financial institutions." Thus Klaus evokes the image of a ruling global economic interest group which is bent on destabilising various parts of the world so that it could economically and hence politically control them.
Klaus is a very skilful politician and he masters all the aspects of the art of blaming somebody else for his failures. Yet it is primarily Vaclav Klaus who is to be blamed for the failure of the Czech economic reform in the first half of the 1990s. (It is sufficient to look for instance at the text of the 1991 Czechoslovak-American agreement about the protection of investment in the other country (in Czech here) to see how guileless the Czech government and Vaclav Klaus were at that time). So, naturally, Klaus is likely to look for international culprits in order to deflect the blame from himself.
Even so, it is difficult to accuse Central and East European politicians of incompetence in this matter. The most important things in life cannot be communicated in words - what you have to do is to experience them personally. The best advice would not have been any use because the recipients were not capable of understanding it and were not willing to accept it. Vaclav Klaus and his government in the Czech Republic for one did not accept much advice anyway - they felt that they knew much better than anyone else what to do.
It is probably wrong to construct vast global conspiracy theories the way Vaclav Klaus does. The theory of the general cock-up is much more plausible. The West was not interested in the Central and East European countries when they languished under Communism; after a short spell of interest during the fall of Communism at the end of 1989 the West more or less lost interest again in this part of the world. Western specialists did not really understand the organisation of Central and East European societies, and in the course of their sundry expensive junkets to the region they tended to advise governments rather badly. It is rather surprising, for instance, that these Western specialists did not realise from the beginning that what these societies primarily need is an efficient and impartial civil service on the one hand, and the rule of law on the other.
So now the region has become comparatively neglected, slipping into serious difficulties, most of which are only now coming into focus.
Although East Central Europe feels, as a result of all this, that it has lost out on many counts, they still feel that the fall of Communism was a "good thing". Is it still because of that "intoxicating experience" of freedom? Or are they under the spell of anti-communist propaganda? Or is it ultimately just that one real achievement of 1989 - the freedom to travel (if you have the money, of course)?
Jan Culik, 14 November 1999
The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britske listy.
Other Articles by Jan Culik in CER
Profound Disillusionment, 8 November 1999
Communist Revival, 1 November 1999
Race Relations, 25 October 1999
Reminiscing Revolutionaries, 18 October 1999
The Educated Poor, 11 October 1999
Pricking Havel's Bottom, 4 October 1999
More Moribund Manouevring (Further TV Nova Tales), 27 September 1999
Mixed Czech Nuts, 20 September 1999
Nova TV: The saga continues, 13 September 1999
UK: Central Europeans Keep Out!, 30 August 1999
Czech Public TV: The yellow-bellies, 23 August 1999
Zelezny Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova, 16 August 1999
Czech Media and Civil Society: A survey, 16 August 1999
Czech Revival: No Pulse 99, 9 August 1999
Princess Diana, Al Fayed, the CIA and a Czech Spook, 2 August 1999
Nova TV: Commercial success or embarrassing failure?, 2 August 1999
Book Review: Martin Fendrych's Jako ptak na drate, 26 July 1999
A Concrete Example of Muddy Thinking in the Czech Press, 19 July 1999
Press Freedom under Threat, 12 July 1999
Corruption at the Czech Law School, 5 July 1999
The Czech Malaise, 28 June 1999
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