It has been a long time since I have updated this blog – five years to the day to be exact. Who knew in 2013 that I would return to my “five-year betting plan” and bet half of my NGO salary on Milos Zeman’s victory in the Czech presidential election again. After Brexit vote and the election of Trump I certainly was not surprised with the result. Regardless the winning bet did not make me feel any better.
There are many reasons why the election of Zeman is not a good news for us the Czechs. He is a rude and a divisive person. It is hard for me to find almost any positives in him that he surely had in the 1990s when he was a respected leader in Czech politics. However I still believe as I wrote five years ago that he is not the problem but rather a symptom of the situation in my native country. Five years ago I came back to Czechia after being abroad for about a decade. Things did not look particularly good to me at that time and unfortunately the outlook is even worse now. At least back in 2013 established (and more democratic) parties still had some relevance. And yes we actually had a government that was able to win parliamentary confidence. In addition at least some people who governed back then (from the left, the right and in between) had some credentials. I felt that in 2013 the Czech journalism had its challenges but it was not under direct attack – at least not in the form it is at the moment. Let’s hope that the Czech public media will survive next decade and will not become a tool of a single politician.
I had a chance to spend five years in Prague and travel the country in those five years. Economically the country is doing fairly well. Life for most people has improved when compared with 1990s (of course the new system has not work for everyone, but people quickly forget how unhappy we were in 1989). Czechs are now more European than they have ever been – still as their salaries near those of average EU citizen they feel more anti-European than ever. Many other things are not going in the direction I think should be going. Politically the country is a mess both on the left and on the right. I see some hopeful signs when I see how active some young people are. When I traveled around for OneWorld Film Festival in last couple of years I could see both in big and small towns some of the brightest and enthusiastic people I have seen anywhere in the world. Unfortunately I also saw many people not tainted by communism falling for simple formulas demagogy (often labeled as populism).
I also traveled to other countries around the world during the last five years and witnessed that democracy in the 21st century does not disappear from one day to another, but that it is a slow and often barely visible process. Although not predetermined I fear that I see too many things happening that meant end of democracy elsewhere.
As the election day was coming to a close I browsed through my photo album and remembered when in 1999 I was covering the protest labeled “Thanks! Please leave!“. Thousands of people were asking Zeman (then prime minister) and Vaclav Klaus (leader of the opposition) to leave and open the political space for the new generation. Not only was the protest unsuccessful but few could have predicted that Klaus would be in the presidential office few years later only to be replaced by Zeman in 2013. Not even a crazy person would have predicted at that time that Zeman could possibly occupy the Prague castle till 2023. It is indeed a crazy world the Czechs live in now. Hopefully they will realize it before it is too late.