Twenty-eight years ago Czechs took to the streets to demonstrate for basic human rights and freedoms. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since and many Czechs today are asking themselves where those ideals went. Sociologist Jan Hartl, head of the STEM polling agency, has been closely monitoring the change of mood in Czech society over that time. I asked him to explain how people’s priorities have changed over the years.
“If we look back over those years, then in the 1990s people’s main concern was to catch up with the West in terms of standard of living and material wellbeing. But, in due course, they also realized there were other problems in the society, values which had been forgotten or were lagging behind the improvement in the material wellbeing of the people.”
To what extent are Czechs concerned nowadays about human rights and freedoms – the things they clamored for in 1989?
“Well, we see a significant difference, especially since the start of the migrant crisis public opinion changed considerably. We went from being an open society, as manifested by opinion surveys, to a society that is much more closed and one where there is a lot of fear especially as regards Islam and international terrorism and a not-insignificant part of the public would no longer insist on democratic values and practices and they would readily swap it for greater security. In a way we are perhaps on the verge of a new period of our development. If we compare it with the 1990s we were very pro-Western, pro-liberal, very open-minded to all minorities and if we look at the data today we see a considerable change.”
Do you feel there is now a hankering for authoritarian rule? What made Czechs vote for leaders such as Milos Zeman and Andrej Babis?
“That’s not so easy to answer. If we look at the data available, it seems that all Western democracies are facing what appears to be a shortage of strong leadership. And the main issues in American politics are always strong issues in West European countries and countries of the EU. Our country also has a shortage of strong leaders and if we look at the results of our general elections they can be explained in reference to leadership. Andrej Babis and Tomio Okamura are good examples of strong leaders, who offer strong leadership but whose policies are otherwise not very clear.”
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