Sokol NGO Worked Towards Czech State More Than Parties

Prague, Feb 10 (CTK) – The Sokol gymnastic union, a highly influential Czech nongovernmental organisation, seems to have contributed to the establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state 100 years ago more than all then political parties, Jaroslav Veis writes in daily Lidove noviny (LN) today.


The “not for profit, not for fame” slogan of the Sokol movement, which aimed at physical, moral and intellectual training of the nation, is actually a definition of the purpose of nongovernmental organisations: to work in areas in which the state does not work for various reasons or in which the state even should not meddle, Veis writes.


There are many fields in which clubs, interest groups, church organisations and civic associations play an irreplaceable role. In the 1990s when the late president Vaclav Havel promoted his ideas of truth and love, these groups were generally called the civic society and this concept was rather pompous but it was not ridiculed, Veis writes.


But NGOs have recently become a target of attacks by a part of Czech politicians, especially of the two latest presidents, Vaclav Klaus and Milos Zeman. The critics claim that there are too many NGOs in the country and that their activities and funding are not transparent, Veis writes.


He says Klaus criticised the NGOs mostly at conferences and in his articles published in the press and he created the term “NGOism”.


Zeman said NGOs are parasites living on public finances. “They should use their own money and not sponge on the state budget because 11 billion is really a lot of money,” Veis cites Zeman as telling the lower house of Czech parliament last month.


In fact, Czech NGOs received 18 billion crowns in total since they get subsidies not only from the state but also from the regional and municipal authorities and the EU funds, Veis writes.


Unfortunately, the real reason behind this attack on NGOs is not an effort to save public money, but to get rid of the NGOs that make life hard for some politicians by focusing on the criticism and checks of the Czech political scene, on links between business and politics, defence of various minorities and other unpopular topics, Veis says.


Zeman and his assistants never forget to say that the good NGOs deserve to get the subsidies. They do not add that the bad ones should be stripped of the subsidies because this might remind people of the Eastern examples to follow, Veis writes.


Klaus’s son, Vaclav Klaus Jr, who is known for his radical views, told the weekly Reflex a month ago that political NGOs should not get any subsidies at all and those supported from abroad should openly declare who their sponsors are, Veis writes, adding that reminds of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.


He says it is noteworthy that politicians do not mind that political parties receive financial contributions from the Czech state.


Zeman also said those NGOs that are able to earn or raise money themselves should receive state support, which resembles public-private partnership projects, Veis writes.


Let’s hope that Prime Minister in resignation Andrej Babis and his team will not apply this idea. Such a view is mistaken because the more time NGOs spend on raising funds, the less money they have for their own activities, Veis writes.


If there is something the Czech government should do, it is remove the disproportion in effort that individual NGOs must make to win subsidies from public budgets, he says.


In 2016, the TOP 10 NGOs in the country received over 100 million crowns from the state budget. This top list comprised four NGOs focusing on sport, for focusing on charity and social services, the mountain rescue service and the Cesnet group dealing with support for IT.


Veis says the sport NGOs, Cesnet and the rescuers won the subsidies thanks to 4-10 subsidy applications, those focusing on charity and social services had to submit from 87 to 153 applications.


Each application means not only an application form but also a detailed description of the project, an interim report and a final report that both include a thorough financial report, he writes.


This disproportion should be removed, Veis says.