Archive | September, 2007

>Polish Women’s Party set to spring electoral surprise?

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Meanwhile, the surprise package of the Polish elections seems not to be the pernsioners party, but the newly formed Women’s Party (Partia Kobiet), whose Polish language website can be found here. Its founders semi-nude campaign posters have attracted the requisitie amount of outrage from the Church and (crucially) media coverage, including a report in The Times. Despite this media savvy crashing of the headlines, the party seems a politically very serious initiative and, interestingly, differs from women’s parties elsewhere in post-communist Europe in being more overtly feminist and intelligenstsia-based and less based on women’s organisations with roots in the old regime and preoccupied with fighting rearguard actions to defend socialist-era welfare provisions. Newness, media coverage, the backing of female celebrities and response to issues not well addressed in Poland’s male-dominated political class may add to a recipe for political success for the Partia Kobiet, which (on a reported 3%) is positioned not too far off the 5% threshold needed to entered parliament and – more crucially – to overcome potential voters’ concerned that a vote for the PK might be wasted on a non-parliamentary also-ran.

>Young academics to back Mečiar?

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Even in its current much diminished, more moderate form Vladimír Mečiar’s populist-nationalist Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is not known for its intellectual qualities, so it is interesting to see that it has just founded a Young Politcal Scientists Club for sympathetic adademics to advise and feed in ideas. The rationale, reports Sme, is to counter the heavy bias in Slovak political science community towards liberal, pro-market parties. This I suspect does exist, although ,that said, Slovak political science is of a generally rather high quality with less obvious and uncomfortable partisianship creeping in than (for example) in the neighbouring Czech Republic. It will be interesting to see whether this initiative develops and contributes to the modernization of HZDS, whose vagueness plus loyal base of voters remembering the bad/good old days when VM dominated Slovak politics may be an asset for future growth. In Croatia the broadly similar Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), for example, took Ireland’s Fianna Fáil as its model of thoroughly modern small country nationalism. HDZ founder Franjo Tudjman did, however, have the decency to die at a poltically opportune moment…

>Any tax you can do, I can do flatter…

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The Sofia Weekly carries the following story about the GERB party of Sofia’s mayor Boyko Borissov, suggesting that free market fiscal populism centring on flat taxation as magic bullet for all economic woes is alive and well in SE Europe. The package seems an attempt to outbid the current Socialist/centrist-liberal coalition’s recently passed 10% flat tax package. Despite Sofia’s chronic rubbish disposal problems, Boyko Borissov seems set to romp home in the poll to run the nation’s capital ahead of a Socialist, far-right and centre-right unity candidates- the latter just agreed by the largest two squabbling remnants of the old Union of Democratic Forces. It will be interesting to see whether GERB can repeat the trick in national elections with flat tax as their main selling point. So far the tactic has garnered large but ultimately insufficient support for centre-right parties trying this tack in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Bulgaria’s GERB Party Wants 7% Flat Tax

Bulgaria’s self-proclaimed centre-right party GERB presented on Wednesday its ambitious economic agenda for the 2009 parliamentary polls, which includes a 7% flat tax rate and massive privatisation of state assets.The party of Sofia mayor Boyko Borissov, who styles himself as the biggest opponent of the country’s ruling three-way coalition, was founded last year and previously had no cohesive economic programme. In addition to arguing for a lower flat tax than the 10% that the current cabinet plans to adopt starting next year, the party’s plan includes a monthly tax-exempt minimum of BGN 1000. The average monthly wage in Bulgaria in the second quarter of the year was BGN 406.Should GERB win the elections and complete its four-year term, its policies can bring a doubling of monthly wages, which could reach as high as BGN 1500-2000, party economist Stoyan Mavrodiev told reporters.Another key feature of its economic agenda is privatising all state assets in which the state has a majority stake, which includes a bank, the postal company, coal mines, several power stations and tobacco monopoly Bulgartabak, among others. Furthermore, key parts of infrastructure, such as motorways, airports, ports and bridges over the Danube should be given out on concession, while the state should step out of health insurance and healthcare, which should become private, according to the programme.That would allow the cabinet to reduce the annual budget to the equivalent of 30% of gross domestic product (GDP), as opposed to the current 40%.”

>Tabloid Transitions: How not to draw lessons from Czech politics

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For a long time now, colleagues have been quietly complaining that the online newsmagazine covering post-communist Europe Transitions Online just aint’ what it used to be. These days it coverage of post-communist politics and society seems increasingly bitty and insubstantial translations of sometimes rather lightweight articles from the Czech press do not help, and some of the op-ed pieces have also seemed rather flimsy. The recent columns of Fredo Arias-King, however, takes us to a new level of confused tabloidy democratization writing, made worse by the fact that his basic argument – that tough decommunization measures (in the Czech Republic and Estonia) underpinned reform success – is worth looking at. Unfortunately, for any mildly thoughtful or knowledgable reader, his two pieces will probably achieve the exact opposite of that intended.

I reproduce the second of these with some commentary added in:

“The Czechs’ Secret

14 September 2007

The Czech Republic is the only country of the former East bloc (besides Estonia) where the ex–Communist Party has not governed as a caste since the fall of the Iron Curtain. This may explain why the Czechs have escaped many of the pathologies of their eastern and southern neighbors. When you see the rankings made by international organizations on the economic and political health of the post-communist countries, what comes across is how negatively correlated these rankings are with the staying power of the ex-communist nomenklatura.

So, far a reasonable generalization although naturally need to know which ‘eastern and southern neightbours’ we are talking about. Serbia? Russia? Or pretty much all other countries apart from Estonia. ‘governing as a caste’ is a pretty elastic term: presumably it is meant to cover a case like Romania, where the link between the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Romania runs loosely through National Salvation Front, rather than direct continuity as a successor party.

While former dissidents throughout the bloc mostly have the blues at seeing their countries hijacked by their one-time jailers, the Czechs have a competitive political system characterized by the leftward and rightward swings that most healthy democracies experience.

Actually, as a quick reading of Arend Lijphart ( see any univesity’s political science course) would show, many democracies manage fine without such swings and – as younger American political scientists who are the staple of much grad school reading (Milada Anna Vachudova, Anna Grzymala-Busse etc)have shown what matters for such democratic quality are less ;swings’ than the alternation of left and right in office. More damningly, for this piece, it is Hungary and Poland, with, yes, those bad old commies making up the left, that managed alternation rather better than the Czechs, where the centre-left can make a majority because of the electoral size of the uncoalitionable, hardline Communist Party

How did the Czechs manage this?

Well, as just pointed out, they didn’t …

It essentially involved three ingredients: Lustration, leftist parties and liberal reforms. Dismissing the former communist networks of the old regime from government and the banks is perhaps the most essential reform any new government can make. Of course, this has to be done tactfully: temporarily ally with some of the moderate, less noxious ones to get to the rest, as the United States did in occupied Germany to discover the vestigial Nazi networks. This also can be done legislatively, as the Czechs did with their lustration law and Estonians through their administrative act (which, unlike with the Czech law, also included the banks).

Can you ‘dismiss’ an informal structure like a network? I think not. The Czech lustration law in, in fact, barred a range of former top nomenklatura officeholders, secret police officers and informersfrom a ranges of public offices. Interestingly, this didn’t include elective offices such as members of parliament, local councillers or even the Presidency. It did cover top mnagagement positions in state-owned companies but was easily circumvenyed by those managers unluckly enough to be caught out (through strategies like job swapping) and when companies were privatized lustration requirements ceased to apply. Only a handful of officals – Kieran Williams estimated perhaps 100 – were ever forced to step down from top posts. In short, lustration was a manifestation of Czech society’s anti-communism, rather than a tool for beating ‘the ‘old structures’ of the nomenklatura. As much as they could be they were already beaten as a distinct social force in November 1989.

The leftist party is also quite important in the medium run to frustrate the attempts of the communists to come back through the same electoral vehicle they had long suppressed. It involves founding a party from among the democratic ranks, and not leaving that space open for the communists to occupy it. This way, the anti-communist forces took over not only the right wing (as the Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Albanians and numerous others did to their detriment), but also the left.

This rather shifts the supposed nature of the communist threat to an electoral return by hardline Communists. There is little real risk of an electoral comeback by this route. Certainly, the Czech Communists never managed it in the early 1990s when the Social Democrats were tiny, fragmented and in disarray.

So when the pendulum inevitably swings and the right party loses an election to the left, as it does in every democracy, it is your hippie friend and former jail mate that occupies the executive office in government, and not the thug who jailed you both.

Very few ex-hippies I can think of in the Czech Social Democratic Party and not many ex-dissidents…

MISSING THE POINT

This key lesson seems obvious,

Not to me other than the key lesson that you should base your arguments on some real knowledge the countries you are writing about and not play fast and loose to tell the story you want…

but it essentially escaped the democrats who came to power in most countries across the region. Even today, almost two decades later, the most astute observers of transitions fail to appreciate this point. When Solidarity came to power in 1989 in Poland, some social-democratic elements in it attempted to form a leftist party.

I’m not entirely clear, which political initiative is being referred to here, but it’s perhaps worth noting that the historic Polish Socialist Party – possibly the best bet for a centre-left without direct links to elements of the former ruling apparatus – flunked disasterously. As indeed, did the Czech Social Democrats after 1989 until rescued by an influx of ex-social liberals, regionalists, Greens, ex-nomenklatura technocrats and all and sundry.

But they were not supported by the rest of Solidarity

…who were on the right and centre, so perhaps not entirely surprising. The failure was due to the weakness of social democrats without ties to the old ruling structures …

and the attempt failed, so the Communist Party renamed itself and won more than 60 percent of the seats in the Sejm in 1993 over the hopelessly divided post-Solidarity parties

A product of the electoral system, electoral thresholds and the disunity of the right, rather than a powerful electoral comeback per se. They were heavily defeated in 1997 with relative ease, so no great tragedy.

Same sad story in Lithuania, Albania, Hungary, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Nothing very sad about Poland and certainly not Slovenia in terms of reform and democracy compared to the Czech Republic and very odd they are lumped in with less successful reformers like Bulgaria and (for God’s sake!) Albania. Hungary has severe budget problems, but this is due as much to the economic populism of the self-styled right as the turpitude of ex-communist nomenklatura capitalism.

In the Czech Republic, there is a much healthier social democratic party than in those countries where “social democrat” is a euphemism for corrupt, ex-communist networks.

It’s very to see in what sense the Czech Social Democrat are ‘healthier’ than their fellow socialists in Hungary or Poland, except perhaps in some moral sense looking back at the communist past. A number of the party’s leading figures are or were ex-CP members with technocratic ex-nomenklatura backgrounds in industrial managment etc Fundamentally, there seems to be a confusion between the patronage networks which developed in the nomenklatura and economic management structures of state socialist and the ex-communsit parrties. Sometimes these overlapped, sometimes as in the Czech Republic these networks reconfigured and found new friends on the right or (later) among the Czech Social Democrats

The Czech communists remained largely unreformed and a separate party, sometimes capturing the protest vote and making some trouble in parliament and elsewhere, but not forming a government.Czechoslovak history, probably even more than astute political will, largely explains this outcome. The Soviet invasion of 1968 and the subsequent “normalization” bitterly separated the more idealistic communists and some social democrats in Alexander Dubcek’s government from the more antisocial communist collaborators, who remained in power with Moscow’s patronage.

“Idealistic communists and some social democrats”? Here, rather oddly, we are asked to believe that reformed communiss in 1960s Czechoslovakia, who merely favoured market socialist experiments and a form of managed democracy not a mixed economy or open party competition were “social democrats”, whereas reformed ex-communists in Hungary and Poland, who favour both are not?

The most important of the former group was Jiri Hajek, the Prague Spring’s foreign minister and a social democrat (who essentially was compelled to join the Communist Party after World War II).

Hajek is a slightly odd figure to pick as the personifiaction of an unsulied Czech non-communist democratic left. Like many on the left of Czechoslovak Social Democracy he was compelled (“essentially” or otherwise) to join the Communist Party in June 1948, but chose to join it. Others did not. Arguably – at least if you are an anti-communist who belives in some kind of tough reckoning with the past – he might bear some moral and political responsibility for the crimes of regime that being an idealist might not excuse. (Indeed, arguably “idealistic communists” of the 1950s were the cause of the worst problems as Kundera’s The Joke brutally records).

Hajek certainly subsequently played a major and heroic role in Charter 77, but the former reform communists who later coalesced into the Obroda club hardly represent an unsullied non-nomenklatura left and did not quickly embrace Western-style social democracy even in 1970s, but hovered around vague ideas of a democratic socialism. This ambiguity – and their linger hope of reform coming from within the communist party state – made them of an object of suspicion for non-socialist dissent. Indeed, an account of the re-foundation of Czechoslovak Social Democracy by Jiří Loewy suggests that Hajek was opposed to the renewal of the party in 1989, seeing Hungarian or Polish style transformation of the ruling Communist Party as a better route to creating a powerful centre-left party than the nostalgic project of reviving the pre-1948 party promoted by exiles like Loewy.

A more knowledge observer of Czech politics might perhaps highlight less compromised figures such as New Left activist Petr Uhl or the group of ‘independent socialists’ around Rudolf Battěk., but the real question to raise is that if an ex-communist like Hajek can become a good social democratic, then why should the same not apply to reform communists of the 1980s in Poland and Hungary?

He was one of the key dissidents after denouncing the invasion, and one of the most hated figures by the Gustav Husak regime.Hajek was a founder and spokesman of Charter 77, along with two lesser-known figures, Jan Patocka and Vaclav Havel.

Lesser known in 1977 perhaps. These days Hajek is , arguably, by far the most obscure of the three…

Patocka died after interrogation by the secret police and Havel spent many years in prison, leaving Hajek as the leading voice against the hated and deeply illegitimate communist regime.

An exaggeration to say he was the ‘leading voice’ beyond the fact that he was of the Charter’s three ‘speakers’

This trial by fire and separation

‘Fire and separation’? What on earth is this supposed to mean?

is what permitted the healthy left to consolidate away from the antisocial left in Czechoslovakia. Hajek died in 1993 when his party was in the doldrums,

Despite contacts with the exiles who refounded the party in late 1989, Hajek does not appear to actually to have (re)joined it after 1989, but worked with the Obroda club of ex-communists within Civic Forum.

but today the Social Democratic Party includes literally hundreds of ex–Charter 77 signatories and dissidents

A highly implausible claim – there were only 1883 Charter signatories in total between 1977 and 1990, not all of whom were politically active. It is hard, of course, to say whay being a dissident means exactly, but the number of dissidents actively engaged in independent oreganizations was at best a few hundred. Most, it is fair to say, did not incline to the (centre-)left, although some ex-dissidents like Jiří Dienstbier moved closer to the party in the course of 1990s.

who played a key role in dismantling tyranny and has produced four prime ministers so far.

Fighting tyranny and producing Prime Miniters are not the same thing. Only one Social Democratic PM (Vladimír Špidla) was engaged in any kind of overt opposition activity before 1989; one Miloš Zeman was briefly a Communist as a student in 1969 and engaged in covert opposition as a sociologist but until 1992 declared himself to be a liberal. Current Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek was a communist-era manager in the hotel industry and a member of the communist satellite Socialist Party under communist rule. This gives an accurate feel for the non-communist, but largely non-dissident origins of the Czech Social Democrats.

Despite its numerous scandals, the Social Democrats live on as the main leftist party.

Again, why is it possible to forgive the Czech Social Democrats “numerous scandals” but damn those of the Hungarian or Polish Socialists as the height of nomenklatura turpitude?

BLESSING IN DISGUISE

In retrospect and very ironically, then, the Soviet invasion turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the health of Czech democracy.In the other countries, a reformist “counter elite” remained in the Communist Party. In Lithuania, communist leader Algirdas Brazauskas shifted and sided with the independence movement against Moscow in early 1990. In Poland, the communists could also claim to have negotiated an orderly transfer of power through elections (though research suggests that they were heavily pressured by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev). In Hungary, these “nationalists” and “reformers” were key in its sudden transformation in 1989, resuscitating Imre Nagy and even attempting to appropriate him symbolically for themselves. In these three countries, the former communists took advantage of the tactical mistakes of the democratic governments of Vytautas Landsbergis, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Jozsef Antall, respectively, to make a comeback in 1992, 1993 and 1994.One can make the argument that “ghettoizing” the communists only makes them less prone to reform themselves, and there is an element of truth in this. Notice the “Europeanized” former communists in Lithuania, Poland and Hungary – even their enthusiasm for capitalism (or their corrupted brand of it), the European Union and NATO.

Some uncontentious analysis here. But for the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 Czechoslovakia probably would have had a reform communist regime, which would have negotiated itself out of power Hungarian or Polish style? But the conclusion is a very odd one. There is simply no convincing evidenece that the capitalism of the Czech Republic has been consistently less corrupt than that of Hungary or Poland, or that the Czech Social Democrats are politically cleaner. Most published research suggests that corruption in the Czech Republic in 1990s under the right was possibly somewhat worse than under centre-left governments in Hungary or Poland. In truth, corruption levels depend on institutions, incentives and political priorities with membership or non-membership of the Communist nomenklatura a poor guide to moral probity of powerholders.

The idea of ‘normalization’ as a kind of preparation for better democracy is also a little odd: the crushing of (limited) freedom as necessary precondition for better democracy has a oddly Leninist logic to it, which I don’t really buy, although it is (intellectually) one of the more defensible arguments in the piece.

Compare them to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which still advocates a Neanderthal form of leftism. However, this is only a second-best option, while the ideal option is indeed what we are advocating here: a non-communist, social democratic party that can co-govern with the right and the liberals.

As most observers of Czech politics will note, co-operation of the Czech Social Democrats with liberal and right-wing parties – the Opposition Agreement pact with Klaus’s ODS (1998-2002) and the Social Democrat/Christian Democratic/liberal coalition of 2002-6 – owes less to Blairite modernity and more to the unacceptability and hardline chracter of the Communists. Much Social Democrat strategy was oriented towards gaining the Communists’ tacit support in parliament for a Social Democratic minority government and/or (again as a minority adminstration) playing Communist votes offer against those of the right and centre

Moreover, in Hungary the post-communist Socialists have proved more than capable of working and government with the free market Free Democrats (now the Hungarian Liberal Party) on a pretty permanent basis. Poland’s new Left and Democracy coalition is a similar bloc of post-communist social democrats and ex-dissident liberals, I believe…

And even in the best cases, communists have a way of coming back.

You have to ask here what is meant by ‘communist’? Someone who was in the Party briefly (or not so briefly) in 1950s or 1960s? A member in 1989? The card-carrying economic nomenklatura, officials in the Party apparatus? It is an elastic category

Notice how the previous reluctance of the Czech Social Democrats to cooperate with the communists only had a 15-year life span. However, it is too late for the Czech transition to be derailed – 15 years is a very long time for a good transition to take root. One of the main errors of the democrats, in retrospect, was to occupy only the right of their political spectrum, and not promote their ex-dissident friends to form true social democratic parties.

Czech dissidents actually made only a minor contribution to the emergence of the Czech right, but even if we stretch the definition of ‘dissident’ it is bizarre to suggest, that non-social democratic should set up a social democratic party, or could somehow have magicked one out of the air…

That lesson should hopefully not escape the next wave of transition leaders.

I am confused as to what lesson we supposed to draw from this piece: democratic competition between moderate parties is important? Well, yeah we knew that, said several years ago and no always the case especially in ethnically divided societies. Ex-communists do not make good social democrats? Not really true, as example of Hajek illustrates. A fixation with ‘communism’ is a distraction from the real underlying causes of cleientelism and authoritarianism. The Czech Social Democrats have no links with communism and are a bit different from communist successor parties? Well, sort of, and obviously yes, but few broad strategic lessons here. The Czech case is to some extent exception, but the Social Democratic party has as many similarities as differences with the ex-communist social democratic elsewhere in Poland, Hungary or Lithuania.”

Mr Arias-King is, I was slightly alarmed to discover on googling him, the founder of the eminently respectable journal on post-Soviet democratization Demokratizatsiya, which has a high powered academic editorial board (of which he isn’t a member). His website also records and an MA from Harvard and a career of political consultancy. Despite this impressive CV, on this evidence future transition leaders – or Western foundations would probably – do better to spend their consultancy fees elsewhere or invest in a few more orange tents and T-shirts. No danger to Aleksandr Lukashenka or Vladimir Putin from this spirited but garbled, and occasionally nonsensical reading of the Czech experience, I suspect.

The real shame for me is that intellectually an alternative take on the usefulness of decommunization and more radical attempt to break with the past is perhaps in order, given the large amount of literature dismissing it in rather pat term as illiberal, anti-democratic and unnecessary…

>Poles set to surprise at the polls?

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Polish politics moves so fast. One minute the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families are allying with populist Self-Defence (PiS), the next thing they have teamed up with dissident MPs for the ruling Law and Justice party and – my SSEES colleague tells during a breath of fresh air during out staff awayday – the notionally liberatarian Union for Real Politics. As in 2001 the election is a ding-dong battle between populist inclined conservative nationalist PiS and the centre-right Civic Platform (OP), who are liberal-conservative bloc loosely in ther mould of the Czech ODS (although this time they are keeping stum about that belief in flat taxation, it seems, and stressing PiS authoritarian leanings and apparent abuse of the anti-corruption agency and police. Opinion polls going up and down with OP and PiS variously in the lead with each getting (usually) around 30% of the poll. Small parties have been squeezed. The remnants of the once mightly post-communist left have formed a Hungarian style left-liberal coalition (LiD) with the Democrats, descendants of the ex-dissident Freedom Union who crashed out of parliament in 2005. This grouping seems set to hang on in parliament as a minor party with around 10 per cent of the poll. The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) also seem set to do badly, with polls I have seen reported putting them on 3-5 per cent, suggesting they could go the same way. Indeed, in one poll, they were reportedly barely ahead of the National Pensioners Party (KPEiR) which registered a respectabe 3%. There is also a Women’s Party standing (1.6%). Both the result and the government seem, frankly, anyone’s guesss and, as ever, Polish elections seems set to generate surprises. Who knows it might even be worth putting a few zlotys on the Pensioners.

>Berry nice

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Updating online course detail and ploughing through emails, including bizarrely one from someone who seemed to think he could do a PhD in optics at SSEES, is a time consuming business. Still even on a Sunday afternoon you can’t keep lecturers away from their blackberries. Fed up of all pre-term preparation galore I took the kids to the bramble patch at the back of the house and, although the season is nearly over, picked about 400g grammes worth.

>Klaus on Masaryk: ever changing views…?

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Whenever I read Václav Klaus’s takes on Czech(oslovak) history – and, in particular, his views on Czechoslovakia’s first President T.G. Masaryk – I’m reminded of that old Paul Weller song ‘My Ever Changing Moods’. As a neo-liberal turned national liberal VK has a decidedly difficult relationship with TGM, a man of the centre-left, who saw politics was a vehicle for the moral improvement of society, disliked (but accepted ) conventional party politics. Masaryk, for these reasons, is more conventionally seen as political forerunner of Václav Havel (including, naturally, by Havel himself). Social Democrats also claim to be true modern inheritors of the Masarykian tradition because of Masaryk’s concern with social questions, sympathy (and occasional co-operation) with Social Democrats and rejection of Marxism.

Klaus gainfully tried in the early 1990s, just after the split of Czechoslovakia and the unexpected emergence of an independent Czech state, to invent a pragmatic liberal Masaryk who believed in individual hard work not flowery words, whose footsteps he was following. However, by 1999-2000 he was laying into Masaryk (or, as he carefully, put it the myth of Masaryk) telling a conference of historians that the political founder of the state was intellectually overrated, political ineffectual and overly given to grandiose messianic visions inappropriate for a middle-sized Central European state; inclined to underestimate the importance of ethnic and national conflicts; too economically collectivist; and frankly elitist and paternalist in his desire to bypass normal channels of party competition.

In his latest take however – in a speech to mark the 70th anniversary of Masaryk’s death (an English translation can be found here) Klaus returns to his positive vision of the early 1990s of a sort of ‘neo-liberal TGM’. Klaus still has critical remarks to make about interwar Czechoslovak democracy, still viewed by many in the Czech political and cultural elite as a Golden Age of civic and decency and political standards still unmatched in post-communist Czechia – he and reserves the right make criticisms of Masaryk, However, in the speech Klaus once again takes a positive view of Masaryk, albeit with a particular spin. Masaryk, Klaus tells his listeners, was as an academic turned politician of humble background who made his career through hard work; was realistically and although temperamentally in favour of evolutionary reform, recognised the need the revolutionary change at key historical moments; was a defender of Czech ‘national and democratic ideals’ but promoted a civic nationalism free of populist anti-semitic and anti-German accretions; recognised the dangerous appeal of communism for Czechs even during a time when the Communist party seemed marginal; and as President, did not affect a phoney neutrality but was fully engaged in politics as a head of state with clear and straightfoward views.

Now, is that perhaps supposed to remind us of someone? Just in case you missed the point, Klaus also goes on to tell us that Masaryk was a kind of eurosceptic avant la lettre one of the political breakers of a failed centralized bureaucratic European superstate. That’s the Austro-Hungarian empire in case you were wondering…

>Bulgarian centre-right develops, weekly

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The Sofia Weekly’s online news update (15 September) reports further developments on the fractious Bulgarian centre-right. The political equation both in Sofia and nationally is also complicated by the existence of the declining liberal-centrist/reformist bloc headed up by heir to the (notional) Bulgarian throne Simeon Saxecoburgottski currently in office and in coalition as a junior partner of the Bulgarian Socialists. As they have just introduced a 10% flat tax, as ever, the centre-right seems confined to anti-communism and faction-fighting over electoral alliances.

“Bulgaria’s UDF Faces Split in Sofia over Mayoral Race

The decision of Bulgarian rightist party Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) to endorse Martin Zaimov as its candidate in the mayoral race in capital Sofia is threatening to split the party’s supporters in the city.

After unsuccessful talks with incumbent Boyko Borissov, the party teamed up with the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) to back up Zaimov, who oversaw Bulgaria’s currency board regime for six years in 1997-2003.

But one faction came out against Zaimov on Monday, pledging its support to Borissov’s GERB party by signing a coalition agreement.

The faction, who calls itself the UDF National Discussion Club, claimed Zaimov’s nomination was a ploy on behalf of DSB leader Ivan Kostov to “bury UDF”.

UDF party leader Plamen Yurukov hit back at the rebels, downplaying the threat of a split within the party’s ranks.

“I don’t think there is a split in UDF. The [club’s] ringleaders are dependent on Borissov through their positions in the boards of municipal companies, but they won’t confuse our supporters,” Yurukov said.

The faction now face exclusion from the party, although it was up to the local party organisation to decide on the issue, he added.

Bulgaria’s Rightists Want Collaborators Out of Parliament

The right-wing hard-liners from Democrats for Strong Bulgaria called for kicking out of parliament the nineteen MPs who were exposed to have been agents and collaborators to the secret services.

The demand was voiced from the parliamentary rostrum by Vesselin Metodiev, deputy chair of the parliamentary group of Democrats for Strong Bulgaria.

At the beginning of September a special panel released the names of 138 agents and collaborators to the secret services, who have been members of Bulgaria’s parliaments since the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.

On the list were the names of president Georgi Parvanov and 19 current members of parliament, including ethnic Turkish party leader Ahmed Dogan, deputy parliamentary speakers Yunal Lyutfi and Petar Beron, chair of the parliamentary group of the Bulgarian People’s Union Krassimir Karakachanov.

Bulgaria‘s Former President Petar Stoyanov Quits Parliament

By Milena Hristova

Former Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov gave up his seat in parliament months after stepping down as leader of the biggest right-wing party the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF).

A day earlier Petar Stoyanov tabled his resignation as MP, which was approved Friday morning with 119 votes. Four MPs voted against and another four abstained.

“Despite this fact I have the deepest respect for Bulgaria’s parliament and its MPs and wish them success in their future work,” Petar Stoyanov said in a statement, circulated to the media.

Petar Stoyanov is one of the emblematic figures of the Union of Democratic Forces and Bulgaria’s transition to democracy.

Stoyanov’s political career took a flying start in 1990 when he became UDF spokesman in the second-biggest town of Plovdiv only to be appointed two years later Deputy Minister of Justice in the first non-communist government of Bulgaria since 1944. He resigned in 1993 after the dismissal of the UDF government.

On 3 November 1996 Stoyanov was elected President of the Republic of Bulgaria by winning 2,502,517 votes equal to 59.73 % of the votes cast. He swore in as President of the Republic on 19 January 1997 and stepped down in 2002 after a defeat by current Socialist President Georgi Parvanov.

In February 2004 Stoyanov was nominated for right-wing leader of UDF, but gave way to Nadezhda Mihaylova. He took over UDF leadership in October 2005 after Mihaylova stepped down, citing lack of support as the main reason for her withdrawal.

Stoyanov resigned as party leader after UDF, once the dominant centre-right party in the country, failed to win a single seat in the European Parliament elections in May.

UDF has been in a steady decline since 2001, when the party lost the general elections following four years of needed, but painful reforms.

It never recovered from the shock, splitting into three smaller parties since then, progressively losing ground in public opinion polls, which show it could fail to make it into the next parliament altogether.”

>Just one more thing…

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I often tell my students that analytical academic writing has a good deal in common with decent crime fiction. So as, I sat updating course outlines, I was pleased to tune in to BC Radio 4’s excellent documentary on my favourite TV ‘tec Columbo presented by stand-up-comedian turned crime writer Mark Billington. The Lieutenant offers especially useful parallels as, as often with comparative politics, the question is not whodunnit, but howdunnit and how-can-find-out-and-prove-it. There’s also an interesting East European angle with Columbo I didn’t know about. Apparently the motif of the detective-as-commonplace-underestimated little man came from Crime and Punishment and (more predictably) G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. Columbo’s conventional and settled domestic arrangements – happily married to the ever off screen Mrs C. are also unusual, although they do have has echoes of Simenon’s Inspector Maigret.

>Czech power politics: short circuiting reform?

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The first issue of theCzech news magazine Respekt in new compact colour format includes several interest articles including a feature on state-owned electricity giant ČEZ. Despite the good intentions of various governments since 1989 – including the last Social Democrat-led government – the conglomerate has never been fully privatized (state holds 67% stake) and the energy supply industry never adequately liberalized (through the breaking up of large players like ČEZ to create a more competitive market). The reason for this was the apparent imminent state of collapse of ČEZ during the 1990s and the risk that the Czech Republic might be dependent on expensive foreign ( = German) electricity. This was also one of the reasons for the completion of the controversial Temelín nuclear power plant. ČEZ is now, however, super profitable, having with political backing consolidated its dominant position by buying small independent distribution companies and seen of foreign entrants to the Czech energy market. ČEZ, claims Respekt, is not only too rich and too political well connected, it seems to have little incentive to modernize and promote more efficient energy generation or energy use, instead using profits to buy up and withdraw its own shares and make acquisitions abroad. The magazine speculates that politicians – if not directly influenced by ČEZ freebies and donations – may be conserving this milch cow as an asset to sell off to manage public spending programmes. It hopes that the mega-bucks containing in the company will be used for something useful like pension reform.