>Young ‘n’ Green? Or grey and black? Czech Civic Democrats look ahead

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An interesting article on the direction of the Czech Civic Democrats in the usually dull-as-ditchwater Czech right-wing magazine/webzine CEVRO by Jan Morava, who despite his name, is a young ODS deputy from Central Bohemia. After a fairly dire opening heaping praise on ODS leader and current Czech PM, Miroslav Topolánek, for his supposedly visionary leadership of the party since 2002 – actually a rather patchy and lucky record, in my view but Topolánek admittedly has a knack of succeeding – he cuts to the quick and tells us his view of the current state of ODS and the position of the Czech right.

ODS, he suggests, has moved on from its obsession with the collapse of the Klaus government in 1997 and the ‘Sarajevo assessination’ of then PM Václav Klaus. Helpfully, Klaus stepped down and, even more helpfully, he was elected President and thus had the small matter of being head of state to keep him busy and so didn’t have time to interfer too much in the running of the party. Ex-Social Democrat PM Miloš Zeman, by contrast, felt the need to mix it with almost all subsequent leaders of his party and settle accounts with other ex-colleagues in vituperative memoirs (a ‘foul fart of a book’ as my SSEES predecessor Kieran Williams put it) despite supposedly having retired to a cottage to the Czech-Moravian Highlands. More than half the Civic Democrats’ current membership, observes Morava, joined since ‘Sarajevo’ and this helped the party gain some reformist elan – well, at least until it failed to put together a majority coalition after last year’s elections and had to water down its flat tax plans and started to split, but that’s another story….

However, the rise of regional politicians – of which Topolánek’s narrow election as party leader was perhaps the best illustration– has, Morava notes, despite some benefits in reconnecting the party to real life has also built in a centre-regional tension, which brings a real long term risk of splits (of the kind that briefly visible before and after Klaus’s departure as leader in 2002): there are apparently ‘deputies willing to blackmail their own government to fulfill their personal ambitions and internal party elections shows that the post-Sarajevo generation of members is already trying to gain the whip hand (hlavní pozici). Being popular and in office also brings problems of clientelism and careerism (the party as ‘lift to power’ in Czech parlance), Morava concedes and he seems to associate this with post-1997 members and ‘influential regional governors’ although he doesn’t quite spell it out. The party he says is facing a ‘critical period’ because it risks losing its clear liberal-conservative ideology and becoming a catch-all ‘people’s party’ As my own soon-to-be-published book on the Czech right makes rip roaringly clear, this particular fear is one that has troubled ideologically minded odesáci since at least 2002, probably rightly, although some would say the party has already become just such as catch-all alliance of business and regional interests years ago (and perhaps always was).

His solution to help the party ‘maintain its position’, he claims, is to try to appeal to young and old: the young who voted in large numbers for the party in 2006 as a vehicle for change and an expression of dislike for the incumbent Social Democrats could become disenchanted and move to the ascendent Greens as a protest against both. Also, he says, ODS needs to address senior citizens and – while not making concessions to material demands for higher state pensions – show verbally that it values their ‘lifetime of work’and ensure they ‘social dignity’. Personally, I think most would prefer the cash…

Most interestingly- and clearly building on this theme – Morava suggests that the Civic Democrats should look more to working with their Christian Democratic coalition partners, rather than thinking in more Cameroonian terms and embracing their other coalition partners the Greens more tightly (dismissed as collectivist baddies). The old – a growing demographic group – seem to win out in his strategic calculation as does the fact that the Christian Democrats are drifting with loose cannon for a leader and electoral support stuck dangerously just over the 5% national threshold. Morava seems to anticipate some kind of Fidesz or Polish-style electoral coalition ‘or even the merging of ODS and the Christian Democrats (lidovci)’. Radical stuff, although an idea currently popular in more conservative ODS supporting circles which I have heard elsewhere. Quite how the two very different organizations would merge God alone knows – the liberal-Christian-Democrat Quad-Coalition of the late 1990s came unstuck precisely because of imbalances of membership and influence, but its all very interesting. Morava also favours the gathering of pro-ODS intererest groups (trade unions or at leasts business organizations) around the party, suggesting a Christian Democrat drift in a party which traditionally regarded such co-operation as coporatist and illiberal.

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