>How should we study Czech parties?


Arriving back on Ryanair via Brno’s nicely modernizied airport surrounded by open countryside with now healthy toe and now recovered kids, I’m almost relieved to have to get back to work. One of the more interesting bits towards the end of a pretty desolately trip was a conversation with a colleague in Masaryk University’s impressively renovated Faculty of Social Studies building. The question to hand: how to the study Czech parties and party system. Czech (party) politics rather lacks the pasazz of other states in CEE and stable and straightforward to the point of being with parties that easily locatable with the dominant European party families to the point of being… well, boring. Rarely an electoral earthquake, exotic new party, bout of illiberal democracy or blast of pace-setting flat tax reforms to be found. Just the latest episode in an excruciating decade long pattern of left-right deadline and some compromise tax proposals trumpeted by the press with limited chance of being passed by parliament that have drawn flack even from within the Civic Democrats for their timorousness and accidental clobbering of middle income earners. More importantly, why should anyone not interested in Czech politics actually want pick up a journal and read about them

Surveying the familiar landscape of parties, we do admittedly have the Czech Communists (KSČM), who are still hardline, but receding in influence without spectacularly disappearing) who might represent a case study of demographically driven organizational decline of one of the region’s few genuine mass parties The cordon sanitaire around the Communists and nature of the Social Democrat-Communist relationship are also quite interesting – the management of extremist parties by larger moderate competitors is an issue of wider comparative interest given the recent iffy coalitions formed in Poland and Slovakia. There are also parallels in the handling of radical right parties by the mainstream in the old EU – the FPÖ in Austria or the Danish People’s Party and perhaps also be distant echoes of the Socialist-Communist relationship in France (my instinct was to compare KSČM with the scattering of small orthodox CPs across Western Europe, although as my Czech colleague pointed out the party has a kind of odd dual ideology, which could perhaps be compared to the development of Russia’s KPRF in the 1990s before it was Putinized which is chronicled in Luke March’s book) And, of course, the dear old Czech socdemáci themselves, one of the rare instance of a historic party that got transformed into something broader and more viable. The breakthrough of the Czech Greens also perhaps offer an opportunity to examine whether one of CEE’s richer and more secular societies is turning post-materialist and just why and how you can be a pro-market Green.

The more fundamental question we realised was just how do you study CEE? Czech political scientists feel they’ve done the groundwork on their home party system over the past decade or so (a fact confirmed by the Faculty’s well stocked bookshop) while Western specialists wonder what comes next after Democratization and Europeanization the two big agendas that have shaped research on CEE in the last decade and a half.

I spent the afternoon pondering this over several cups of decaffeinated Nescafe in preparation for presentation at the CEELBAS launch conference tomorrow, but when the contrasting agenda of research on democratic quality in old and new member states got too much, I decided to catch the end of Columbo had thoughtfully scheduled just then by Channel 5.

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