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Kavan began by emphasising that he was in no way
speaking on behalf of the Czech government. He was an academic studying what politicians
and others do, not a policy maker. Nevertheless his focus was on the current problems that
the Czech Presidency of the EU and the Czech government faced.
The 20-year period since the Velvet Revolution had seen a shift from centralised to democratic politics. There was a nostalgic concept of a “return to Europe” which had been characteristic of this period. It was mostly a mythological sense of Czech identity, emphasising “we are not like the Easterners”, and seeking a clear differentiation from the Russians. This was to suggest that Communism was imposed on the Czechs.
Until 1989 it was conventional to speak of East versus West. Yet the Czech Republic clearly sits in a central position in Europe, as does Hungary and Poland. They thus claimed privileged access to western Europe, and of course to the EU. Yet western Europe remains confused about “central” Europe. Where were the new boundaries, culturally or ideologically? One analysis identifies the cultures embedded in Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy.
In this first period after 1989 the Czechs tried to work out which foreigners they would most prefer to work alongside. Obviously the least popular were the Russians. But the most popular were the Americans and the Japanese (not their nearer neighbours the Germans). In the second period the Germans became more popular, because they were commercially successful. But there remained deep suspicions based on a fear that the Sudetan Germans expelled after World War Two would return. In this period the most popular foreigners became the Slovaks. The mood has now entered a third period, which derives from realising that the EU is a tough master. Some populist anti-Europeanism has arisen, with its focus on who does and who does not allow free movement of labour. In two years time the 7 year delay in opening up the land market to foreigners comes to an end. The current europhobic President Václav Klaus plays on the loss of sovereignty.
The current government has been an uneasy alliance without a majority in Parliament. Václav Klaus founded the Civic Democrats (now the main party in government) and during his time has pushed eurosceptic policies. Then in recent local elections the Social Democrat opposition swept the board. An extraordinary national congress of the Civic Democrats voted to expel the representatives of Václav Klaus.
The Czech EU Presidency has thus been weakened by the political impasse at home. It remains the only EU country other than Ireland not to have endorsed the Lisbon Treaty. The embarrassment of a euro-hostile President nominally representing the EU presidency has boosted the case for an elected European Union president replacing the rotating presidency.
From the first week of the Czech EU presidency the
ambiguity of Czech attitudes to Europe was illustrated by the extraordinary satirical
artwork placed in the lobby of the European Council building. Entropa could be
judged a major success if its conceptual artist set out to offend as many as possible. It
is right that Art should challenge Politics, but Entropa was taken as symbolic of
the Czech government’s contempt for its European partners. That would be an unfair
inference, in that the result of the commissioning of Entropa came as a great
surprise to the Czech government itself. Basically, they had been ‘conned’ by a
leading conceptual artist.
from column 1)
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