Advancing the dream of November 17

Photo: CTK

There is much to be done. That was the unanimous verdict of academics, politicians and former dissidents who met Wednesday to reflect on the legacy of the Velvet Revolution. But precisely what work remains for the Czech Republic's continuing democratization was a matter for debate.

In 1989, Professor Josef Jarab suddenly found himself leading teachers at Moravia's Palacky University in anti-Communist demonstrations.

Now a Senator, Mr. Jarab says the transition he helped start won't be complete until Czechs learn to participate in democracy. He was likely referring to the abysmal turnout in the last two weekends of Senate elections.

"What needs to be done, I think above all, is to raise the civic awareness of people. That means the civic literacy, I would even call it, of the citizens of the country to take the fate of the country and the society more into their hands."

15 years ago another professor, Vojtech Cepl, went from being a low-level, blacklisted academic to becoming one of Charles University's leading law professors.

He says the country's development since then has been positive, but the transition of Czech law has fallen short in areas like moral development.

"I think we still have a legal order that is not completely in harmony with moral values. For example, there are many relics of the past which go against the principles of, for example, respect for private ownership, or too much regulation and interference of the government into the economy, and many others"

Simon Panek was a student leader during the 1989 protests.

He says the country can't come to terms with its past until Communist-era secret police files are easier to access.

"The recent government and the previous ones didn't pay enough attention, and didn't invest enough money, energy, time and people to really properly evaluate the past and open it as much as possible. Because a possible kind of acceptance - or a possible reconciliation - could happen only after opening an investigation."

But political analyst Jiri Pehe disagrees with former dissidents who say the transition is moving too slowly because members of the former regime have government posts.

Photo: CTK
"To say that in the first year of the revolution we should have replaced all of the judges, all policemen, and the whole army: I personally do not know those people could have come from. We have to work with the people we have.

"And we have to hope that there will be gradual change and that even those people who were not democrats 15 years ago will embrace democracy as a system if they themselves will not become democrats."

According to Mr. Pehe, the long process of change is moving as fast as it can.