Czechs take stock of their lives 18 years after the fall of communism

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On Saturday Czechs marked the 18th anniversary of the country’s return to freedom and democracy. How have people’s lives changed since the heady days of the Velvet Revolution and are they happy with the changes? A poll conducted by the independent STEM agency indicates that the post-revolution euphoria has long worn off. Only 51 percent of respondents said they were fully satisfied with the country’s post-89 development. The rest expressed numerous reservations. We spoke with STEMs director Jan Hartl to get the big picture.

“If you look back at those eighteen years it has been a success in many respects. People appreciate being able to express their opinions freely, taking part in free and democratic elections, the fact that they are now free to travel, having freedom of the press and they are relatively satisfied as far as their living standard is concerned. The problems that they perceive are to do with poor ethics and morality, a weakening of values in society, the fact that decent relations among people are rare. They also see crime, corruption and a lack of transparent rules in many areas.”

Do you think that the Czech Republic is worse off than other post-communist countries in this respect? Do you have comparative data?

“I would not say that it is strictly comparable because it always depends on the local culture. I think that despite all the criticism the situation in the Czech Republic is very similar to that of other countries and in that relative comparison the Czech Republic does not belong among the worst. What is worrying is that you do not see an improving trend. For instance in Slovakia we might say that the situation is worse but Slovaks have felt a certain improvement in the last two or three years.”

What would it take to trigger an improvement in this country?

“The social elite in general should make a bigger effort in this direction. There should be more responsibility, more accountability in society. There must be constant pressure from the public, from the media. I think that both sides still have a lot to learn and it is a slow process. Political leaders have to learn their “leading” role and the democratic public and the democratic media have to learn their “controlling” roles as well. We might think that progress should have been faster and easier but life has shown us otherwise. The main obstacle is in the mind and habits of the people and those deeply rooted practices and ideas are very hard to change. It clearly needs more time that we envisaged in the early 90s.”