Debate on postdemocracy chaired by President Klaus

Jiri Tutter and President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

Postdemocracy is a term that was used by President Vaclav Klaus at a Council of Europe meeting in Warsaw in May where he criticised growing power of non-governmental organizations. But President Klaus's criticism of civil society has outraged many members of different voluntary associations, who have protested against his attack. President Vaclav Klaus says his words were misunderstood and, on Tuesday together with the right-wing think tank the Centre for Economics and Politics, he held a panel debate to help clarify this dispute.

President Vaclav Klaus himself chaired the debate, and invited four panellists with different views who would present their arguments on the reported growing threat of excessive power of civil organizations.

Ladislav Jakl who is the president's secretary denies that he would be against non- governmental organizations in general. What he sees as potential danger is the ideology that promotes their power.

"I am not criticising any particular organizations. What I am against is a certain view of the world, according to which current democracy is insufficient, tired and inflexible. This ideology suggests inventing some other mechanisms which would enable NGOs to have power over citizens."

Ladislav Jakl thinks that this is too dangerous and that real power should be given only to institutions that were directly elected, like parliament or institutions which have a mandate derived from the elections, such as the president or the government.

"I think NGOs' power over people is dangerous - this power should only be used by institutions with a public mandate, which can be overseen. Some ideologies propose a system which should come after our current democracy - that's why I use the term 'postdemocracy'. By this I mean bodies which seem to be independent of state power, and could have some power over free citizens. And that's what I protest against."

But Jiri Tutter who is the head of Czech Greenpeace denies that non-governmental organizations would have the ambition to supply state institutions.

"I don't want to defend civil society. It actually doesn't need to be defended. What I was trying to explain was that we are not trying to get power as obviously many people in the room thought. I was trying to explain that this is not our aim, our goal; this is not what we aspire for. We just want one simple thing: to have a say in public things, to speak loud. And we want our polititians to act responsibly."

Jiri Tutter is not afraid of excessive power of organizations such Greenpeace. He says he believes they are an asset to the society.

Jiri Tutter and President Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
"They can show to public that it has a say. People do not have to come necessarily to Greenpeace and say: 'Please, Greenpeace do it for us!' but they should see that it is possible to raise the voice if we don't like something, namely if politicians are not behaving competently and if they are not responsible enough. So we believe that Greenpeace should serve as an inspiration for public. They can set up their own small NGOs and they can try to push forward their own local agenda, for example."

Many observers say the debate has much deeper roots. They view it as a clash of two different views of the world - one represented by the former president Vaclav Havel who always stressed the importance of non-governmental organizations and their role in democracy - and the other view of the current president Vaclav Klaus who believes that citizens who want to be active should be organized above all in political parties and enter politics through elections. Both views have many advocates as well as opponents and we can expect this public debate to continue.