Former dissidents protest against President Klaus' criticism of non-governmental organizations

Staatspräsident Vaclav Klaus

Last week at a Council of Europe meeting in Warsaw, the Czech President Vaclav Klaus warned of what he called the dangerous influence of non-governmental organizations. President Klaus said that we are experiencing what he calls a "postdemocracy" - a society where democracy is being put under pressure by different groups which having no mandate from democratic elections still have an ambition to determine lives of citizens. But Mr Klaus's words have upset many people - not just those working in the non-profit sector, but also a group of former dissidents. They described it as an attack on fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and decided to express their grievances in a protest letter.

President Vaclav Klaus
I spoke to one of the authors of the petition Vaclav Trojan:

"I am one of many who were members of certain non-governmental movements or groups during the time of communism. So maybe we are more sensitive to this kind of statement than the others. We believe that non-governmental organizations and civic movements are a very important part of the civic society and of the democratic society and that they provide a sort of feedback to the work of the official politicians with a democratic mandate."

But Vaclav Klaus is right that the representatives of these nongovernmental organizations were not elected in general elections. So what is their mandate then?

"I think their mandate is well defined by the constitution. Any citizen has the right to express his view; he has the right to speak, to gather to express his political opinion. I think the democratic mandate is not the only authorization for expression of ideas, for their demonstration or for influencing the civil society."

I think President Vaclav Klaus, when he criticised the non-governmental organizations, meant especially these powerful international organizations active for example in the fields of the environment or human rights. Do you believe that the power of these huge organizations is adequate to the mandate they have?

"Well, I think the power they have is corresponding with the ideas they are trying to fight for. I am personally very happy there are such organizations like the Amnesty International. They were one of few organizations which expressed criticism against imprisonment and discrimination of dissidents in the communist society."

What do you expect of the president now? Do you really expect that he admits that he was wrong?

"Well, I don't expect it too much but I think that it's important that we wrote the last sentence in our letter where we mentioned that we hope it is a misunderstanding. The speech (by the president) was written in a very special language. There were some terms which nobody understands like 'NGOism' or 'human rightism'....What does it mean? What is 'NGOism'? NGO can be a foundation or it can be an organization for people who like gardening. On the other hand, non-governmental organizations are organizations like the Amnesty International. So I hope it could have been some misunderstanding due to the very strange language which was used by the president."