Head of STEM polling agency: Czechs are ashamed of their politicians

Jan Hartl

Half-way through the government’s term in office Czechs are so fed up with political infighting and corruption scandals that 80 percent of them now support early elections. For this week’s Panorama I spoke to Jan Hartl head of the STEM polling agency about the mood of the public, what people think of Czech politicians and whether the developments of the past few months have robbed them of any illusions they may have had regarding politics.

“Well, they do not have many illusions left. To put it simply, people think that politics is a dirty business and that the majority of politicians are crooks who are in it for the money. So they are not all that surprised by corruption scandals and nepotism in Czech politics. What is relatively new is that people are starting to see political elites as professionally incompetent. They never had any illusions about their moral profile but they thought that, in contrast to former communist leaders, they are much more professionally sound and much more competent and recently it seems that they have started losing even those illusions. Formerly they thought “well, after decades of communism the country is devastated and it will take a lot of time before it gets better –the most important thing is that our children will live in a better world than we do “ but recently we have observed a decreasing proportion of people who believe that their children will be better off –economically, morally and so on. That is partly related to the economic crisis of course, but also to the moral crisis in society after more than 20 years of post-communist transformation. “

Is this perception putting young people off from entering politics and maybe effecting a change for the better in time?

Illustrative photo: Štěpánka Budková
“Losing faith in the future is disturbing but the situation is not totally hopeless. People have not resigned on public affairs in general –they are still relatively active - and they intend to vote in the next elections. They are still interested in politics. They are not so alienated as to totally resign on public matters.”

What about young people?

“That’s a big question mark. Until recently we could observe that the young generation was not interested in politics at all and generally did not attend elections. They seemed to be driven by other issues than public affairs. In the last elections there was a slight change which indicated a bigger interest in politics – more of them came to the polls. Before that it was mainly middle- aged and older people who came to the polls. What will happen in the next election is not clear and what intrigues me the most is whether the young generation will become more active and say “this style of politics is no longer acceptable” but there are no signs to indicate such a development yet.”

There is now general disgruntlement with the performance in office of the three centre-right parties –has that made the Communist Party more acceptable to the public?

“The Communist Party is no longer the nightmare it used to be in the 1990s.Partly this is due to the fact that two decades have passed since the fall of communism and then there is the fact that anti-communist campaigns appear shortly before every election suggesting that the Communists are the biggest threat to our future. A large proportion of people - even those who do not particularly like the Communists have grown tired of this. They say (to the scaremongers) -what you are doing is not fair. If you think the communists are such a threat you should have moved to force them out of politics long ago. So it is a complicated issue. But if you ask people of a leftist orientation whether a coalition of Social Democrats and Communists would be acceptable to them then the majority of them would say yes. And as I said even people of an anti-communist persuasion see the campaigns as a utilitarian misuse of the anti-communist card which politicians play from time to time to manipulate the situation and that it is not a real issue of this society.”

Czechs usually react to bad times with a wicked sense of humor – they crack jokes and stage satirical plays – is that what is happening now?

“You are right in saying that Czechs respond to difficult times with humor but I think that right now it is a bit “blue” and that is due to the fact that people are losing faith in the future. They do not see a possible improvement even in the long-term which does not make it easy to crack jokes and for the humor to flow. We hear jokes from time to time, but the jokes are a bit bitter I would say.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Do you think Czechs are losing their sense of pride in being Czech – are they ashamed of their politicians?

“Yes, I think they are ashamed of their politicians, although I would not say they are losing their sense of national pride. Our data suggest that Czechs are not only proud of being Czech, they are also proud of being Europeans and members of the EU. But they are confused by their representatives, they are ashamed of their politicians, they are disoriented and disenchanted with Czech politics. This brings about a general feeling of insecurity and uneasiness. “