New book highlights lack of transparency during 1990s' privatisation process


Anyone living in the Czech Republic in the 1990s will remember how the business world seemed to reel from one financial scandal to another, as the country grappled with the difficult process of post-communist privatisation. Now, a new study has been released, which looks at some of the successes and failures of this turbulent period in Czech history.

As the dust begins to settle on the difficult privatisation era in the Czech Republic, a new publication: "Co se stane, kdyz se zhasne" - or "What Happens When the Lights are Switched Off" - is a book which takes a timely look at some of the things that occurred in the business world at that time.

Adriana Krnacova, Executive Director of Transparency International, the organisation behind the publication, thinks that a study of this nature is needed to help promote an ethical business environment in this country:

"We are a society, which is primarily focused on processes and we don't take account of the fact that there are also values that have to accompany these processes. This is a book which shows what happens if there are no values and what happens if "the lights are switched off". We wanted to raise awareness of the need to have operations with values in companies and in the state system. It's not present at the moment in this country. Ethical business is not yet an asset here in the Czech Republic."

Although the study charts the course of controversial business dealings during the privatisation era, such as the collapse of the IPB bank and the dispute over the ownership of TV Nova, Ms Krnacova maintains that the book aims not to indulge in recriminations, but to simply use case studies to describe what happened over the past decade or so. She hopes that this will help Czechs learn from the lessons of their recent past, which were not only costly but also undermined confidence in the legal processes of the nascent democratic state.

The book also describes a few of the successful privatisations of the 1990s, such as that of the Bernard family brewery. Ms Krnacova says that the book's authors were keen to focus on some home-grown success stories:

"There are a couple of other companies which were successfully privatised or which emerged successfully from the 1990s. But we didn't want to depict the bigger companies, which were actually privatised by a foreign investor who brought the culture and everything already set up, and so there was no major problem. We wanted to show that even Czech companies are able to proceed in a manner which is considered to be ethical. That's why we didn't want to choose the big companies. We tried to find smaller companies just to show that there is a critical mass that we can build on."

Another interesting feature about the book is that it is intentionally written in an easy-to-read journalistic style. Adriana Krnacova thinks that this will ensure that the book is read by ordinary Czechs instead of only being accessible to experts and academics. She hopes the publication will become part of a wider project that aims to change the Czech mindset with regard to how business is done in this country:

"Maybe we will make a second part of this book next year. This second issue would concentrate on local governance and simply describe the topography of corruption in local governments. Maybe we are trying to develop a project that will really cultivate the corporate sector in a very brutal way."