Study: Almost one in four Czechs would favour strong leader

Some 24 percent of Czech voters would favour a strong leader, according to a report from Bratislava think tank Globsec. The study Voices of Central Europe, which looked at 10 states in the region, also found that fewer than half of Czechs were satisfied with the workings of democracy in their country. I spoke to Globsec’s Dominika Hajdu and Katarína Klingová, and began by asking the former about some Czechs’ evident fondness for autocratic leaders.

Hajdu: “The Czech Republic is somewhere in the middle, when it comes to the regional perspective. But at the same time, around two-thirds of Czechs would prefer liberal democracy over a strong leader, which is quite a large percentage, for the region.

“Probably the starkest comparison in this respect is the Czech Republic and Slovakia, because for Slovakia the results are much, much worse for those who are in favour of supporting liberal democracy.

Dominika Hajdu | Photo: GLOBSEC

“There only 45 percent would support liberal democracy and 30 percent would support a strong leader.

“But when it comes to those who would choose a leader with autocratic tendencies over a liberal democracy, I would say that it does not mean that a quarter of Czechs would not want to live in a democratic state.

“I think it also has something to do with the fact that we asked about liberal democracy, and the attribute ‘liberal’ is nowadays rather demonized, quite often.”

Another I guess related issue, or category, is willingness to give up certain freedoms to improve your financial situation or security or protect traditional values, where the Czechs rank among the whole of the region.

Klingová: “They are the second highest [the Slovaks are highest] with the Bulgarians, with on average 54 percent that would trade some of their rights and freedoms for financial or security benefits.

“I think that this shows that democracy is not really embedded in people’s minds. This is an alarming finding, not only for Czechs but also for Slovaks and other Central Europeans.

Katarína Klingová,  photo: archive of Globsec

“Because it shows that we might be satisfied with our lives in general, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be fighting for the quality of democracy, if somebody tries to make changes and influence our democratic institutions.”

Czechs are among the nations in the region with relatively high satisfaction with how democracy works in their country. But what should we make of the fact that this is still a minority view, with only 48 percent thinking this?

Hajdu: “The fact that only around half of the population, or less than half of the population, is satisfied with democracy is, I believe, linked to expectation management.

“We’ve actually observed that less than half of the population is satisfied with how democracy works in all the countries in the region, except for Austria.

“This shows us that people probably expected, after the fall of the communist regime, that democracy would bring them prosperity.

“And despite the fact that all the countries have risen economically, and the living situation has actually improved, it also shows that there are still differences in terms of quality of living between so-called Western Europe and Eastern Europe.”