Emphasis is not being placed on the rule of law

Building of the Constitutional Court

Is the Czech Republic experiencing its greatest crisis of confidence, or rather of no confidence, in public institutions since 1989? I have in mind the events connected with the fall of Petr Nečas’s government and the circumstances surrounding the nomination of his successor, Jiří Rusnok…

We have experienced so many crises and have felt that nothing worse could happen. But we are always surprised. Individual crises are difficult to compare, however, because each crisis follows logically from what occurred before. The current events are a consequence of how politics is practised here and how it operates. They are a consequence of clientelistic and corrupt ties which were created over a long period of time, and in particular a consequence of the fact that the principles of the rule of law and the constitutional system have been undermined over the long term so that everyone interprets them as they see fit.

I consider the greatest weakness to be the fact that the public sphere is very much influenced by ideology, as well as by the media, where constitutional rules are interpreted according to who benefits from them. It is absurd that the very same people who insisted that the prime minister must sign the president’s amnesty are now “defending” parliamentary democracy against Miloš Zeman. These same people rejected the advice of experts to elaborate presidential powers in more precise terms when instituting direct presidential elections. And now, instead of public pressure to bolster the rule of law and to restore the functioning of state institutions, alternative problems are being introduced such as changing the electoral system. But the real problem lies elsewhere.

Where?

In emphasis on the rule of law and upholding fundamental rules without regard to whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous for a particular party, and also on building independent state institutions. We have dismantled or weakened the standard institutions and agencies which should ensure a certain level of professionalism in decision-making and also provide a credible check on politicians. Appointments to the heads of such institutions as the Supreme Audit Office, the National Security Authority, the supervisory and executive boards of major enterprises with state participation, and even the post of the chief public health officer – all these have been and are the subject of a political struggle for control of the institution in question. It is correct to place emphasis on moral categories and on politicians’ personal integrity, but emphasis must also be placed on the rule of law and on standard control mechanisms. The state is truly disintegrating at present; it has been occupied and privatised by politicians connected with business.

What has caused this?

It’s a complex problem. We can start at the beginning of the 1990s. When neoliberal approaches were being implemented, insufficient attention was paid to the fact that the transformation would take place in a completely different legal environment and economic culture than in Western countries. And it’s true that among the emerging elites there was not much interest in such an environment. In the EU accession talks, the criticism was often raised that no state administration had been built. Under pressure from the EU, we finally adopted the requisite Act on Civil Servants in 2002, but this never took effect. And now there is a danger that won’t be able to draw European funds, because a professional and politically independent state apparatus is the best insurance against political corruption and we have not introduced one.

The judicial intervention provoked a large wave of criticism among the public. Doesn’t this criticism confirm people’s lack of trust in public institutions? Isn’t this an expression of a crisis in society?

Citizens generally supported the police raid and the activities of the Public Prosecutor’s Office; by contrast, the Supreme Court’s ruling eroded trust in public institutions, particularly due to its very broad interpretation of MPs’ privileges under parliamentary immunity. These developments demonstrate that the situation is truly serious and that this country is suffering from “systemic corruption”. These are not incidental slip-ups on the part of individuals; rather, ties of corruption and clientelism are influencing decision-making processes, reforms, etc. In the case of systemic corruption, so-called immunisation of corruption is very important; basic protections must be created for these clientelistic networks. Hence the aggressive attacks on state officials and the undermining of investigations – these are means of intimidation. Hence the important role of “sweepers” at the Public Prosecutor’s Office; it’s important to control certain key posts in police departments and in the judiciary, as any loss weakens the entire network and its tools.

Also psychologically (and not only psychologically) significant in this regard was Václav Klaus’s New Year’s amnesty. It must be demonstrated that the instruments of power are sufficiently strong to protect “their people”. In our environment, this is evidence of power. Such protection need not always involve “intimidation” (blackmail, bribery); to the contrary, sometimes it can take the form of declared public support. President Klaus summoned the police president in a tense situation; Miloš Zeman declares his support for the chief public prosecutor while suggesting – by misinterpreting part of Ištván’s interview in the newspapers – that he has some kind of “special” information. But in doing so Zeman actually weakens him.

What’s the solution?

The road is long and difficult. Public pressure to make laws – mainly one on public service – is important, as is an insistence on transparent decision-making. Such pressure should be generated by non-governmental organisations and by the media, in particular the public media. It is necessary to reject political appointments to institutions exercising public oversight. It is necessary to reject the interpretation that political corruption is the same thing as political compromise. I don’t want to see a situation arise where MPs and senators are protected by parliamentary immunity to “compete” for the price of a vote for or against a law. We must realise, however, that politicians will behave as society allows them to.

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The interview was conducted by Petr Janoušek.
English translation by Petra and Evan Mellander.