Thursday, 28 May 2020

Mentality, experience to blame for Czech Euroscepticism

15 July 2016

Prague, July 14 (CTK) - The mentality of Czechs includes scepticism, tough relativism and a lukewarm approach to issues beyond the everyday horizon, which is why they are never fully loyal to great ideas such as pro-Western orientation or European integration, Stanislav Balik says in weekly Reflex out on Thursday.

Another reason why the Czechs rank among the biggest Eurosceptics is their bad historical experience with various "empires" and their mistrust of them, Balik, a historian and political scientist from Brno's Masaryk University, told Reflex.

He said the Czech political elite is more Eurosceptic than the elites in the neighbouring countries, which makes the disadvantages of EU membership, including seeming ones, a topic the Czech society discusses with an unusual intensity.

All this probably stems from the Czech nation's bad experience with its participation in broad state or imperial projects in the past two centuries (Austria, the Third Reich, the Soviet bloc), in which the Czechs not only were not protagonists but they had no political influence at all, Balik says.

True, the Czechs fared well in economic and social terms as part of the Austrian Empire, for example, but the Czech society had no political influence and got estranged from Austria and the other "empires" mentioned above, Balik says.

Something similar is happening in relation to the EU now, the country's good economic condition being an ineffective argument, Balik says.

Reflex mentions a survey released by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which showed that 44 percent of Czechs - 10 percent more than the EU average - are convinced that EU membership is disadvantageous for the country, and 57 percent associate the word "EU" with "a risk."

According to Balik, this is to blame on the Czech mistrust of empires, but also on the unpersuasive performance of the EU.

"If we look at the public opinion polls' results [before the Czech EU accession], we can see an excellent initial position. After all, more than three-quarters of Czechs voted for the EU entry," Balik says.

Afterwards, the Czechs' trust in the EU remained high for a long time. It started sinking in reaction to the EU's failure to react to the economic crisis and the Greek troubles, Balik says.

At the time, which coincided with the Lisbon Treaty introduction, unification tendencies also surfaced as did the EU's inclination to regulate even the areas it should not interfere in, Balik says.

Last year it turned out that the EU, comprised of weakened member states stripped of national powers, was no longer capable of managing the basic tasks a state should guarantee. It actually turned out that the emperor is naked, Balik says.

The Czechs felt no mistrust until recently, and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was the only one to promote Euroscepticism on the Czech scene. In the meantime, the ODS's position has become a mainstream one as a result of the bad political performance of the Brussels centre and the gap that separates it from the voters' will, Balik says.

That is also why Europeans have been fascinated with Brexit, as it showed that the voters' will can beat the positions and interests of those in power, Balik says.

True, the Czech mistrust partly stems from the Czech national mentality. On the other hand, however, scepticism towards the present form of European integration is not typical of Czechs or the British only, Balik says, mentioning a sharp rise of the anti-EU political forces in countries such as France, Sweden, Finland or Greece.

In spite of the Czechs' quite strong Eurosceptic positions, Eurosceptic parties fare poorly in the Czech Republic, unlike their foreign counterparts such as Britain's UKIP, France's National Front or Greece's SYRIZA, Balik admits.

This situation may change however. How many Greeks knew about SYRIZA a few years ago? How many British knew about the UKIP? he asks.

The Czech system of political parties is far from stable. Why should not a similar party emerge all of a sudden on the Czech scene, based on the social demand? Balik asks.

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