Since Vaclav Havel's death this past December, Czech mourners have celebrated his legacy and reflected on the Velvet Revolution that he helped lead. One of his oldest allies was Pavel Bratinka, who served with Havel on the Civic Forum, the umbrella group that unified anti-Communist forces. Bratinka was also one of the founders of the Civic Democratic Alliance (a center-right party) and was elected to the legislatures of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
Born in 1946 in Bratislava, Bratinka studied solid state physics but was prevented from defending his thesis when he refused to join the Communist-dominated Youth Union. Bratinka was active in numerous “in-home” or underground seminars—including the famous gathering at Kampa island (“Kampademie”) with Havel, his brother Ivan and Radim and Martin Palouš. He was also a translator of Friedrich Hayek and Eric Voegelin and the organizer of the underground publishing house “Edice Svíce” (Candle Edition). In 1998 he co-founded Euroffice, a Czech and European public affairs consultancy, where he has worked ever since.
Flagg Taylor recently spoke with Bratinka for the American Interest.
Flagg Taylor: What is the legacy of totalitarianism in Czech society today?
Pavel Bratinka: There are many remnants of the totalitarian past. First, people are still, for better or worse, politically passive. We have elections and the turnout is relatively high, but there is little expression of opinion beyond voting—say, by demonstrating or organizing political action committees. People resign themselves to talking in pubs and condemning politicians for this or that. They tolerate corruption and a certain political aloofness that is characteristic of some politicians here. Somehow, disquietingly, the fact that politicians lie or steal is considered normal. There is little politically relevant outrage about these things.
FT: Are there opportunities to participate politically at the local level?
Pavel Bratinka: There are countless opportunities. One can field oneself in local elections, in one’s village, almost at no personal cost. But there are few takers because it involves work, dealing with bureaucratic obstacles, talking with quarreling neighbors and other unpleasantries. Then you have politics at the level of bigger cities and regions. Here there are many more takers, those who want to be in the regional parliaments or city councils because they consider it an opportunity to get rich with public contracts and that sort of thing. This toleration of corruption, in particular, seems to be a vestige of the past.
We can speak freely, travel freely, plan our lives and have the job that we prefer if we try hard. This is nothing to take for granted in light of our past, of course. For now, however, this seems to satisfy most people. The result...