Saturday, November 06, 2004

Czech senate elections

All my left-wing readers who are depressed because of their loss on Tuesday may become happier if they learn that other socialist parties are doing much worse.

The Czech Republic has voted its Senate and also various regional bodies.

Incidentally, most of the Czech kings were called Vaclav (Wenceslas), and the first two presidents of the Czech Republic follow the tradition. The picture shows Vaclav God-knows-what's-his-number, a Czech emperor and wise guy.

I must introduce for you the main Czech parties, so that you know the basic players:
• ODS, the Civic Democratic Party, are the Czech "Republicans". Well, they're not quite as conservative as the GOP. In fact, ODS is the ideal party because it is a "liberal conservative party". Of course, the word "liberal" is supposed to mean "libertarian". ODS was founded in 1991 by Vaclav Klaus, the father of the Czechoslovak economic transformations after the Velvet revolution. Klaus - a very bright free-market advocate who is a friend with the people like Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman, and others - was responsible for many important decisions, including the unpopular ones, which made him an unpopular prime minister. However, he was finally elected as the president after Vaclav Havel, who used to be one of two main Klaus's rivals - the other being Milos Zeman discussed below - and he is a highly popular president - which means a counterpart of the British queen: the fairy-tales about Klaus's alleged ignorance have mostly evaporated. Incidentally, Klaus is just visiting the USA and Canada.
• CSSD, the Czech Social Democratic Party, are the Czech "Democrats" who are currently leading the government because they won the elections in 2002 (and in 1998) with more than 30% of the electorate. The social democrats have existed in Czechoslovakia for more than a century, but they became irrelevant after the communists took over in 1948. (More precisely, they were unified with the communists.) Milos Zeman, the other rival of Klaus, who is a rather intelligent person and who has been a big fan of a fancy alcoholic drink (Becher's lemonade) revived the party around 1990. An unimportant born-again party was changed into an important player that absorbed most of the left-wing voters that would otherwise vote for the communists. Czechoslovakia was the only country in which the former communist party was marginalized. Zeman became the prime minister after Klaus in 1998, but was replaced by Vladimir Spidla, a rather boring and very "progressive" guy. It could not work indefinitely, and Spidla was finally removed from the chair of CSSD (and the government) in summer 2004, and replaced by Stanislav Gross. Gross is 35, the youngest prime minister in Europe today, but he looks roughly 15-20.
• KSCM, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, is the Czech Republic's part of the former Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (founded in 1921) that has controlled Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989. It has not changed anything about its 19th century ideology of marxism-leninism. The current leader is Miroslav Grebenicek, a rather popular gentleman among many 80+ years old people. Grebenicek comes from a good family - his father was one of the communist killers in the 1950s.
OK, what about the recent elections? One of the reasons that Spidla was eliminated in summer 2004 - well, they "punished" him by turning him into a member of the European commission - was the total collapse of CSSD in the elections to the European Parliament. The turnout was below 30 percent and ODS was the clear winner. The main government party, one that had more than 30% in the 2002 elections, only won two seats in the European Parliament out of 24. ;-) Note that it is roughly 8 percent - the U.S. Democrats currently with 49 percent still have a very long way to go!

Well, that was bad enough even for the Czech socialists, and they replaced Spidla by Gross. Stanislav Gross has been one of the two most popular Czech politicians of the last 5 years, especially because he looks like a child, but also because he has relatively good diplomatic skills.

However, in the elections today, ODS became the clear winner in 12 regions out of 13 (these are Czech counterparts of the "states"). The exception was the Southern Moravia where the KDU-CSL (The Christian Democratic Union - the Czechoslovak People's Party) became the winner. The ODS candidates have made it to the second round in 25 out of 27 Senate districts. In 9 of them, their rivals will be communists who were more successful than the social democrats.

In Pilsen - which is my home town where the modern beer was invented - the ODS's mayor Jiri Sneberger was able to become a senator already after the first round because he has earned more than 50 percent of votes. Yes, I would vote for him, too.

Obviously, Gross's innocent face does not seem to be enough. If you think that the reason for the recent successes of ODS is the natural right-wing character of the Czechs, which will allow this nation to compete with America, you're almost definitely wrong. The main reason is that the social democrats are currently responsible for the government, and the Czechs like to complain 90% of their time about the government that is supposed to solve all of their problems. Unluckily, it's been their government for 6 years. This fact makes the job for Miroslav Topolanek, who became the chairman of ODS after Klaus a couple of years ago, slightly easier.

Incidentally, the Czech president Klaus may have been rather skeptical about most wars that the States recently started - including Kosovo and Iraq - but as a rightwinger, it is not surprising that he welcomes Bush's win. "Bush is a standard bearer of American values," Klaus said.

1. Lubos,

On a completely different topic. What is your opinion on the Benes Decrees of 1945?

2. First of all, you might read some facts on

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benes_decrees

I've wrote some parts of that page. OK, some opinions. You probably ask about the decrees that expelled most Germans.

It was not a perfect decision - a type of decision that we would approve today - but in the complicated post-war situation it was a fair punishment to Germans as a whole. Roughly 90% of them supported Hitler (through Konrad Henlein) before the war started, and potentially, they could have been jailed for treason after the war.

It would have been completely impossible to punish 3 millions of Germans in a completely civilized way. On the other hand, it would be highly unfair if most of them were not punished at all.

In this special situation, a collective punishment was appropriate, and it was approved by the Allies. The Germans who could not prove they were anti-Nazi were expelled from Czechoslovakia. About 300,000 Germans could stay in the country.

Moreover, those expelled ones were lucky, in a sense, because they avoided communism that affected Czechoslovakia very soon afterwards. I don't think that they (or their sons and daughters) deserve to get something, especially from a country that suffered (unlike them) from communism, whose appearance in Czechoslovakia was indirectly their fault.

As all Czech politicians and most of the public, I believe that the decrees must remain a part of the Czech legal system. If they don't, it would allow thousands of Germans to start a lot of legal cases against the Czech Republic. You know, that would unfair because even if something went wrong about the Benes decrees, they were not an isolated act of violence. They were just a mild revenge for much greater crimes that cannot be separated from the decrees.

Questioning the ownership of houses in the Czech borderland would mean a disaster for hundreds of thousands of the current owners who have nothing to do with the relevant historical events. Such legal cases would mean that the postwar settlement is questioned. This means that the victory of the allies in the war is questioned, too - and so forth.

It's just unacceptable to re-open this question because the only target where it could lead is another world war or something comparable. You can always go far enough to your history and invent something wrong about your neighbor, and this must be stopped.

The current German government (SPD) agrees with the Czechs It is conveivable that a new government led by CDU/CSU (Stoiber) could have a different attitude, but I hope that we won't have to face this trouble at least for 2 more years. As far as we can say today, the Benes decrees were the solution of a peinful era of our history. They're not hurting anyone today, but their revocation could hurt millions of people, and we should avoid it.

3. Lubos,

Did West/East Germany or the reunified Germany ever sign a formal treaty with Czechoslovakia/Slovakia/Czech Republic, for which Germany would give up all territorial claims in Moravia, Bohemia, and Slovakia?

Or was Germany required to give up all further territorial claims when the Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the European Union this past year?

4. Czechoslovakia and West Germany signed a treaty in the early 1970s, according to which the past belongs to the past, and it won't affect the future.

The Czech Republic and unified Germany have also signed a declaration about their mutual relations in 1997 which closes the question.

A formulation such as "all conceivable future territorial claims are forever unthinkable" does not exist, however. Even if it did, it would be just a piece of paper. Various political changes allow future Germans to have claims (but they also allow the Czechs to reocuppy Germany that belonged to us some time ago). ;-)

5. Otherwise, I still have a feeling that you don't understand one very basic point.

Germany's ideas about its territory have been pretty irrelevant since 1945 when Germany lost the Second World War.

The truly relevant treaty is neither of these German-Czech treaties above. The relevant treaty is, of course, the Potsdam Conference in 1945

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potsdam_conference

that has undone what Germans did before and during the war, and that order expulsion of Germans who remained outside Germany.

Germany, of course, was not participating on this conference. Its universal leader committed suicide 3 months earlier and they had no one representative to send there. OK, what I want to remind you is that Germany lost the war.

The general approach of most people around is that these questions belong to the history textbooks. The Czechs, except for some painfully hurted old guys, have forgiven the Germans - and undoubtedly, Germans did more bad things to the Czechs than the other way around, and most Germans have no problems with what the Czechs did in the past.

6. I don't think its fair or accurate to say that the US started the war in Kosovo. That particular mess was indigenous, and the Europeans were unable to abate the slaughter. Unfortunately for the US, we had to come in an deal with it. Did we do it in the best way possible? No, but we tried, and we certainly didn't start that little war. It's hardly our fault if the Serbs can't get along with their Albanian minority.