The most noteworthy aspect of elections to the European Parliament in the Czech Republic was not who won, but the fact that only 18.2 percent of the country’s eligible voters bothered to take part. Why did Czechs choose to ignore the European elections –and could the country’s past explain people’s distrust of decisions made outside the country’s borders? Political commentator Jiři Pehe says both the distant past and present-day politics played a role.
“In general the Czechs do not show much interest in European affairs and one could attribute this to the last ten years of political developments in the Czech Republic when we had a strongly Eurosceptic president accompanied by two governments headed by the Civic Democratic Party, which was also strongly Eurosceptic, and I think this ideological massage has played its role. People think that the EU is a project that we cannot ignore – given its history and location the Czech Republic must be part of it – but at the same time they believe to a large extent what the former president Vaclav Klaus used to say - that we have no real influence on what is going on in the EU. And if you think that you have no influence on European affairs then obviously you are not going to vote.”
Is Czechs’ failure to go to the polls an anti-establishment message or is it a deep mistrust of decisions made outside the country’s borders?
“I think both factors are present. The Czech political establishment itself is in crisis. We can see a lack of interest in politics, in democratic politics, a certain distrust of the liberal democracy, all of that is present in Czech politics and I think that all of these factors combine and play a role in how the Czechs view the European Union. They have not found their place in the system of liberal democracy that the EU – despite all of its problems – represents. The Czechs have still not found their place in this system it seems and we can see it also in Czech domestic politics where people vote for parties and movements which really cast doubts on this system. And then also, a lot of people simply take things for granted and doubt they can make any impact on how things in the EU are decided. It may be to some extent true that the smaller the country, the smaller the influence, but at the same time people in equally small countries to the west of us are convinced that it makes sense to vote and that they can make some impact on what’s going on in Europe. Perhaps it is this historical trauma of ours – of having been ruled by Vienna, Berlin and Moscow for many centuries where decisions were made in those capitals on behalf of the Czechs - that plays a role in how the Czechs view Brussels today.“