Webcast Recap

Mirek Topolanek remarked that, at the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the democratic development of the Czech Republic is entering uncharted territory. To date, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been governed democratically for a record 20 years. Although the legend of Tomas Masaryk is often remembered as the golden age of democratic thought, the first and second republics proved to be only an intermediate step to the authoritarian Communist period. "Twenty years is just the ‘half time,'" Topolanek argued, and the next two decades should be spent ensuring that the new generations continue to appreciate the sacrifices their parents made for freedom and democracy.

Given the Czech Republic's difficult path to democracy, 20 years offers an important vantage point from which to assess progress, and to review what risks, if any, remain of backsliding on the spirit and ideals of 1989. Topolanek argued that although the current regime has already surpassed the Masaryk era in many ways, the Czech Republic has not yet reached an optimal level of democratic maturity. The greatest threat to democratic consolidation in the country, the speaker suggested, is that citizens may forget about the prior existence of a totalitarian regime. Moreover, the government must work to curb doubt on the part of individuals who fought for democracy and freedom but who do not believe that those ideals have been realized in order to thwart public disillusionment.

Czech citizens have not quite embraced the fundamental truth about freedom, which suggests that the Czech Republic has not yet completed its transition to democracy. Freedom, Topolanek asserted, requires increased individual responsibility, rather than a continued reliance on the state, in order for citizens to achieve well-being. Internal threats to freedom, such as apathy, are much more menacing to the Czech Republic and Slovakia than any external efforts to undermine the countries' democratic development. Any return to totalitarianism, he cautioned, will occur slowly, through the proliferation of totalitarian values.

Under Communism, Czechoslovakia's existence mirrored the cruel reality of George Orwell's 1984. That nightmare, in which no one took responsibility for their own well being, and no one could question government policy came to an end 20 years ago. The relegation of that regime to history, Topolanek concluded, indicates that so much has changed already—which is indeed something to celebrate.