Freedom in the World 2011

Print Version

Czech Republic (2011)

Capital: Prague

Population: 10,511,000

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free


The center-left Czech Social Democratic Party and the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) led parliamentary elections held in May 2010. The president appointed ODS leader Petr Nečas as prime minister, and he formed a coalition government with two smaller parties, replacing a year-old caretaker government. Parliament later passed an austerity package that cut public-sector wages by 10 percent. Also in 2010, the country came under renewed criticism over its failure to correct discrimination against Romany children in the education system.


Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Soviet forces helped establish a communist government after World War II, and in 1968 they crushed the so-called Prague Spring, a period of halting political liberalization under reformist leader Alexander Dubček.

In December 1989, a series of peaceful anticommunist demonstrations led by dissident Václav Havel and the Civic Forum opposition group resulted in the resignation of the government, in what became known as the Velvet Revolution. Open elections were held the following year. In 1992, a new constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms were adopted, and the country began an ambitious program of political and economic reform under Václav Klaus of the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who became prime minister that year. In 1993, the state dissolved peacefully into separate Czech and Slovak republics.

Close parliamentary elections in 1998 brought the center-left Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to power, though an “opposition agreement” between the CSSD and the ODS limited meaningful political competition and brought about several years of political gridlock. Klaus was elected president by Parliament in 2003.

The Czech Republic joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004, but the CSSD’s poor showing in June elections for the European Parliament prompted Prime Minister Vladimir Špidla’s resignation and a period of instability in the ruling coalition.

The 2006 lower house elections produced a chamber that was evenly divided between left- and right-leaning parties, leading to a series of short-lived, ODS-led coalitions and caretaker governments. Klaus set early parliamentary elections for October 2009, but the Constitutional Court blocked them, leaving in place a caretaker government—headed by independent Jan Fischer—that had succeeded a failed ODS-led government in May.

The CSSD and the ODS led the May 2010 parliamentary elections, capturing 56 and 53 seats in the lower house, respectively. The center-right, free-market Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 (TOP 09)party placed third with 41 seats, followed by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) with 26 and the right-leaning Public Affairs (VV) party with 24. In June, Klaus appointed ODS leader Petr Nečas as prime minister, and he formed a center-right coalition government with TOP 09 and VV, pledging to implement judicial reforms and continue the fight against corruption. The new coalition held the strongest parliamentary majority since the country’s 1993 split with Slovakia.

As part of a bid to trim the budget deficit in the wake of a damaging 2009 recession, the new government pledged to cut public-sector wages by 10 percent in 2011 and replace seniority-based raises with a system of personal bonuses. Such unpopular austerity measures hurt the ruling parties’ performance in October regional and Senate elections. The opposition CSSD took 12 of the 27 Senate seats at stake, giving it a total of 41 in the 81-seat chamber. With other opposition parties, the CSSD now had the power to obstruct legislation passed by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. At the end of October, the lower house declared a legislative state of emergency, allowing critical budget bills to be passed using expedited procedures. The ruling coalition’s austerity plan, which was passed by Parliament in November, was scheduled to take effect in January 2011.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Czech Republic is an electoral democracy. Since 1989, the country has enjoyed free and fair elections. The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, has 200 members elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate has 81 members elected for six-year terms, with one-third up for election every two years. The president, elected by Parliament for five-year terms, appoints judges, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, but has few other formal powers. The prime minister, whose recommendations determine the cabinet appointments, relies on support from a majority in the Chamber of Deputies to govern.
The two main political parties are the center-left CSSD and the center-right ODS. Two other right-leaning parties, TOP 09 and VV, entered Parliament for the first time in 2010. The only other party to clear the 5 percent vote threshold for representation in the lower house was the KSCM. In February 2010, the far-right Workers’ Party (DS) was dissolved by the Supreme Administrative Court, which found that it threatened the country’s democracy by inciting violence and intolerance. However, outlawed parties are permitted to reregister with different names under Czech law, and the DS quickly reconstituted itself as the Workers’ Party of Social Justice (DSSS).
Corruption and lack of transparency remain core structural problems, and government reforms have been slow. The authorities have consistently failed to fully investigate and follow through on corruption accusations brought against politicians. Police in July 2010 began investigating connections between Interior Minister Radek John of VV and a publishing firm accused of overcharging a state-owned company. Supreme state attorney Renata Vesecka was dismissed in October for allegedly manipulating a corruption case against former deputy prime minister Jiří Čunek. In November, a former U.S. ambassador accused Martin Barták, a former defense minister and deputy prime minister under Jan Fischer, of requesting bribes. The Czech Republic was ranked 53 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is respected, though the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms—included in the Czech constitution—prohibits threats against individual rights, state and public security, public health, and morality. The country’s print and electronic media are largely in private hands. A 2009 amendment to the criminal code bans the publication of information obtained through police wiretaps, even in cases of public interest. In October 2010, Jiří Gaudin—a member of the far-right National Party—received a suspended sentence of 14 months in prison for inciting racial hatred through a publication called The Final Solution to the Gypsy Question, in which he advocated the expulsion of the country’s entire Romany population. Internet access is unrestricted.
The government generally upholds freedom of religion. While academic freedom is widely respected, a 2009 scandal involving West Bohemia University’s law school exposed ongoing inequities, corruption, and lack of transparency in access to higher education. A number of Czech politicians were among those accused of obtaining degrees without meeting the proper requirements.
Czechs may assemble peacefully, form associations, and petition the government. Trade unions and professional associations function freely but are weak in practice. The 2007 labor code requires unions within a single enterprise to act in concert when conducting collective bargaining. In September and December 2010, tens of thousands of public employeesprotested against government-proposed pay and job cuts.
The judiciary is independent. However, trial proceedings are slow, and the country continues to lack specialized labor courts.Prisons generally meet international standards, though abuse of vulnerable prisoners serving life sentences remains a problem. In an effort to address overcrowding, amendments to the criminal code adopted in January 2010 allowed for prisoners to be placed under house arrest, but the program suffered from inadequate staffing and a shortage of monitoring devices.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms gives minorities the right to participate in the resolution of matters pertaining to their group. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2007 that sending Romany children to special schools violated their rights to a full education, but a January 2010 Amnesty International report indicated that Romany children continue to receive substandard educations and constitute up to 80 percent of students in special schools for the mentally disabled. In November, several nongovernmental organizations filed a complaint with the EU over the Czech Republic’s failure to provide Roma with sufficient educational opportunities. In addition to discrimination, Roma sometimes face threats and violence from right-wing groups. Four neo-Nazis received 20- to 22-year prison sentences and were fined 17 million Czech crowns ($968,000) in October for their involvement in a 2009 arson attack on a Romany home that seriously injured a two-year-old girl.
Promoting denial of the Holocaust and inciting religious hatred remain illegal. The 2009 Antidiscrimination Act provides for equal treatment regardless of sex, race, age, or sexual orientation. However, asylum seekers who cite persecution based on sexual orientation have been subjected to a degrading procedure that supposedly proves homosexuality by measuring their physical response to erotic imagery.
Gender discrimination is legally prohibited. However, sexual harassment in the workplace appears to be fairly common, and women are underrepresented at the highest levels of government and business. Women nevertheless increased their parliamentary presence in the 2010 elections, capturing 44 seats in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies. Trafficking of women and girls for prostitution remains a problem. The government has taken steps in recent years to strengthen the reporting and punishment of domestic violence.