Havel's Post-Election Agenda
With the general election only about two months away, the political situation in the Czech Republic would be best described as fluid. Opinion polls show both major shifts in voter preferences and also a large number of undecided voters. But while it may be too early to predict the full election results, it does seem certain that the post-election political landscape will include those two parties which have been largely ostracised by the establishment in recent years.
Keeping in mind the tenacity of their opinion poll percentages over the past few years, it seems clear that the Republican and Communist parties will be represented in the next parliament. Despite the establishment's attempts to ignore their elected representatives, the most alienated voters have neither disappeared nor changed their minds. In June, 15% of the voters will vote for parties which are almost completely opposed to post-November developments, and the new parliament is very likely to again have 20% of its seats allocated to these parties.
The members of the establishment will then haggle amongst themselves as to how to rearrange that remaining 80% in order to form a stable government. If the past is a guide, the President will no doubt meet with various party leaders of whom he approves in order to help negotiate that settlement, but he will most likely ignore the leaders of those two parties which are generally thought of as extremist.
This would only be repeating a great mistake, however. The President should recognise the leaders of all legitimately elected parliamentary parties, and he should meet with all of them after the June elections. All those party leaders will represent portions of the electorate, and the President should not ignore the choice of those people.
Under no circumstances am I saying that Havel should broker a deal to get these parties into a future governing coalition. Horrors! He should talk to them simply because large segments of the population support them. Havel would not be recognising these parties' platforms; he would be recognising the results of democratic elections.
Opposition to such a move by the President is obviously widespread, but unconvincing. Some have argued that such meetings would not be very popular, and might lose Havel support at home - support which might be important if in future the President is popularly elected. But since when has Havel chosen the most popular path in life? Sitting down with fools and fascists in June is certainly no worse than sitting down with the criminals he sat down with in 1989.
Other critics of this idea have claimed that by sitting down with the representatives of these parties, Havel would legitimise them. This argument is far off the mark, because what legitimises these parties and their leaders is the electorate. The President does not decide which parties will be in parliament, the voters do. The legitimacy of all freely elected parties comes from the citizens themselves. By meeting with them, Havel would only be recognising the voters' choice, not the platforms of these parties.
Some have said that there is simply nothing Havel can learn from Sladek and Grebenicek, so meetings with them would be unproductive. That is not the point, however. Havel would not meet with these two in order to gain knowledge but to acknowledge the choice of the citizens of the Czech Republic. The meetings would have symbolic value and say to the people: this is your choice and the state respects it.
Besides openly showing presidential recognition of the democratic process, such symbolic post-election meetings would perform another useful function for Czech politics and society. Republican and Communist voters belong to the most alienated segments of society. They are frustrated with the post-November developments for various reasons, but mostly because they do not feel a part of those developments. Their world has completely changed, and they express only anger and derision against a system which seems to be overlooking their concerns. Ignoring their legitimately elected representatives only heightens their sense of alienation.
By formally meeting with Sladek and Grebenicek, Havel would show to these alienated people, to that 15-20% of the country, that they are not really so alienated. By recognising their choice, Havel would give them a sense that their viewpoint matters in this new system; that they matter in this new system. With this would increase their feeling of belonging to mainstream society again, and this is the key, because if these people feel that the system respects them, they will feel that the system is decent and worth supporting.
Anyone who is kept outside of a system has nothing to lose from that system's destruction. By acknowledging and respecting their decision (not agreeing with it!), the President would pull these people into the system and make them feel at least slightly tied to it. With this, they would be more inclined to support policies and parties which are based on working within the system.
Only Havel could do this, of course. No party could make the first move to bring the Republicans and Communists closer to civility. They would only be seen to be collaborating with extremists. Only the President who is or should be above all interparty conflicts can start the ball rolling to make the current 80% democracy into a 100% democracy.
Of course, there is always a chance that Sladek and Grebenicek will not want to meet with Havel, but at least Havel could make the effort to reach out to them. If they do not respond, then at least Havel can say that he made the effort to recognise the decision of the voters, but that his offer was refused by the radical leaders. Let this cause whatever disturbances it may within the Republican and Communist camps. Just the offer of a meeting might encourage more moderate wings to form.
For many years now, the establishment has been doing its very best to ignore these two parties. This approach is obviously not working, because there are still alienated citizens willing to vote for these parties. Those alienated citizens are not going to disappear in June. To recognise the decision of the citizens, the post-election meetings of the President with party leaders ought to include meetings with all the rightfully elected parliamentary party leaders. The meetings should start after the June elections, and mark a clear watershed of maturity in the development of the young democracy in the Czech Republic.