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The Czech Republicans 1990-1998:

Rise and Fall of a Populist Radical

Right Outsider Party

Paper prepared for the Workshop The Ambivalence of Populism: Threat

or Corrective for Democracy?, Social Science Research Centre, Berlin,

5-6 August 2010.

Seán Hanley

School of Slavonic and East European Studies

University College London

s.hanley@ssees.ucl.ac.uk

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The Czech Republicans 1990-1998: Rise and Fall of Populist Radical

Right Outsider Party

Introduction

The Association For the Republic - Republican Party of Czechoslovakia (SPR-RSČ)

was a radical right populist party in the Czech Republic led by Miroslav Sládek,

which was politically successful for much of the 1990s. It was represented in the

Czech parliament between 1992 and 1998, but its support subsequently declined and,

having lost parliamentary representation, the party rapidly fragmented. Since this time

radical right forces in the Czech Republic have consistently failed to unite and,

despite high profile and provocative bursts of political activism, have remained

electorally and political marginal. In this paper, I examine the rise and fall of the SPR-

RSČ as a case study of party-based oppositional populism in a new democracy and

evaluate its impact on the development Czech democracy using the framework

developed by Kaltwasser and Mudde1. As a subsidiary goal I also consider the extent

to which the SPR-RSČ must be understood a transitional phenomenon linked to the

process of democratization, given the puzzling weakness of the Czech radical right

over the past decade even during periods of economic contraction, growing public

concern with corruption and intense public dissatisfaction with established parties and

politicians.

The origins of the SPR-RSČ

SPR-RSČ was formed in December 1989 as a ‘radical right-wing party’ Miroslav

Sládek and a group of associates and formally registered as a party in February 1990.

1
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser and Cas Mudde (2010) ‘Populism Corrective or Threat to
Democracy?’. Unpublished framework paper.

2
The party seems to have originated as one of a plethora small, anti-communist groups

founded in late 1989 which styled themselves ‘right-wing’ and often also attaching

the label ‘Republican’ to themselves - a vague allusion both to US Republicans and

French Gaullists and to the interwar Czechoslovak Agrarians - the closest Czech

historical equivalent to mainstream conservative party – who had officially styled

themselves the Republican Party of Agricultural People and Small Farmers

(Republikánská strana zemědělského a malorolnického lidu). Sládek, a graduate in

information management and librarianship2 then aged 40, who worked as an official

for the Czech Office for Press and Information3 during 1980s, appears to have led an

unremarkable life until the fall of communism. Neither he nor other founders of the

SPR-RSČ seem to have been Communist Party members, or to have had even the

most peripheral contacts with dissent intelligentsia or the ‘grey zone’ networks of

oppositionally minded technocrats that emerged in 1980s. What sketchy information

is available suggests that in addition to Sládek and other would-be politicians, the

group also contained some figures with connections to the Agrarian party and/or

(returning) anti-communist Czech emigrants in North America.4 However such links

are likely to have been common across ‘Republican’ groupuscules of 1989-1990.

What marked out the SPR-RSČ more was Sládek’s egocentric and dominant

personality and inclination to make radical outspoken statements, which led to a rapid

2
He was widely referred to by both supporters and opponents as ‘Dr Sládek’ because he held the
common academic title PhDr. indicating that he had completed a short period of additional study
following the standard five year Mgr degree. The qualification is now much criticised as ill-defined and
confusing following the introduction of West European Western-style doctoral study.
3
As the Office principally exercised censorship function, opponents accused Sládek of having been a
censor. However, no clear evidence of this has emerged. Sládek worked at the Office in 1981-6. There
seems to be no reliable information as to his occupation in late 1980s.
4
The most well known such figure in the early SPR-RSČ was the former Agrarian and Charter 77
signatory Josef Šárka who stood for the party in 1990 and was briefly its honorary chairman. See
http://cs.metapedia.org/wiki/Josef_%C5%A0%C3%A1rka (accessed 1 July 2010) and Miroslav Mareš,
Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. Barrister and Principal“ Brno, 2003, pp. 188-191.

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breakdown in attempts to co-operate with similar small groupings leading the Sládek

group to register as an independent party and contest the 1990 Czech and

Czechoslovak elections outside the main alliance of small new anti-communist

groupings, the Conservative Party - Free Bloc – (KS - SB).5 Although it fielded

candidates in both the Czech lands and Slovakia before the break-up of the

Czechoslovak federation in 1993, SPR-RSČ was in essence a purely Czech-based

organisation and it support in Slovakia was always negligible. it highest vote in

Slovakia was 0.36 per cent in 1992. 6

The SPR-RSČ, initially profiled itself as a ‘respectable’ right-wing nationalist anti-

communist party critical of President Havel and Civic Forum for not becoming ‘a

platform for electoral struggle against the communists’. However, populist,

chauvinistic and authoritarian elements – such as support for a strong presidency or

hostility to African and Vietnamese guest workers - are detectable even in early

programmatic documents and, much more so, in Sládek’s own statements and

speeches.7 However, it quickly became clear that militantly anti-communism was

being channelled through organizations in the political mainstream allied with Civic

Forum such as the Club of Engaged Non-Partisans (KAN) and the Confederation of

Political Prisoners (KPV) and through emerging local splits in the Forum itself. In the

June 1990 Czech and Czechoslovak parliamentary elections both the Free Bloc and

5
The party’s convoluted double-barrelled name seems to have been adopted because simpler names
using the Republican Party label had already been registered by other groups. Sdružení pro republiku
(‘Association for the Republic) is the standard Czech translation of the French Rassemblement pour la
République, the name of the main Gaullist party in France in 1976-2002.
6
Its highest vote in Slovakia was 0.34 per cent (in the ballot to the upper chamber of the Federal
Assembly in 1992).
7
See‘Hlavní referát přednesený předsedou strany PhDr Miroslavem Sládkem’, Spektrum, n.d.,
unnumbered [SPR-RSČ bulletin May 1990, Unijazz Doucumentation Centre, Prague], pp. 1-2. Also
contained in ‘Sdružení pro republiku - REPUBLIKANSKÁ STRANA Československa - Materialy z
ustavujícího sjezdu, n.d., Civic Forum Archive, Box 4 (Politická komise - interní informační
materiály), sl. 5 (consulted in 1998).

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the SPR-RSČ’s joint electoral list with the tiny All People’s Democratic Party

(VLDS) received negligible support, each gaining just over one per cent in elections

to the Czech parliament8 and no deputies at either federal or Czech level.

In the course of 1990 Sládek’s party developed a distinct brand of ‘right-wing’

politics combining disruptive activism with ultra-radical conspiracy-minded anti-

communism with a pallet of populist anti-elite, chauvinistic and racist themes similar

to those of the radical right in Western Europe. Using its newly founded weekly

Republika started to promote conspiracy theories of the Velvet Revolution as having

been staged as a result of secret agreements between communist and crypto-

communist (dissident) elites. The party latched rapidly onto the work of conspiracy

theorist Miroslav Dolejší, a former political prisoner and KPV member, whose claims

were first reported in September 1990 the Expres - one of new breed of short-lived

sensational tabloids, whose style Republika quickly learned to mimic. Dolejší’s book

An Analysis of the Events of 17 November 1989 claims more that dissidents in Charter

77 were, in fact, a secret reserve of 800 loyal Communist Party members created in

1969-70 whom the regime only pretended to persecute and that the Velvet Revolution

was the product of a secret agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987 and

was prepared jointly by the KGB and the CIA since June 1988. 9

SPR-RSČ also received considerable publicity from protest demonstrations it

organised against this ‘conspiracy’ during President George H. W. Bush’s visit to

Prague in November 1990. Banners in English held by party activists, visible in media

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The two blocs received similar, but somewhat lower support in elections to the two houses of the
Federal Assembly
9
See interview with Dolejší, ‘Fantastičtější než Orwell?’, Lidová demokracie, 15 March 1991. The
inconclusive conclusions of a parliamentary enquiry into events of 17 November 1989 – and
specifically the extent to which they had orchestrated by Czech or Soviet security services - widely
presented bestselling book by the (then) student activist Václav Bartuška - gave such outlandish
theories an air of verisimilitude. Václav Bartuška, Polojasno : pátrání po vinících 17. listopadu 1989.
Praha : Exlibris , 1990.

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coverage of the event, read ‘President Bush - You Are Talking To Communists’.

Independent reports spoke of estimated 2000 - 3000 Sládek supporters attending

protest demonstrations organized to coincide with the visit.10

In addition to anti-communism, SPR-RSČ took up eclectic mix of issues designed to

draw rapid support popular. It called for larger social benefits and increased public

services, greater law and order, less bureaucracy and state intervention, the re-

incorporation of Transcarpathia (ceded to the USSR in 1945) to Czechoslovakia,11

the defence of Czech national interests against the West (and, in particular, supposed

German and Sudeten German revanchism) and the Roma minority - the racism for

which the party became best known. Analysis of the content of Republika suggests

that the overt and aggressive racist campaigning against the Roma minority dates

from February-March 1991, and anti-German themes from early 1992. Some analysts

suggest the party toned down anti-Romany and anti-foreign rhetoric before the 1992

elections to concentrate on criticising government corruption and failure to fight

crime. 12

SPR-RSČ as a parliamentary party

From spring 1991, the party’s mix of extreme and outrageous rhetoric - Sládek’s

call, for example, for a ‘march on Prague’ so that government leaders could be

‘thrown into the [river] Vltava’) - its provocative and well publicised demonstrations

- for example, in Prague’s Old Town Square on 28 November 1990, as well as

10
.See ‘Národní třída po roce’, Republika, no. 10, 26 November 1990. See ‘Zazněl nám zvon
svodody?’, Svobodné slovo, 19 November 1990, pp. 1 and 4.
11
Also-known as Sub Carpathian Ukraine or Ruthenia.
12
See J Pehe, ‘The Emergence of Right-wing extremism’, Report on Eastern Europe, 28 June 1991,
pp.1-6 J Pehe, ‘RFL/RL Research Institute Program Draft F565: The Republicans and the Left Bloc:
Profiles of Two Czech Political Parties’, 24 August 1994. Unpublished material in Radio Free Europe
cuttings library, Prague (consulted 1997)) Now the Open Media Research Institute (OMRI), Budapest).

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marches on the headquarters of Czechoslovak Television in 1991 and 1992 and its

continual public campaigning – including a punishing schedule of rallies and open air

meetings addressed by Sládek extending into even to quite small communities

mobilised enough support to create a small national organisation (see table 1) and

growing electoral support. The party also received (supportive) publicity from newly

established sensationalist tabloids such as Špígl and Expres.

Table 1: Estimates of SPR-RSČ membership and organization

Year Direct members No. of party basic units

1990 claim 25- 40 - 000 est. < 5

(Nov)

1991 no data est. 25+

(July)

1995 claim 55 000 est. 500 +

(Nov) est. 2000-3000*

1998 claim 40 000 not known

est. 2000

Sources: M Matoušková, ‘Řady KSČM údajně nejpočetnější’, Lidové noviny, 24 November 1995; D
Tácha, ‘Živili jsme Sládka’, Týden, 37/98, pp. 37-9. Estimates for branches in 1990 and 1991 are based
on analysis of Republika in the period November 1990 - July 1991.

* Estimates for 995 are based on the fact that in the November 1994 local elections 2225 candidates on
SPR-RSČ lists were listed as members of the party and that SPR-RSČ lists were presented in 496
communes. Volby do zastupitelstev v obcích 18.-19. listopadu 1994 (díl 1), Prague: Český statistický
úřad, 1994, table no. 66. Also online at www.volby.cz

In June 1992 benefiting from the fluid and uncertain political environment created by

the break-up of Civic Forum into separate parties, the launching of economic reforms

13
. A selection of such articles from 1991-2 reporting the SPR-RSČ and its leader favourably are
included as appendices to M Sládek, ...tak to vidím já, Brno: SPR-RSČ and, 1992.

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and the Czech-Slovak tensions over redesign of the federal state, SPR-RSČ made an

electoral breakthrough, polling just over 6 per cent of the Czech vote in the federal

elections and gaining representation in both federal (Czechoslovak) and federal

parliaments.

Although the Republicans’ parliamentary faction quickly fragmented – nine of the

SPR-RSČ’s 14 federal deputies rapidly broke with the party – the party was

throughout its existence as a parliamentary party largely inactive in the legislative

process, preferring instead to its strategy of outrageous headline grabbing protest

events such as the blocking of the main Prague-Bratislava motorway by SPR-RSČ

members in 1993; the regular SPR-RSČ rallies in Wenceslas Square on 28 October;

the disruption by party members of a commemoration in 1994 at the site of the

Terezín (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, where German representatives were

present; or the nationwide distribution in 1995 of leaflets alleging a conspiracy

between the Czech and German governments to return the Sudetenland to Germany.

Republican representative also repeatedly came into conflict with the police and the

courts, usually in connection with laws on inciting racial hatred and public order

offences : Sládek, for example, was prosecuted for his remarks in 1997 that the only

things Czechs should regret about their relationship with the Germans is that they did

not manage to kill more of them during the Second World War.14

The greater access to the media it enjoyed as a parliamentary party and the platform

afforded by parliament itself also enable the SPR-RSČ to amplify its message. In the

1996 Czech parliamentary elections, the party gained over 8 per cent of the vote,

increasing its representation in the Czech parliament from 14 to 18 deputies,

14
Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. Op.cit., pp. 196-7.

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contributing to a deadlocked political situation in which neither parties of the

mainstream left or mainstream right could form a majority coalition. Although willing

to share a television studio with SPR-RSČ representatives, from the outset all other

parties (including the hard line Communists – themselves the subject of a cordon

sanitaire) treated the SPR-RSČ as an extremist pariah party lacking any real political

or intellectual credibility.

Table 2: Electoral support for SPR-RSČ and successor organizations in Czech


parliamentary elections 1990-2010*

Year Number of votes Percentage Deputies (of 200)


1990 72 048 1.00 0
1992 387 026 5.98 14
1996 485 072 8.01 18
1998 232 965 3.90 0
2002** 46 325 0.97 0
2006 Not contested Not contested -
2010*** 1 193 0.03 0

Source: www.volby.cz

*Elections in 1990 and 1992 were for Czech National Council, subsequent elections to Chamber of
Deputies
** Miroslav Sládek Republicans (RMS)
*** Re-founded SPR-RSČ. Electoral lists in 3 of 14 districts

The SPR-RSČ as a radical right party

As several authors note, 15 considerable care must be taken in transposing models and

typologies developed on the basis of experience of established West European

democracies to new, consolidating democracies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)

(and elsewhere). CEE states had, for example, quite different – and in the years

following 1989 also rapidly changing – socio-economic structures from advanced

15
Vladimíra Dvořáková.’The Politics of anti-politics? The Radical Right in the Czech Republic: Past
and Present in Lene Bøgh Sørensen and Leslie Eliason (eds.), Fascism, Liberalism and Social
Democracy in Central Europe, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press pp. 166-79; Herbert .P. Kitschelt
‘Growth and Persistence of the Radical Right in Postindustrial Democracies. Advances and Challenges
in Comparative’ West European Politics, vol. 30 (5), 2007, pp. 1176-1207; Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový
extremismus a radikalismus v ČR, op.cit

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post-industrial societies of Western Europe, as well as markedly different patterns of

ethnic diversity (historic national and ethnic minorities – often territorially

concentrated - rather than multi-cultural societies shaped by economically-driven

migration). Even ideologically based typologies of party, which are less dependent on

social and historical contexts than classic cleavage-based models, are therefore to

some extent vulnerable to the risk of conceptual stretching and consequent

misclassification.16 However, at a more underlying level, a common interpretation of

radical right parties as a political reaction against the economic and cultural impacts

of modernization and related feelings of anomie, disempowerment and dislocation17

can be made for both Western Europe and the newer CEE democracies.

Notwithstanding such caveats the Republicans fit comfortably with the conception of

the radical right developed by Mudde18 as a combination of core ideological

characteristics of nativism, social authoritarianism and scepticism of democracy.

Although the party showed little interest in policy - its ‘programmes’ being short one-

page lists of demands intended to highlight themes - they nevertheless had an

underlying coherence and logic amounting to an implicit ‘right authoritarian’ strategy

of social transformation to an illiberal form of market society.19 SPR-RSČ’s nativism

was expressed in an ethnically exclusive xenophobic vision of the Czechoslovak (and

later Czech) state defined by anti-Roma racism, anti-German nationalism and

rejection of Czech(oslovak) membership in international organisations including both

16
See Giovanni Sartori,. ‘Concept Mis formation in Comparative Politics’ American Political Science
Review 64 (4), 1970 1033-1053.
17
Vladimíra Dvořáková.’The Politics of anti-politics’, op.cit.; Michael Minkenberg, ‘The Radical
Right in Post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe: Comparative Observations and Interpretations’,
East European Politics and Society, 16 (2) pp.335-362.
18
Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right parties in Europe. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2007
19
P Machonin et al., Strategie sociální transformace české společnosti, Brno: Doplněk, 1996, pp. 31-
43.

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NATO and the EU. Its authoritarianism was expressed in demands for law and order

tougher punishments for offenders including the restoration of the death penalty (a

signature demand). In almost all cases, however, crime and disorder was ethnicized as

part of the ‘Gypsy problem’ or put into a populist idiom (see below) and discussed in

terms of the criminality of elites, especially in the privatization process.

Unlike neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groupuscules which emerged in the Czech lands

from early 1990s SPR-RSČ was not opposed on principle to representative

democracy, which (like a number of mainstream parties) it wished to supplment with

elements of direct democracy. However, the party’s was acutely sceptical of post-

communist Czech, which it regarded as phoney, manipulated and illegitinate and

tended democracy – both in the Czech Republic and generally – simply as a means for

brining about the revolutionary displacment of discredited rulers. According to

Sládek, ‘[i]n a functional democracy elections represent a mechanism not dissimilar to

a revolution’,20 failing which other revolutionary methods could be justified. Sládek

even claimed, for example, that ‘[i]t would be easy and understandable and fully in

accordance with the Bill of Rights and Freedoms [in the Czech Constitution] to bring
21
about the removal of illegitimate authorities using any means, including violence’

Such statements, along with the racist content of Republika, led some to wonder

whether there were offer for banning the party as an anti-democratic grouping under
22
the Law on Political Parties. However, there is no evidence that the party’s

leadership was directly linked with racist violence - as was the case with smaller more

20
M Sládek, To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, op.cit., 1995, p. 104; see also M Sládek ....tak to vidím
já, op.cit., p. 66.
21
. To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, op.cit., p. 72. Such statements, along with the racist content of
Republika, could some observers concluded offer grounds for banning the party as an anti-democratic
grouping under the Law on Political Parties. See J Fabrý, ‘Lze rozpustit republikány?’, Nová
Přítomnost, 5/97, pp. 26-7.
22
See J Fabrý, ‘Lze rozpustit republikány?’, Nová Přítomnost, 5/97, pp. 26-7.

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radical far-right groups with an overt neo-fascist or neo-Nazi orientation – and, as

with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech authorities shied away

from deploying directly legislation allowing the banning of parties advocating racism

or totalitarianism at groupings with mass support and electoral legitimacy. SPR-RSČ

did, however, enjoy periods of (qualified) support in Czech skinhead and neo-Nazi

sub-cultures and anti-semitic authors sometimes wrote for Republika, although the

Republicans’ hostility to German Nazism and formal adherance to the Czechoslovak

state and its founders Masaryk and Beneš made such relationships uncomfortable. 23

Categorization of SPR-RSČ as on the radical right is confirmed by the party’s own

understanding of itself. By the mid-1990s, however, the Republicans had also come to

see themselves as part of a Europe wide family of ‘radical right’ parties which, they

believed, were a response to the wider ‘moral crisis of the democratic system’

plagued by corruption, criminality, immigration, the ‘dictatorship of money’ and the

inability of governing coalitions to resolve the problems of ordinary people.24 The

Republicans’ task like those of other radical right parties was thus to ‘do battle with

the current establishment’25 to ‘intervene to save the nation from destruction’26 by

bringing about the ‘genuine’ revolutionary regime change that Civic Forum had

pretended to carry out. The influence of the West European radical right on SPR-RSČ

was, however, superficial and sporadic. The party’s logo of three intersecting

diamonds with letters REP seems to have been modelled from that of the German,

23
Some leading members of the Republicans of Miroslav Sládek (RMS) formed in 2001 after the
collapse and formal winding up of the first SPR-RSČ were later active in the neo-fascist Workers Party
(DS) formed in 2003, notably Tomáš Vandas the former RMS secretary who was the leader of the DS.
The DS was banned by the Czech courts in 2010 for extremism and its encouragement of rascist
violence (see below).
24
M Sládek, ‘Skutečná pravice aneb proč lidé budou volit právě naši stranu’, Republika, no. 4, 1995,
reprinted in To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, op.cit., pp. 73-4
25
A Kukelová, ‘K volbám’, op.cit.,
26
M Sládek, ‘Skutečná pravice aneb proč lidé budou volit právě naši stranu’, op.cit., p. 4.

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although contact between the two parties was made on only on one occasion in 1991

and their relationship rapidly faltered because of SPR-RSČ‘s anti-German nationalism

and demands for financial support. The party enjoyed better relations with France’s

Front National and participated in several events organised as part of the first

incarnation of the EURONAT grouping sponsored by the FN. SPR-RSČ leaders

attended FN congresses in 1997 and 2000 and FN representatives were among foreign

guests invited to SPR-RSČ’s own congresses.27

The populism of the SPR-RSČ

Consistent with Mudde’s definition of a populist radical right party28 SPR-RSČ’s

also possessed key characteristic of populism which distinguisged it from elitist,

overtly anti-democratic and/or anti-political stancess of skinhead, neo-fascist and neo-

Nazi groupings in the semi-lagel Czech the skinhead -culture and neo-fascist or neo-

Nazi sub-culture (primarily). The SPR-RSČ displayed the three key core indicators of

populism as defined by Mudde and Rovira,.

1) the division of society into two homogenous and hostile groups, a corrupt

self-serving elite and morally unsullied People; and

2) an understanding of such division as predominantly moral - as based on

character and self-chosen conduct;

3) an understanding of politics as exercise in expressing social (and for SPR-

RSČ’s primarily national) unity and in serving and defending this common

interest (against threatening exernal force or subversive internal alien

minorities).

27
Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. Op.cit. 206-7.
28
Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right parties in Europe. Op. cit.

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These themes – which the RSČ expressed in practical terms through its strong

orientation towards electoral campaigning and electoral competition - are explored in

more detail below, which also with supplementary important supplementary populist

characteristics found in the case of the SPR- RSČ’s: charismatic leadership and loose

movement-style organization centred on a culture of activism.

Democracy as an anti-popular façade manipulated by elites

The Republicans saw themselves as representing ‘ordinary people’ as distinct from

privileged elite groups, both dissident and communist, who, given the (supposed)

communist background of many dissidents in the 1950s and 1960s, could be seen as

one in the same. Early in 1990, for example, Sládek spoke of the party defending

...ordinary people, who are the salt of the earth, they work, they look after

families, they were here through the most difficult of times and had to rely

only on their miserable wages. They didn’t emigrate; neither did anyone

support them in a professional career. It is they who make up this country.

They should therefore have the opportunity to influence this country’s

future (...) And not merely to watch passively as power is taken over by

groups of people with the same names.29

Such people had increasingly come realise that other parties and the political system

were worthless and therefore supported the Republicans.30

In accordance with its founding discourse of anti-communist ultra-radicalism, the

Republicans viewed Czechoslovak political institutions as a ‘new totalitarianism’,

outwardly reformed, but also basically continuous with former communist

nomenklatura in their use of a media monopoly to maintain an ideological façade as

29
‘Hlavní referát přednesený předsedou strany PhDr Miroslavem Sládkem’, op.cit.
30
Zlikvidovat konkurenci?’, op.cit.

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means of exercising social control for self-seeking reasons.31 As Sládek explained, the

new political parties had

‘very small to tiny memberships, but their leaderships have an excess of

financial resources and unlimited access to the media ... now fully in the

hands of this new totalitarianism. (.....). These parties identify with

different political currents, not for programmatic reasons, but for reasons

of personal advancement (z prospěchářských důvodů), because they think

that this or that current will enable them to continue their sweet inactivity

at the expense of the majority of citizens’. 32.

Not only the Velvet Revolution, but all subsequent developments were explained

within this framework as staged and manipulated by a powerful, sinister

establishment, operating behind a facade of democracy. The creation of a party

system; the division of Czechoslovakia; coupon privatisation; increasing in social

inequality thus were all viewed as products of the (foreign-backed) conspiracies

against the people by corrupt communist and crypto-communist elites. As an

unsigned article in Republika on the imminent division of Czechoslovakia put it ‘I

have the impression that everything was planned beforehand (similarly to the Velvet

Revolution) and that the Czech and Slovak nations have been deceived, abused and

violated by a foreign power working with its domestic lackeys (přisluhovačů)’33

Denial of differences between established parties

While noting the outward emergence of ostensibly programmatic parties of left, right

and centre in Czech politics, the Republicans tend to regard such distinction as

31
See ‘Hlavní referát přednesený předsedou strany PhDr Miroslavem Sládkem’, op.cit., pp, 1-2.
32
M Sládek, ....tak to vidím já, op.cit., p. 89.
33
‘Vždy o nás rozhodl někdo jiný’, Republika, 16-22 November 1992, p. 7.

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phoney or falsified and lacked a concept of party or partisan competition in any way

distinct from the idea of regime change. Despite insisting that they were ‘the only

genuinely right-wing party in our country’,34 the Republicans rejected that there was a

meaningful political spectrum, considering concepts of left, right and centre to be

inapplicable on the grounds that parties purportedly representing them were either

irrelevant or mere vehicles for corrupt (communist) elites.35 Sládek thus claimed that

elites had ‘created pretend new parties and thus in fact created a fictitious political

spectrum in Czechoslovakia. (...) Its goal is to confuse voters in Czechoslovakia and

create the impression that there is a multi-party system in Czechoslovakia’36

Moral anti-communism, moral politics

Despite sometimes arguing that ‘genuinely right-wing’ – or as we might termed it

radical right - parties like itself were characterised by a combination of nationalist and

socially-oriented policies,37 SPR-RSČ more usually depicted its ‘right-wing’ politics

in moralistic populist terms or as a simple continuation of the struggle against

communism begun in 1989-90, drawing on the common understanding of

communism – implicit in much dissident discourse - as a primary moral phenomenon

(a form of evil) rather than a social or historical one. This view sometimes shaded

into a more deeply anti-political view: politics was, as Sládek once put it, a dark

tunnel in which the only light by which people could orient themselves as they like

fumbled their way along was the Republican Party and its goals.38

34
‘Skutečná pravice aneb proč lidé budou volit právě naši stranu’, Republika, no. 4 1995, reprinted in
M Sládek, To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, Place of publication not stated: SPR-RSČ, 1995, pp. 73-4.
35
M Sládek, Jak to vidím já, Place of publication not stated: SPR-RSČ, 1992, p.90.
36
M Sládek ....tak to vidím já, op.cit., p. 71.
37
The Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) and the Front national in France were also cited as ‘genuinely
right-wing’. ibid.
38
M Sládek, ....tak to vidím já, op.cit., p. 90.

16
The SPR-RSČ highly personalised and moralistic view of politics thus explained the

failings of political institutions in terms of establishment politicians’ personal

corruption and turpitude By contrast, unlike both dissident and communist elites

(who, the Republicans argued, were interlinked and co-responsible for the inequities

of both past and present),39 the Republicans stressed that they were morally unsullied

‘new faces’ with a ‘clean record’ and, unsurprisingly, the party’s discourses about the

type of political change it wished to bring about replete with references to moral

renewal, purging and purification. The party’s internal culture of continual activist

mobilization (described in more detail below) intended to build a distinct moral ethos

of unity and self-sacrifice40 also highlights the party’s ‘moralization’ of politics.

Figure 1: Republicans’ view of Czech political and party system

Republicans ‘New totalitarian’


establishment/ parties of
‘fictitious political spectrum’
Republicans’ ‘clean record’ Compromised by collaboration
before 1989, Miroslav Sládek as with communism, dishonest and
brilliant leader, campaigner and personally corrupt, use
inspiration. manipulation and lies

‘Ordinary people’, ‘majority of Communist and crypto-


citizens’, the nation or the Czech communist elites; nomenklatura
people capitalists, foreign (German)
interests, ‘pseudo-humanist’
intelligentsia, minority groups
(Roma, immigrants)

Mass movement, based on Narrow conspiratorial elites,


popular activism. Campaigning power based on control of the
for votes, direct contact with media, money, crypto-
ordinary people communist networks.

Engine of ‘genuine’ regime


change, ‘revolution’

39
See ‘Hlavní referát přednesený předsedou strany PhDr Miroslavem Sládkem’, op.cit., pp. 1-2.
40
M Sládek, ....tak to vidím já, op.cit., p. 90. Reprinted from Republika, 3 February1991.

17
In contrast with the ‘decency’ and popular base of the Republicans, Civic Forum

successor parties were vehicles for corruption, personal enrichment and elite

manipulation (by ex-communist functionaries, dissidents, former black marketeers),

which required ‘purging’41 because although they had money and power, but no roots

among the people. The Republicans’ explanation of the faults of post-1989

Czechoslovakia is heavily moralistic, and hence strongly populist, in attributing

problems to the conscious agency of opponents. In their view Czechoslovakia’s new

liberal democratic and liberal market institutions were not simply phoney and

inauthentic – a view shared in less some form by many across the political spectrum –

but the product of deliberate deceit by ruling elites, further evidencing their moral

turpitude.

This was in the Republican view true not simply of pretended differences between

communists and dissidents or political parties of left and right, but even of seemingly

more impersonal economic processes. Sládek thus argued that growing social

inequalities resulting from economic reform were a deliberate action intended by

elites to depoliticise and control discontent through poverty, rather than an indirect

consequence of marketization.42 The Republicans’ populist radical right

understanding of Czech transition and post-1989 democracy is summarised above in

figure 1.

41
R Havlík, ‘ODS = komunistická nebo fašistická strana’, Republika, no. 3, 20 - 26 January 1992, p. 3;
J Bulba, ‘Proved’te očistu svých politických stran’, Republika, no. 37, 14 - 20 September 1992, p. 5.
42
M Sládek, To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, op.cit., p. 104.

18
SPR-RSČ as a transitional ‘movement-party’

The first such distinct feature is the Republicans’ embrace of the concept of the

‘movement-party’: a model of organization influential in Czech lands in the early

1990s which seems consciously or otherwise to have tried to emulate the model of the

Civic Forum movement. As practiced in the Czech lands, 43 this style of organization

seems to have rested on three precepts:

1) that although a group might formally be organised as political party, a

loose, flexible form of organisation reaching beyond parliamentary and electoral

politics was needed to involve citizens directly.

2) that ‘personalities’, charismatic leadership and personal qualities were as

important as ideology and formal rules for a well functioning party capable of

connecting with voters; and

3) that a party should represent a broad constituency, never defined in terms

of class or interest groups, but instead as a general popular or civic interest.

A number of new political groupings in the Czech Lands sought to be party-

movements: these included the regionalist grouping HSD-SMS, which emerged as

the largest party in the historic Moravian provinces of the Czech Republic in 1990 and

the centrist Civic Movement (OH) formed in 1991 by Václav Klaus’s former

opponents in Civic Forum when the movement split. However, it was also an

organizational template followed by as the Republicans for both practical and

ideological reasons linked to the party’s radical right populism.

The Republicans saw their party as a dynamic campaigning vehicle, whose main task

was to mobilise members and supporters through continuous demonstrations, public

43
For a comparative and theoretical discussion see Herbert .P. Kitschelt ‘Movement Parties’, in
Richard S. Katz and William Crotty (eds.) Handbook of Party Politics, Sage Publishers, 2006, pp. 278-
90,

19
meetings/rallies, visits to hospitals and factories and charity events. In this way, it was

envisaged, the party would make contact with ever greater numbers of voters.

Members also spent considerable time on flyposting and leaflet distribution, making

Republican posters – usually of Sládek - a common site across in the Czech Republic

in quite small localities.44 Such activity was central to the party’s strategy and self-

image. In 1995, for example, Sládek told the party congress that ‘[t]he basis of our

success is still personal encounters with the public’, and noted with satisfaction that

three million pieces of propaganda and 300, 000 posters had been posted or

distributed by members in the preceding year45. It was a ‘top priority task to intensify

this activity in the coming period and involve as many members and supporters as

possible’.46 Such campaigning was justified partly as a response to establishment

attempts to deny SPR-RSČ access to the media. However, it was cited as a sign of the

party’s vital, dynamic popular character, which supposedly distinguished it from the

manipulative elite character of all other parties. As Sládek himself put it

‘The strength of the party is shown by the fact that we are capable of and

willing to organise this activity with our own forces and we do not have to

pay various advertising agencies large sums for distribution (roznos), like

all the other parties do, but can devote these to printing more material and

other indispensible activity’.47

In Sládek’s view the role of a ‘real’ political party was thus basically one of

continual mobilisation and campaigning:

44
See memoir by former SPR-RSČ headquarters worker. Andrea Cerqueirová. A Cerqueirová,
Republikáni: Šokující odhalení, Place of publication not stated: Unholy Cathedral, 1999, pp. 16-17.
45
M Sládek ‘Zhodnocení činnosti strany’ To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, Brno: SPR-RSÈ, 1995, p.
233.
46
ibid., p. 234.
47
M Sládek, ‘Zhodnocení činnosti strany’ in To, co mám na mysli, je svoboda, op.cit., p. 234.

20
For a political party the election campaign starts the same day that the

previous elections end. Otherwise it isn’t a political party, but a group of

layabouts (spolek lenochů).48

Without such campaigning, Sládek feared, organisations could lose their original élan

and goals, as activists became bogged down in organisation details or absorbed by

the sense of identity and status derived from politics. Mobilisation and the calling of

early elections - a continual Republican demand - were required to overcome this.

Continual mobilisation would enable ‘organism of the party to continually grow. (...)

[because] every organism either strengthens or weakens, grows or declines. (...) A

similar situation can occur with the organism of a political party.’49 The conception

was reflected in the absence of any intermediary or regional structures in the party,

which was deliberately organised on the basis of local branches and a national

headquarters.50

Charismatic leadership

Internal critics have also noted a fan-club like adulation of Sládek. One noted that the

party was split between politically-minded ideological ‘Republicans’ and younger

‘Sládek-ites’ drawn to the party leader’s charisma.51 However, SPR-RSČ followed a

quite deliberate strategy of combining charismatic leadership and with more

programmatic far right populism. The strategy was explicitly justified in Republika.

While successive internal opponents saw Sládek’s charismatic leadership as a

distraction from the party’s real political message, others argued that Sládek attracted

48
ibid., p. 236.
49
M Sládek, ....tak to vidím já, op.cit., p. 90. Reprinted from Republika, 3 February 1991.
50
See ‘Hlavní referát přednesený předsedou strany PhDr Miroslavem Sládkem’, op.cit.
51
Josef Donát, ex-Chairman of the SPR-RSČ organisation in Liberec. ‘SPR- RSČ funguje jako
fotbalový klub’, Lidové noviny, 17 June 1998, p.4.

21
public and media interest on the party’s beliefs, thus breaking the ‘media blockade’

on the party. The Chairman’s charisma was, they argued, itself an important source of

attraction to the alienated in society, ‘young people, who will determinedly follow

‘‘their Sládek’’ because they are nauseated by all this so-called velvet’.52 Charismatic

leadership and a ‘well-founded programme’ were thus mutually complementary.53

The decline of the Republicans

The Republicans were able mobilise members and (see polling data in table 2) support

over a period of years. Their failure to re-enter parliament in the early elections of

June 1998 despite having performed strongly two years earlier and mounted a costly

and apparently effective billboard campaign puzzled contemporary observers. Their

disappearance from the Czech political scene seems all the more puzzling given that

the late 1990s were a period of economic stagnation, marked by heightened awareness

of corruption and high levels of public discontent with established parties: the 1998

elections were called early after a party financing scandal had led to the collapse of

the second (1996-7) Klaus government.

In reality, however, the party was always electorally and organizationally vulnerable.

Its vulnerabilities became more marked as Czech party competition became more

structured and Czech parties shifted towards more professionalized party organization

and campaigned. The party’s more usual electorate consisted of younger, less

educated male voters with higher levels of support also found among the unemployed,

inhabitants of regions with multiple social problems such as North Bohemia and

members of the police and army.54 Analysis suggested, however, that Republican

voters tended to be protest voters expressing a general sense of insecurity and

52
A Kukelová, ‘K volbám’, Republika, no. 26, 26 June - 9 July 1992, p.3.
53
‘Zlikvidovat konkurenci?’, Republika, no. 11, 16 - 22 March 1992; A Kukelová , ‘K volbám’, op.cit.,
p.3.
54
Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. Op.cit., pp. 218-221.

22
frustration with the course of political and social transformation and alienation from

the, rather than specific economic grievances. Exit polling also suggested that the

Republican experienced inflows and outflows of voters (‘churning’). Key however, to

the party’s ability to cross the parliamentary threshold was its ability to attract

disproportionate support from first time voters and those who not previously

abstained, who tended opt for the party at the last minute. In June 1998, perhaps in

part because of the short interval between elections, the party failed to attract these

groups in sufficient numbers. At the same time the party suffered a heavy net loss of

voters to the Social Democrats who had emerged for the first time as a strong and

credible challenger to the centre-right in 1996 and whose vote increased markedly in

1998 (from 26 per cent to 32 per cent). This, analysts suggest, reflected both the

increasingly material concerns of some former Republican voters and the greater

credibility, professionalism and resources of the Social Democrats.55

However, SPR-RSČ also suffered from persistent organizational instability rooted in

its culture of activism, charismatic leadership and consequent lack of stable or

functional formal party structures. In terms of structure, the Republicans more or less

corresponded to the ‘movement’ model of organisation established by Civic Forum:

local groups loosely linked to a national leadership headed by a trusted ‘personality’.

Both from formal constitution of the party which gave its chairman substantial powers

and, it seems, from the selective bypassing, ignoring or manipulation of formal

procedures to maintain Sládek’s control of the party and exclude critical factions and

potential rivals when required.

55
Martin Kreidl and Klara Vlachová ‘Rise and Decline of Right-Wing Extremism in the Czech
Republic in the 1990s’, Czech Sociological Review, 8 (1), 2000, pp. 69-91.

23
However, informally Sládek exercised absolute power in SPR-RSČ and ran it through

a clique of trusted associates, friends and relatives. Sládek reportedly personally

decided the nomination (or removal) of conference delegates, candidates and

members of the party executive, all aspects of party policy, organisation and finance.

It was an unwritten rule that only Sládek and Party Secretary Jan Vik could speak on

behalf of the party to the media or in parliament.56 Internal critics described him as

‘totally irremovable’57and SPR-RSČ congresses as

56
See D Šrámek, ‘Konec doktora Sládka?’, Fórum, no. 23/1990 p. 4; ‘Republikánka trvdí, že Sládek
podvedl voliče’, Mladá fronta Dnes, 5 August 1996, p.2; Živili jsme Sládka’, Týden, 37/98, pp. 37-
39; ‘My Name is Petr, and I am a Recovering Republican’, The New Presence, September 1998, p. 28.
See also Cerqueirová, op.cit., pp.59-78.
57
Alena Mucková. Former Chairwoman of the SPR-RSČ in České Budějovice. ‘Národní blok bojuje
proti Sládkovi’ , Lidové noviny, 17 October 1996, p. 2

24
... simply farcical. Only people, whom the presidium could count on to

support the policies of the leadership and Miroslav Sládek could attend.

Congress participants were never elected by anyone, a list of them was

dictated from above.58

Membership records, for example, were so inflated and inaccurate – the party

routinely claimed a membership of 50, 000, while more realistic estimates would

suggest a figure of around 2000- 3000 in 1990s - as to make it impossible to collect

the signatures of two thirds of the party’s notional membership necessary to call an

Extraordinary Congress, which might challenge the leadership.59 Although the

charismatic leadership of Sládek was central to the SPR-RSČ party understanding of

itself and style of campaigning, Sládek’s personal dominance of the party, reliance on

informal methods to control and manage it, led to repeated factional conflicts

prompting several of activists to leave the party in several waves.60 Such defections

led to an accumulation of public revelations, the most damaging of which concerned

Sládek‘s nepotistic placement of his partner (later his second wife) and relatives on

the party’s electoral list in 1996 and his apparent misuse of party funds to finance his

own lifestyle.61 The latter accusation seems to have been especially electorally

58
Pavel Kadáš, Chairman of the SPR-RSČ organisation in Liberec.‘Vedení republikanů zahájilo
čistku’, Mladá fronta Dnes, 29 July 1998.
59
Josef Neřima former Chairman of the Republican local organisation in Chodov claimed that, when
approached, only 1 per cent of those on local membership lists confirmed they were party members. D
Tácha, ‘Živili jsme Sládka’, Týden, 37/98, pp. 37-39.
60
After the initial department of moderate alienated by Sládek’s radicalism in early 1990, the Radical
Republican Party (RRS) broke away after the 1990 elections and joined with other ex-SPR-RSČ
members (including two Republican deputies) who had left Sládek’s party in 1992 and 1995 to form
the Party of Republican and National Democratic Unity (SRNDJ), later re-named the Patriotic
Republican Party (VRS). VRS was joined by a further large group from SPR-RSČ in 1998 after
Sládek’s party lost its parliamentary representation. The VRS subsequently experienced an influx of
members from small neo-fascist groups such as the National Alliance and National Resistance, who
tried to re-name the party the National Social Bloc (NSB) and later Right Alternative (PA). See
Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. pp. 190-99, 225-238.
61
Živili jsme Sládka’, Týden, 37/98, pp. 37-9 and report in Carolina No 284, Friday, April 10,
1998.Online at http://carolina.cuni.cz/archive-en/Carolina-E-No-284.txt (accessed 1 June 2010).

25
damaging given the party’s regular attacks on the political class as personally corrupt

and self-seeking.

After the Republicans

In the two years following its party’s exit from parliament, despite the success as a

publicity stunt of Sládek’s invitation to Jean Marie Le Pen to visit the Czech Republic

in 1999, the SPR-RSČ rapidly declined and disintegrated, a process accelerated by the

failure of its candidates to make any impact in the first elections to new regional

authorities in 2000.62 When the party was declared bankrupt in 2001 because of its

inability to pay employees, remaining members regrouped in a new, smaller successor

organisation, the Miroslav Sládek Republicans (RMS) which attracted a new younger

group leading activists following the departure of the remainder of Sládek’s leading

associates from the old SPR-RSČ. RMS unsuccessfully contested the 2002

parliamentary elections and 2004 European election, polling 0.9 per cent and 0.6 per

cent respectively. In 2008 RMS merged with a small number Republican groups

linked with Sládek to form a new, identically named SPR-RSČ. In 2010 election the

‘new’ party fielded candidates in three of the Czech Republic’s fourteen electoral

districts polling 0.03 per cent of the national vote. However, despite a brief personal

comeback in local politics in 2003-4 when he became mayor of the small borough of

Útěchov on the outskirts of Brno, Sládek and ‘Republicanism’ had become irrelevant

even in Czech extreme-right electoral politics, where other more radical groupings

made the political running.

62
RMS polled less than 1.5 per cent in all regions except one (where it received 3 per cent)

26
In the run-up to the 2006 legislative elections five extreme-right and radical-right

groups including the rump RMS formed a tentative coalition – the ‘National Five’63.

However, it quickly disintegrated because of conflicts between its two largest and

most active components: the National Party (NS) which had first came to public

prominence in 2003 when it campaigned against EU entry and the Workers’ Party
64
(DS), a more radical group. Although both the NS and more recently the DS

enjoyed brief period of political momentum and publicity, neither succeeded in

making an electoral impact. In 2006 parliamentary elections, the NS polled only 0.17

per cent and in the 2009 European elections 0.26 per cent, did not contest the 2010

elections, having split in 2009, and seems close to bankruptcy.65 The Workers’ Party’s

aggressive protests in areas with high concentrations of Roma and paramilitary style

have recent gained it the limelight and a limited electoral base: it polled 1.07 per cent

in the European elections (theoretically entitling it to limited state funding) but was

dissolved by court order for unconstitutional anti-democratic extremism in February

2010. It re-formed as the Workers Party of Social Justice (DSSS) and contested the

2010 parliamentary elections, gaining a similar level of support (1.14 per cent). Mock

elections in schools showed high support for the party in some regions66. However,

despite journalists’ fears of a ‘Czech Jobbik’ in the making unlike in Hungary the

main new parties to benefit of the anti-establishment protest voting were the pro-

market anti-corruption party Public Affairs (VV), the conservative TOP09 party led

63
The two other components were the Czech Movement for National Unity (ČHNJ), National
Unification (NS)
64
Jakub Kyloušek and Josef Smolík, ‘Národní strana: resuscitace krajně-pravicové stranické rodiny?
(případová studie marginální strany před volbami 2006’ Středoevropské politické studie, 1 / VIII //
winter 2006. Online at http://www.cepsr.com/seps/clanek.php?ID=260 (accessed 1 July 2010).
65
‘Edelmannová odstoupila z vedení Národní strany’. iHNed.cz, 8 October 2009 and ‘Extremistická
Národní strana se topí v dluzích. Hrozí jí i zánik’, MF Dnes, 15 June 2009.
66
‘Výsledky studentských voleb: Jak dopadly školy i kraje’. Aktualne.cz, 14 May 2010. Online at
http://aktualne.centrum.cz/domaci/volby/grafika/2010/05/14/vysledky-studentskych-voleb-jednotlive-
skoly-kraje/ (accessed 1 July 2010).

27
by the aristocratic former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg and small extra-

parliamentary left-wing groupings.67

The Republicans and Czech democracy

Assessing the political impact of the Republicans on Czech democracy in terms of the

effects anticipated by Kaltwasser and Mudde68 is not a clear cut task: firstly, there are

no straightforward or obvious criteria for establishing the presence or absence of such

effects - or for quantifying them when they are judged to be present. Secondly, as the

electoral impact of the SPR-RSČ was rather limited it follows that many of the effects

hypothesized, both positive and negative, also be limited. An additional complication

is that for much of the period in which the Czech Republicans were an electoral force

the Czech Republic was not, strictly speaking, a new (or young) democracy but a

democratizing polity which was still consolidating the fundamental liberal-democratic

institutions, including the party system. This was certainly the perception of many key

political actors of the period, including the Republicans themselves. It may there be

better to speak of Republican populism as a corrective and/or threat to

democratization, rather than democracy. However a number of provisional

judgements can be made in terms of Kaltwasser and Mudde’s expectations.

67
See Andrew Roberts ‘2010 Czech Parliamentary Elections: Monkey Cage Election Report’, The
Monkey Cage, 1 June 2010. Online at
http://www.themonkeycage.org/2010/06/2010_czech_parliamentary_elect_1.html (accessed 1 jULY
2010)
68
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser and Cas Mudde (2010) ‘Populism Corrective or Threat to
Democracy?’. Unpublished framework paper.

28
Positive effects

As a pariah party subject to a cordon sanitaire throughout its parliamentary existence,

the SPR-RSČ had no policy influence (4.1.3), nor can it be argued that it helped

facilitate cross-class politics (4.1.4) : politics in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s

as in other post-communist CEE was not based on rigid historically based class blocs,

that a populist movement might bridge – communist societies lacked a conventional

class structure; the concept of class was discredited and overshadow by the focus on

democratization and social transformation; and the social structure was in flux,

resulting in a transition politics that was already highly dynamic and ‘cross-class’. In

this context, consolidation of the party system implied the elimination of populist

forces such as the Republic and the emergence as major actors of more conventional,

programmatic parties with a class-based vote (as, in fact, occurred with the electoral

advance of the Social Democrats in 1996 and 1998). Nor arguably did the

Republicans helped expand the political realm (4.1.5): in post-communist transition

politics most, if not all, aspects of economy, state and society were already politicised

and subject to political debate and political decision-making about how they should be

transformed into autonomous, non-political systems.

The Republican phenomenon did give voice to topics and groups that did not find a

voice in mainstream post-transition elite discourse associated with Civic Forum:

radical anti-communism, anti-German nationalism and anti-Romany racism (or the

‘Gypsy problem’) (4.1.1.) They also politically mobilised and politically engaged a

certain segment of Czech society – young, poorly educated, predominantly male –

which might otherwise have been politically disengaged (4.1.2). In a more underlying

sense, the party’s nationalism, authoritarianism and commitment to economic statism

and a large communist-era welfare state provided a means for many of these voters to

29
express their support for the values and policies of outgoing communist regime, while

in their own minds radically disavowing it. To some extent, especially in 1990-1, the

Republicans could also be credited with introducing – or, at least, alerting the Czech

public of – that democratic politics entailed conflict and competition, not (just)

consensus (4.1.6): for a brief moment in 1992-3 it seemed to some mainstream centre-

right politicians that the Republican far-right might be the main source of opposition

in Czech democracy.

Many of the statements in the preceding paragraph must, however, be markedly

qualified. The SPR-RSČ was, in many cases, far from the only outsider vehicle for

expressing such public sentiments ‘silent majority’ issues that elites did not wish to

acknowledge. Radical anti-communist views emerged into the public arena very

quickly through more establishment grouping such as the Confederation of Political

Prisoners (KPV), Club of Committed Independents (KAN) and, most notably, in

splits in Civic Forum itself, which propelled Václav Klaus to the chairmanship of the

Forum in October 1990 and led to the foundation of the centre-right Civic Democratic

Party (ODS) the following year. The Democratic Union (DEU) – founded in 1996 –

offered an additional vehicle for right-wing radical anti-communism devoid of the

SPR-RSČ’s racism and economic populism. Anti-German nationalism was strongly

expressed by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) although, as

suggested above, KSČM’s limited appeal perhaps gave SPR-RSČ more of a

representational claim. The only ‘silent majority’ issue that SPR-RSČ was unique in

voicing was that hostility to Roma – a sentiment prevalent across large parts of Czech

society both in 1990s and currently.

However, the party’s obvious extremism and lack intellectual and programmatic

sophistication made it a highly ineffective champion of such issues. The party’s

30
culture of extremism and paranoia, which served to mobilise members, also cut the

party off from broader Czech society, making it, in the words of former leading

Republicans, a ‘microcosm’69 and ‘a sect, which abhorred everything and everyone

around it’.70 The net impact of its activities was to produce a closing of ranks among

other parties and confirm the taboo status of its nationalist and racist views. Only

some years after the political collapse of the Republicans did the Civic Democrats

start to explore anti-German nationalism – albeit in somewhat different and usually

more measured terms than the SPR-RSČ. No party, with the exception of the far-right

groups discussed, no parties has ever taken up the Republicans’ harsh approach to the

Roma minority, although Czech public opinion continues to be hostile to Roma71 and

local politicians from mainstream parties running the Senate have campaigned against

Roma in thinly disguised form have often won landslide victories. At best therefore

the SPR-RSČ offered only the mildest corrective to democracy and the

democratization process in the Czech Republic in 1990s.

Negative effects

Negative effects are somewhat easier to enumerate, although here too the Republicans’

relatively weakness and isolation limited their scope and it would almost certainly be an

exaggeration to speak of them as ever being in any sense a threat to Czech democracy or

democratization. The Republican vision was certainly one which overwhelmingly stressed

popular sovereignty and devoid of any liberal concern for check and balances, minority

rights or the rule of law (4.2.1). Although the party’s was notionally in favour of liberal

69
An anonymous former leading Republican cited in ‘Sládkovo krédo: Věrnost, blbost a pracovitost’,
Lidové noviny, 18 June 1998.
70
Petr Vrzáň, a former Republican MP quoted in D Tácha, ‘Živili jsme Sládka’, Týden, 37/98, pp. 37-
8.
71
‘Poll shows poor relations between public and Roma’, Czech Daily Monitor, 13 May 2010.

31
rights and certainly favoured private property, it saw the relationship between state and

society in collectivist and paternalist terns: the role of the state was to care for the people

and guarantee popular living standards and well-being.72 However, the party’s lack of

power and influence left it in no position to circumvent such rights in practice (4.2.2) or

give Czech democracy a more plebiscitary character (4.2.5). Indeed, as various court cases

involving the party and its leaders show, legal provisions protecting the rights of others

were often enforced against them. The Republicans’ moralistic and radical discourse

demonizing and abusing political opponents and rejecting the legitimacy of the political

system did little to a culture of dialogue or consensus in Czech public (4.2.4). However,

given the Republicans’ pariah status, this role should not be exaggerated. Arguably – as

discussed below - there were deeper sources of highly moralized views of politics,

including moralistic radical anti-communism, in Czech society, which the Republicans

drew on, tapped into and expressed in specific form, but did not themselves shape. Finally,

as argued above the Republican almost certainly did, inadvertently narrow the scope of the

contraction of the effective democratic space (4.2.6) by leading mainstream parties to affirm

liberal norms regarding the (non-)ethnic character of the Czech state and the civic character

of Czech nationalism. Liberal readings of Czech nationalism were, however, sufficiently

strong and embedded73 that it is unlikely that the Republican challenge, even if it had been

less self-defeatingly crude and extreme, would have opened up political space for

conservative ethno-nationalist themes,

Overall, the role of SPR-RSČ loosely conforms to the expectations of Kaltwasser and

Mudde that weak populist forces in a weak (unconsolidated) new democracy play the

72
As Sládek put it, ensuring the security and basic living conditions of the people ‘... is not the right
but the duty of the state, if it is to have any reason for its existence’. M Sládek, To, co mám na mysli, je
svoboda, op.cit., p. 23.
73
For an in-depth discussion comparing Czech and Polish cases see Stefan Auer 2003. Liberal
Nationalism in Central Europe. London and New York. RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

32
role more of corrective than threat to democracy. However, the SPR-RSČ’s political

isolation and lack of political and intellectual credibility left it poorly equipped to

make any meaningful critique of the socio-economic exclusion, alienation and

disempowerment of some groups in post-communist Czech society or corruption and

inequality within the transformation process. It certainly offered no meaningful vision

of democratic reforms beyond the distant and fanciful prospect of its own coming to

power. The party’s most eloquent and effective statement was arguably therefore its

mere existence as a parliamentary force.

The Republicans’ outsider populism: Causes and context

Although it is difficult to judge the case of the Czech Republicans in isolation, it

broadly in step with Kaltwasser and Mudde’s hypotheses about wider contexts

determining the impact of populism on democracy, although it also raises some

question: the Republicans’ nationalist, anti-communist and welfarist ideology led the

party to radical positions rejecting the legitimacy of Czech democracy and advocating

the possible use of violence which – although never acted upon and containing strong

elements of hyperbole and farce – were potentially threatening to democracy had the

party had mass support (Hyp 1). Such discourses were clearly more exclusionary

rather than inclusionary – although as Sládek’s peaen to common ‘salt of the earth’

people left behind by dissident and communist elites shows, these did exist – centring

particularly on the Roma minority. This fits the expectation (Hyp 2.) that in a country

with low levels of socio-economic inequality populists will tend to adopt discourses

of (usually ethnic exclusion). However, it should be noted that apart from the Roma

minority estimated at up to 5 per cent of the population the Czech Republic also had

33
low socio-cultural diversity and was (and is) ethnically homogeneous. 74 This and, in

line with Kaltwasser and Mudde’s arguments (Hyp 5a) the generally high levels of

legitimacy enjoyed by the political establishment of ex-dissidents and technocrats

swept to power by the November 1989 Velvet Revolution and elected in a landslide

victory in free elections in 1990 may explain the Republicans’ limited electoral and

political impact. The Republican case also confirms the suggested association of party

system fragmentation and populist success (Hyp 5b): the rise of the SPR-RSČ in

1991-2 coincided with the a period of flux in Czech party politics following the

disintegration of Civic Forum and its containment and subsequent demise with the

consolidation of the party system in mid-late 1990s. It should be noted, however, that

openness’ of Czech party-electoral politics may also have been a braking factor on the

SPR-RSČ as - although it established a hegemonic position on the extreme right – it

faced a range of other parties and groups articulating an anti-establishment and/or

anti-communist message.

The single most important facilitator and shaper of the emergence of the Republicans

as a political force, however, was perhaps the transitional context of early

democratization. This blurred the distinction between a socially uniftying,

revolutionary politics of regime change based on popular mobilization and

conventional democratic competition. As Vladimíra Dvořáková has noted,75 in many

ways the Republicans’ illiberal populism was simply a distorted reproduced of the

74
The relative weakness of the Republicans and the Czech radical right also conforms to theories
relating radical right success to legacies of distinct types of communist rule – concretely to the
existence of ‘patrimonial communism’ - and the presence or absence of territorially concentrated
national minorities. Herbert .P. Kitschelt and Lenka Bustoková, ‘The radical right in post-communist
Europe. Comparative perspectives on legacies and party competition’, Communist and Post-
Communist Studies., 42 (4), 2009, pp. 459-8

75
Dvořáková.’The Politics of anti-politics?’ op.cit.

34
beliefs and assumptions of anti-politically inclined, civic-minded ex-dissidents, which

were central to Czech politics in the early 1990s. Like the Civic Movement (OH)

party which sought to continue the loose non-ideological politics of Civic Forum and

was close to President Havel, the Republicans’ believed in a ‘moral’ politics centring

on the personal qualities of individuals; a movement-party model of political

organization to mobilize citizens; were suspicious of traditional parties as potentially

corrupt and self-seeking (a persistent theme of Havel’s even before conventional

parties had formed), seeing conventional left-right divisions as artificial and contrived

and viewing politics as a ongoing process of anti-communist regime change

continuing the revolutionary process started in November 1989. While the

Republicans’ illiberal populist anti-politics were somewhat more successful than the

intellectual civic liberalism of OH, it proved a similarly transient and transitional

phenomenon, which was killed off by democratic and party system consolidation.

Conclusions

Despite some underlying issues of comparability, the Association For the Republic -

Republican Party of Czechoslovakia (SPR-RSČ) can – using ideologically based

typologies - comfortably be categorised as a party of the populist radical right sharing

common core feature archetypical West European parties of this type.76 Viewed in

terms of comparative populisms, it broadly meets the expectation of an outsider

populist in a new democracy in functioning as oppositional force. Its impacts on

Czech democracy seem to be those anticipated of a non-incumbent populist party and

to relatively evenly and ambiguously distributed: the most notable unexpected

76
Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right parties in Europe. Op. cit.

35
finding is that fluid and fragmented party system can be a disadvantage where there

are many new political organizations emerging as these can compete to voice

emerging ‘silent majority’ issues. However, even allowing for their always limited

electoral support, the Republicans’ lack of power; isolated pariah status (both in the

party system and in Czech society more broadly; dependence on loose,

charismatically-based organization; and inability to formulate a more

programmatically coherent and credible radical right populist discourse muted their

impacts on Czech democracy, both positive and negative. Simply, put, the party

lacked both intellectual and leadership to capacity to adapt and improve the strategies

that had brought initial build on its initial success.77 Key to understanding the party’s

role and its strengths and weaknesses as an organisation, however, is the transitional

context in which it emerged: the fluid formative period of 2-3 years following the

immediate transition from one regime to another in 1989-90 during which democratic

and market institutions were created and many new actors, including the SPR-RSČ,

briefly took the political stage.

77
A common view among former Republican supporters seems to be that Sládek’s egocentric
personality and authoritarian management made the party ineffective and undermined its credibility.
Right-wing Czech blogger D-Fens comments that ‘…for a short time the its chairman [Sládek] started
to go a bit loopy [začal magořit] and in 1996-8 the only people hanging on were those on good terms
with the chairman or who didn’t oppose him..’ Republikán(ka) Andrea’, 8 March 2007. Online at
http://www.dfens-cz.com/view.php?cisloclanku=2007030803 (accessed 1 July 2010).

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