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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


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 SPRRSČ 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.

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 Unpublished framework paper.



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
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 2

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.


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 (accessed 1 July 2010) and Miroslav Mareš, Pravicový extremismus a radikalismus v ČR. Barrister and Principal“ Brno, 2003, pp. 188-191.


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 anticommunist 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

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.


Its highest vote in Slovakia was 0.34 per cent (in the ballot to the upper chamber of the Federal Assembly in 1992).

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).



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 anticommunism 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 cryptocommunist (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

The two blocs received similar, but somewhat lower support in elections to the two houses of the Federal Assembly 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.


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 reincorporation 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

.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.

Also-known as Sub Carpathian Ukraine or Ruthenia.

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).



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 1990 (Nov) 1991 (July) 1995 (Nov) 1998 claim 55 000 est. 2000-3000* claim 40 000 est. 2000
not known est. 500 +

Direct members claim 25- 40 - 000

No. of party basic units est. < 5

no data

est. 25+

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

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

. 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.


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,


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


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 1990 1992 1996 1998 2002** 2006 2010*** Number of votes 72 048 387 026 485 072 232 965 46 325 Not contested 1 193 Percentage 1.00 5.98 8.01 3.90 0.97 Not contested 0.03 Deputies (of 200) 0 14 18 0 0 0

*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

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



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 onepage 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
See Giovanni Sartori,. ‘Concept Mis formation in Comparative Politics’ American Political Science Review 64 (4), 1970 1033-1053.
17 16

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. Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right parties in Europe. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007


P Machonin et al., Strategie sociální transformace české společnosti, Brno: Doplněk, 1996, pp. 3143.



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 postcommunist 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 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 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

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. . 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 21

See J Fabrý, ‘Lze rozpustit republikány?’, Nová Přítomnost, 5/97, pp. 26-7.


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,

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).


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.


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 neoNazi groupings in the semi-lagel Czech the skinhead -culture and neo-fascist or neoNazi 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 SPRRSČ’s primarily national) unity and in serving and defending this common interest (against threatening exernal force or subversive internal alien minorities).

27 28

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


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 30

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


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

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



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

‘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.



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 ‘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 cryptocitizens’, 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, cryptoordinary people communist networks. Engine of ‘genuine’ change, ‘revolution’ regime Republicans

39 40

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


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.

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.



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 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 partymovements: 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 for a well functioning party capable of

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. 27890,



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 selfimage. 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:

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.



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

ibid., p. 236. 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.



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

A Kukelová, ‘K volbám’, Republika, no. 26, 26 June - 9 July 1992, p.3. ‘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.



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.


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.


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

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. 3739; ‘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



... 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

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 (accessed 1 June 2010).



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.


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


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 (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 promarket anti-corruption party Public Affairs (VV), the conservative TOP09 party led
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 (accessed 1 July 2010). 65 ‘Edelmannová odstoupila z vedení Národní strany’., 8 October 2009 and ‘Extremistická Národní strana se topí v dluzích. Hrozí jí i zánik’, MF Dnes, 15 June 2009. ‘Výsledky studentských voleb: Jak dopadly školy i kraje’., 14 May 2010. Online at (accessed 1 July 2010).
66 63


by the aristocratic former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg and small extraparliamentary 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.

See Andrew Roberts ‘2010 Czech Parliamentary Elections: Monkey Cage Election Report’, The Monkey Cage, 1 June 2010. Online at (accessed 1 jULY 2010)


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


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


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 centreright 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


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

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. 378. 71 ‘Poll shows poor relations between public and Roma’, Czech Daily Monitor, 13 May 2010.



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, 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

would have opened up political space for

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.


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


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


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 PostCommunist Studies., 42 (4), 2009, pp. 459-8 Dvořáková.’The Politics of anti-politics?’ op.cit.



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


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


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.

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 (accessed 1 July 2010).