Conference “20 Years of Czech Democracy”

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An international conference "20 Years of Czech Democracy" was held at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University on Monday 14 September 2009. Conducted in English, the conference was organised by the Institute for Comparative Political Research, International Institute of Political Science of Masaryk University and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Although it took place before the beginning of the academic year, the participation of several leading Czech political scientists, a panelist from the USA and well-known Czech researchers attracted an audience of several dozen of political scientists, as well as students of both this and other disciplines. All places were booked out before the registration deadline.

Held in the morning, the first panel, "Political Parties as Key Actors of the Czech Politics", was the one that attracted most academics from abroad. As in the case of other panels, it was chaired by a representative of the organising institution, in this case, Vít Hloušek. The first paper was presented by political scientist Sean Hanley from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. The theme of the paper, the position of right wing parties in the Czech political system, is one of Hanley's long term interests, and he has published a monograph on a related topic. This was followed by a paper on the development of Czech left and centre-left political parties, including their typology, by Miroslav Mareš (Institute for Comparative Political Research). Petr Kopecký from Leiden University presented  original research he undertook with his colleagues into the degrees of party clientelism in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Kopecký's presentation compared the Czech Republic with Bulgaria. Another academic visiting from the United Kingdom was Tim Haughton (University of Birmingham). Like Sean Hanley, Tim counts the Czech political parties among his long-term research interests; his paper centered on the critical junctures in the development of the Czech party system. Kevin Deegan-Krause, the only speaker from the USA (Wayne State University) was the last member of the first panel. Picking up on Tim's theme, Kevin focused in his lively presentation on the "remarkable stability" of the Czech party system, including the regular appearance (and disappearance) of smaller, "fifth" parties.

The first afternoon panel "Interest Representation in Czech Politics - Social Movements and Interest Groups", chaired by Ondřej Císař, featured four panelists who - each from their own perspective - considered the social movements and interest groups in the Czech Republic. The panel was opened by Steven Saxonberg (Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University) who considered the character, role and position of social movements in the country. Eline de Ridder, a PhD student at Ghent University, Belgium presented part of her dissertation on the effect of EU financial aid on the development of civil society in the Czech and Slovak Republics. The third member of the panel was Martin Myant (University of West Scotland), one of Europe's leading researchers on trade unions and employers associations. The panel was closed by Kateřina Vráblíková who presented the first results of ISPO's research project on social movements and their organisations in the Czech Republic.

The last panel "Elections and Voting Behaviour" was chaired by Maxmilián Strmiska, with four participating panelists from Prague and Brno. Tomáš Kostelecký (Institute of Sociology, Czech Academy of Sciences) focused on the development of social and spatial features of electoral behaviour in the Czech Republic. Anna Matušková offered another perspective on elections and electoral behaviour: after a short introduction, she familiarised the audience with the electoral strategy and campaign of the Czech Social Democratic Party. Klára Plecitá, a second representative of the Czech Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology on this panel, introduced the results of a research project concerning the relationship between electoral support for the main Czech parties and selected socio-economic characteristics of the electorate. The last panelist, Jakub Šedo (Institute for Comparative Political Research)  presented a paper focusing on discussions about electoral reform and configurations of the electoral system which have been suggested for the Czech Parliament's Chamber of Deputies.

After a short break the final speaker of the conference, Geoffrey Pridham (University of Bristol), presented his paper on the state of democratic consolidation in the Czech Republic. Whereas the previous panelists focused on specific aspects of Czech politics, Geoffrey Pridham gave a general overview of the development of the Czech political system in the past twenty years, emphasising the democratic consolidation since 1989. Although this last presentation only took place in the evening, it was followed by a lively discussion in which both panelists and audience participated, as with the previous papers.

The conference "20 Years of Czech Democracy" was a meeting both of political scientists and of other scholars interested the Czech politics. Articles based on the papers presented will be published in Czech scholarly journals in the coming months, allowing the wider academic public to familiarise itself with the data, research and opinions discussed at the conference.

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