New publication: Political activism in the Czech Republic

  288.gifCDK Publishers has issued new book by Ondřej Císař entitled "Political Activism in the Czech Republic: Social Movements and Civil Society in a Period of Transformation and Europeanization". Research on this publication was partially supported by the research project "Political Parties and Representation of Interests in Contemporary European Democracies". In the Czechoslovakia of 1989 the regime of real socialism collapsed, and a society began to appear that was not dependant on the whim of a paternalistic state, but the activity of free citizens. The possibilities opened up for autonomous political activism; important political players began to see a functioning civil society as a prerequisite for a stable democratic regime. This book focuses on the political element of organized civil society. Specifically, it responds to two concrete questions. First: what kind of political activism has been developed by non-parliamentary organizations and groups that make up today's social movements? This question is addressed by the first part of the study, which presents four types (modes) of activism as it has constituted itself since the beginning of the 1990s. One, the so-called transactional mode of political activism, which displays its specific characteristics on first sight, of which the most important is that it is not founded on mass mobilization, is analyzed in the following part of the book. This part takes up the second question of the study: what made it possible for transactional activism in the Czech Republic to develop at all? According to the results of the analysis presented here, it was established by international programs that after the fall of the communist regime assisted the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to build a democratic "civil society". Therefore the second part of the book focuses on the concrete impact of these programs, and later the influence of the European Union. Unlike the prevailing interpretation, which says that these programs and the pressure of the European Union contributed to the cooptation of non-state actors into the political system, this study concludes that on the contrary, they have helped in their stabilization as effective advocacy organizations.

 

Reviewers' comments

Using the Czech Republic as an example, Císař wishes to correct pessimistic opinions on the underdevelopment of civil society in the post-communist countries. He certainly got people's attention with the provocative theory that the professionalization of non-government organizations does not mean the decline of political activism. With its emphasis on representation as opposed to participation, Císař's book represents a new voice in the current discussion of the nature and future of democracy.

Pavel Barša, Charles University, and the Institute for International Relations

The book represents an important contribution to the empirically-grounded and theoretically-oriented study of political activism, civil society in the post-communist countries, and their transnationalization, and to the study of protest events.

László Bruszt, European University Institute

 

This book by O. Císař attacks the prevailing theory of civil society. Using modern methods it shows that civil society can be strong even when it is based on small professional groups instead of large mass movements. Císař convincingly casts doubt on the common argument that relying on foreign funding leads to cooptation of groups in civil society by the political system. On the contrary, he shows that foreign financing can in some cases lead to the radicalization of these groups.

Steven Saxonberg, Uppsala University and Masaryk University

 

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