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date: 21 August 2018

Summary and Keywords

The collapse of communism in late 1989 released the Czechs to freely consider and shape the social and economic structures of their country. The diverse formulations of the contours that a democratic and market competitive Czech Republic should take were closely intertwined with the visions of Europe and the European Union. Two prominent postcommunist politicians, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus, offered two perspectives. While Václav Havel stressed the cultural, socially liberal anchoring represented by European democracy, Václav Klaus initially focused on Europe as a market-liberal economic model. By the time Václav Klaus replaced Václav Havel in the presidential office, Klaus shifted his European rhetoric from economic to sociocultural matters, opposing Europe as a limitation on Czech sovereignty.

The discrete visions proposed by these statesmen are reflected in Czech public opinion, shaped between economic and sociocultural considerations. While Czech public opinion initially viewed the EU in economic terms, this changed around the time of the Czech Republic’s accession to the Union in 2004. By the early 2000s Czechs started to view the EU rather as a sociocultural project. It was also around this time that public support for the Union starts to significantly decline.

The European Union, as a multifaceted organization with an encompassing legal framework, has been both an inspiration and a scarecrow in Czech politics. While for Havel it has provided an imperfect but stable sociocultural expression of liberty and openness, for Klaus it was initially a symbol of free market economics, only to later become a much-opposed damper on Czech national independence. Klaus’s economic view dominated public understanding of the EU in the 1990s; however, the 2000s have seen a shift as the EU comes to be understood as a value-based, socially liberalizing project. While this development coincides with Havel’s vision of the EU, it, paradoxically, has led to increased public opposition to European integration.

Keywords: European integration, public opinion, Czech Republic, political discourse, EU accession, European Union, European Union politics

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