Trust Issues in Czechia

Czechia has recently experienced a crisis of trust. Citizens do not trust their politicians and public representatives. Is the situation as dire as it seems, and is there a possibility of addressing it?

Tourists in front of the Giants Gate (aka Wrestling Giants) in Prague Castle. Prague, Czech Republic
Tourists in front of the Giants Gate (aka Wrestling Giants) in Prague Castle. Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: iStock.com / Eloi_Omella

Trust is an essential component of any relationship. And the relationship of citizens to their government and state is no exception. But what happens when citizens distrust international organizations and government institutions? Is it a problem, and can that trust be restored? Recent sociological and opinion polls show Czechs no longer trust their government and state leaders. And what about the most significant paradox? Even the people who voted for them do not trust the current government.

Trust in national and international institutions

The Czechs are renowned Eurosceptics. A recent public opinion poll confirms this. Only 46% of respondents trust the European Union, and 50% don’t. Trust in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is higher by ten percentage points, with 56% of the population trusting it.

The poll also shows that the most trusted public institutions are the Police (74%) and the Army (68%). The banks share the same proportion of trust as the Army, which has thus far received the highest level of trust since 1996. But confidence in the armed forces and NATO is understandable whether we consider the factor of Russia’s war of aggression in eastern Ukraine or the successful presentation of the military in the public space.

Distrust in state institutions

According to the latest survey by the Centre for Public Opinion Research, the constitutional institutions of the Czech Republic are in crisis. Citizens’ confidence is not very high. And citizens’ trust is something every government needs when dealing with everyday problems. The lack of trust becomes a much bigger problem when the government has to deal with issues of a more global and acute nature. And it is these problems that the world is full of today.

So what are the numbers? Only 25% of citizens trust the government, which is composed of five coalition parties. Another 73% said they did not trust the government. The same is true of the Chamber of Deputies, where the government has a majority of 108 to 92. The Chamber of Deputies is trusted by 25% of the population, while 71% do not trust it.

The Senate, which has 81 senators, enjoys greater confidence. The Senate is trusted by 36% of respondents, while 58% expressed distrust. Of the top constitutional officials, only the newly elected President, Petr Pavel, is trusted. 58% of citizens trust him. Another 37% do not share this level of trust.

The closer to home, the greater the confidence

It seems that the closer public officials are to their constituents, the greater the trust they enjoy. Not only does this sound logical, but the data supports it. Thus, mayors enjoy the highest level of trust, with 65% of respondents trusting them. Only 27% of people distrust them. Local councils are similarly trusted: 62% to 29%.

In second place are regional governors and regional councils. They enjoy a similar level of trust of around 42% and distrust of 35%. However, while these are high figures, they are marked by a year-on-year decline. Confidence in governors has fallen by two percentage points year-on-year, while trust in regional councils has fallen by six percentage points.

However, this decline is an across-the-board problem for all the institutions mentioned. There was a two percentage point drop for mayors and a four percentage point decline for councils. Similarly, trust in the aforementioned higher constitutional institutions decreased by an average of two percentage points.

But that doesn’t change the fact that, anecdotally, the closer a politician is to the citizen’s home, the more trust they enjoy. But it makes sense; people feel that their mayor is facing the same challenges as them. On the other hand, MPs in Prague are more interested in themselves than in ordinary people, as many Czechs say.

To vote or not to vote – that is the question

A dangerous phenomenon of recent times, regardless of who is in government, is that the voters of the winning parties are rapidly losing confidence in the government they elected. The Czechs thus confirm what they have long been attributed to: that they are a nation of distrustful skeptics and cynics.

This distrust of the electorate is then reflected in the political struggle. Since the establishment of the independent Czech Republic in 1993, there have been 38 motions of no confidence in the government by the opposition, which is the de facto end of the elected government. Fortunately, this trend has no impact on voter turnout, similar to other countries in the Three Seas Initiative Region. Thus, the last turnout from the 2021 parliamentary elections exceeded 65%.

Trust is like paper. Once it’s crumpled, you can’t fully straighten it out. However, it is challenging to regain damaged trust. That is confirmed by the current government, which fights record levels of mistrust daily. And what could be the cure for this mistrust?

The first suggestion is to improve communication. The government has been trying to do that for a long time and has publicly declared this effort since 2021. But what is the result? A recent poll involving over 32,000 respondents on the news server Seznam Zpravy included a straightforward question: “Does the government explain its actions sufficiently and clearly?” The result? More than 96% said no.

How do we solve the crisis of confidence?

So what to do if the people do not trust their institutions? Not even sociologists can provide straightforward advice. But they agree on one thing. It is necessary to ensure that this trust in the current government does not turn into distrust in democracy as such.

Demonstrating accountability is also critically important. Governments should hold themselves accountable for their actions, acknowledge mistakes, and implement corrective measures. That is something the current government needs help with. And even though it seems to be a small step, it would help restore faith in their intentions.

Lastly, and most importantly, consistency in policies and actions is critical. The government should strive to fulfill promises and maintain a steady course, avoiding abrupt shifts that could breed skepticism.
By taking these steps, the Czech government can gradually rebuild trust and strengthen its relationship with the people they serve. In the end, the Czech government should remember the words of American President Abraham Lincoln, who said that every government should be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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