Demythologising the Czech opposition agreement

Andrew L Roberts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


FOR MANY OBSERVERS OF THE CZECH POLITICAL SCENE, 8 July 1998 was confirmation of their worst fears. It was then, two weeks after parliamentary elections, that the largest party in parliament, the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), announced that it had signed what came to be known as the 'opposition agreement' with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the second largest party in parliament. The agreement stated that ODS would allow ČSSD to govern alone as a minority government. In return, ODS would receive a number of parliamentary posts and the two parties would together adopt several constitutional amendments. The reaction of Czech political scientists and commentators was almost unanimously negative. President Václav Havel called the alliance 'unholy'. The head of the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-ČSL), Josef Lux, believed the agreement to be unconstitutional and vowed to contest it in court. Commentators even likened it to the communist-era national front governments. More specific criticisms focused on its negative consequences for stability, democracy and the fate of important social and economic reforms. Even at the end of its four-year run, political observers remained almost as negatively disposed to the agreement as they were at the start. This article argues that the opposition agreement has been misinterpreted. In the first section I show that the opposition agreement was not an unusual political arrangement, as many claim, but rather a fairly typical minority government of the kind which occurs frequently in Western Europe. In the second section I demonstrate that the causes of the agreement are not to be found exclusively in the deficiencies of Czech political culture and the personal enmities of elites. Rather, the agreement was largely a product of rational decision making. Finally, I argue that the negative consequences of the agreement have been exaggerated. Whether we look at its effects on the quality of Czech democracy-as I do in the third section-or more substantive policy outcomes-as in the fourth section-the agreement was far from the tragedy as which it has been portrayed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1273-1303
Number of pages31
JournalEurope - Asia Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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