A post today on The Final Word, a Prague-based email bulletin put out by a local English-language Czech news digest, got me thinking. Titled “PPF spreads its tentacles,” it’s about the secretive Czech corporate conglomerate PPF and how it uses its media holdings to advance its numerous business interests.
It’s long been the Czech Republic’s dirty little secret that it’s one of the bastions of corruption and crony capitalism in the middle of Europe. After basking in the glow of much of the 1990s as the “star pupil” of economic transition, it took a much deserved fall from grace starting in the late ’90s, with much publicized cases like Ron Lauder’s suit against the Czech Republic over TV Nova giving the little nation plenty of bad press. Vaclav Klaus, ex-premier and now the president, has often been complicit in securing the country’s dubious reputation, if not the very nexus of crony capitalism. Today, far-flung provinces of the empire like Estonia and Slovenia appear clean as a whistle compared to the Czech Republic.
This is all pretty old news. But what strikes me today is how this compares to other European countries.
I’m not an expert on the media and business sectors in other countries, but given what’s happened in Italy with Berlusconi’s consolidation of the media, does the Czech Republic simply have a bad reputation? What about France, which is hardly a model of transparency with its history of outrages at the intersection of politics and business?
Truth be told, I think the Czech Republic is still worse off in this regard than other countries. For one things, high-level corruption is more or less tolerated here — even expected, on some level. At least Berlusconi’s shenanigans have captured the attention of the outside world.