COMM-ORG Papers 2003

Civic Disengagement in the Czech Republic:

How to Engage the Disengaged

By Daniel Padolsky

The George Washington University Center for the Study of Language and Education


~The Problem in the Czech Republic
~Past Civic Education Projects in the Czech Republic
~The Example of Poland
~About the Author


After graffiti gangs had broken into the train yards where the subway cars were housed and sprayed the outer shells of the trains, the overseer of trains noted that it was fortunate the insides had been untouched because all of the doors were locked. However, during the day, while the trains were running, the insides were sprayed as well, causing him to say, “The public has only itself to blame…. People must see them do it, but they turn a blind eye. Everyone is guilty.” (McClune, 1996).

This anecdote illustrates an instance of the need for social capital in the Czech Republic. With a high level of social capital, people who see graffiti “artists” spraying the insides of subway trains would not turn a blind eye, for they would feel the need to stop them; they would feel that taking action to stop the transgression was in their interests. In addition, the graffiti artists would be less likely to spray the walls because they would empathize with the feelings of the individuals whose walls were being painted upon and recognize the extent of their misconduct. The history of the Czech lands, however, has functioned to decrease the level of social capital by separating the citizenry into a multitude of more or less hermetic communities within one nation. Without interaction among a broad spectrum of individuals, in other words, instead of just among a select group, social capital does not develop. This problem is the result of a number of characteristics of the Czech states of Bohemia and Moravia that are both historic and current.

The Czech people once consisted of a population of mainly Catholics. The consolidation of Catholicism began in 1620 after the Austrian-Hungarians defeated a Protestant Czech army at White Mountain and, consequently, ejected all Protestants from the Czech lands. Because historically Catholic societies were hierarchical and authoritarian in nature, these societies seem to promote familial bonds that tie individuals to a private community of family and friends, and not the community at large. Furthermore, the subsequent ruling foreign entities of the Austrian-Hungarians, Germans, and communists, all consisted of authoritarian and hierarchical political systems that ran the Czech nation, systems that resemble the hierarchy and authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. In this respect, these political systems, combined with an education system that is authoritarian in nature, have served to reinforce the separation of private networks within society and debilitate the development of social capital.

Poland has had a similar history and corresponding similar problems. However, a recent study found that Polish youth expect to participate in civic affairs in much greater numbers in the future than in the Czech Republic, a finding that seems to confirm that the Poles have taken many positive steps since 1989 to raise the level of social capital in their society. Therefore, after discussing the historical background of the Czech lands and the problems facing their society, this paper will look at those steps taken by Poland, compare them to those of the Czech Republic, and then make recommendations so the Czechs can increase their level of social capital in the future—a future that may depend on it. First, though, we need to give a brief history of the Czech lands.


The Czech lands have been controlled by a foreign state for a majority of the past four centuries.  The Austrian-Hungarian Empire ruled over the Czechoslovaks from the early 1600s to the end of the first world war, the Nazis in World War II, and the Soviet Union (in effect) from 1948 to 1989. Even under the harsh oppression of foreign nations, however, the Czechs have been able to maintain the semblance of a culture.

Besides a fairly extensive mythology, Czech roots are recognized by some as beginning in the fourteenth century in the kingdom of Bohemia, with the rise of the Hussites. There, controversy erupted when preachers condemned the negligence of the church and the decline of public morality and religious devotion. Flouting orders from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, some of the preachers exhorted their followers in the vernacular, thus giving what began as a religious upheaval a nationalist flavor. Following in the footsteps of these preachers was Jan Hus, who, less than a century later, criticized the church and its hierarchy, and gave sermons only in the Czech language. His teachings started a popular reform movement that, eventually, led to his being burned at the stake. With this incident, anger against the Catholic Church hierarchy spread amongst the common folk and set off a revolution of sorts with the Taborites, a radical religious sect led by Jan Zizka, scoring victory after impressive victory in defense of their beliefs. Hussitism thus spread throughout Bohemia, but was weakened by the rise of many sects.

The Austrian-Hungarian domination of the Czechs began in 1620 when the Hapsburg Empire defeated the Czechs in the Battle on the White Mountain. After this defeat, the Hapsburgs decided they had had enough of the Czech people. Consequently, 27 Czech aristocrats were executed and 150,000 Protestants exiled. Then, in 1624, all non-Catholics priests were forced to leave the country. The peasants who remained in Bohemia were forced to give up their Protestant faith, and about three quarters of the Czech lands were seized and parceled out to immigrating Germans. The Czech currency was replaced by a currency with much less value. Some 80,000 of 150,000 Czech land holdings were abandoned. Of the 3 million Czechs who had once lived in the kingdom of Bohemia, only 800,000 remained. Czech traditions and culture were thoroughly suppressed.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was a national reawakening. During this time, the Czech culture was revitalized with a new interest in the Czech language and Hussitism among other things. This was the beginning of the interest in forming a Czech nation.  But it would take the defeat of their oppressors, the Austrian-Hungarians, at the hands of the Allies in World War I to free the Czechs and allow them to form a democratic state.

As World War I concluded, the Austrian governor of Prague was told politely by a group of men, later known as the “men of the 28th of October," that the Prague National Council would be assuming authority. That evening the Czechoslovak Republic was proclaimed. Thus, the Czechs were able to free themselves without even a shot being fired (Korbel, 1977, pp. 1-37). For the next 20 years, the Czechoslovaks would live in an era that is still considered by most Czechs to be one of the greatest in its history. According to Vera Olivova (1972), Czechoslovakia, during that era, was “more democratic and socially progressive than Britain herself.” The Czech state had a bicameral legislature in which its members were elected by direct vote and secret ballot. Proportional representation in Parliament produced a number of political parties, but also gave minorities a voice in Parliament. In that respect, the ruling governments were made up of coalitions, and this created stability by eliminating extremism (p. 9).

That all changed, though, when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938 and freedom again was lost for the next seven years. With the end of World War II and the Germans ejected from their country, Czechoslovakia was free again to resume its democratic state. Prior to the war, the West, particularly France and Britain, had signed the Munich Agreement giving Germany the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia, to avoid war. This region included “two thousand million crowns’ worth of cannon, machine-guns, and ammunition,” fortifications that would have given them at least a fighting chance against the invading Germans (Olivova, 1972, p. 257). The viewpoint of the Czechoslovak people was the West had given up their nation to the Nazis in exchange for peace. Consequently, after World War II ended, there was a great divide in relations between Western and Eastern Europe (Olivova, 1972, 259). With democracy restored in Czechoslovakia, the communists were actually voted into power in 1948, the only country of all the Central and Eastern European countries to do this. Once at the helm, the communists consolidated their power. Throughout the initial period of 1948 to 1962, what is known as the Stalinist years, there was “a total negation of personal freedom and social justice” (Korbel, 1977, p. 254).

In the 1960s, there was a brief respite when Dubcek implemented his policy of “socialism with a human face.” For a short period, the Czechs were free to criticize the government and there were calls for freedom, reform, and Party integrity. However, in 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and ended any idea of freedom the Czechs may have been considering. Normalization was called for and individuals identified as subversive were purged. Mass media was placed under strict control again.  Political reformers were removed from their positions and expelled from the communist Party. Intellectuals in the hundreds were arrested or forced to take menial jobs. Worst of all was the damage done to the morale of the people. Once again, as during the Stalinist years, the people attended daily work apathetically, became indifferent to public issues, and tried only to satisfy their material needs. As Korbel (1977) says, “The country fell once more into a deep, anesthetized sleep” (pp. 269-314). Thus, the final 21 years of communist rule were polluted by great oppression to the Czechoslovak people, an oppression that still affects them today.

With the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the “cloak of fear” (Naegele, 1999) that had been suffocating the Czech people was gradually lifted and replaced by a feeling of “brotherhood” and excitement (Havel, Klaus, & Pithart, 1996). To take the place of the broken down communist system, the Czechs opted for a capitalist democracy and elected a number of leaders of the revolution, including Vaclav Havel, the famed writer and dissident, to a majority of the positions in the government (Hadjiisky, 2001).

In a subsequent speech, Havel spoke of the need for the Czechs to ride the moment of comradeship among the people and get involved in civic life in the newly formed democracy. For citizens engaged in civic affairs would “not only improve pride in their country but also strengthen the democracy.” In addition, it would instill a “love thy neighbor” attitude, in other words, “a feeling of solidarity between people and love for one’s community.” On top of that it would “encourage ordinary people to participate in government, thereby strengthening relations between the citizenry and their state.” Havel hoped that the enthusiasm for a democratic nation would flow on into the future and an engaged citizenry would result (Havel, et al, 1995).

Soon after, members of the Civic Forum (CF) that were disappointed with the direction the government was taking formed a new party, the Civic Democrats (ODS). Vaclav Klaus, the leader of the party, espoused a different democracy than that of Havel, a majoritarian or representative democracy. In this type of democracy, the people would remain outside of civic and political affairs and allow the elected officials to take care of them. Such officials would be professional politicians that would take care of the political situation for the people. With promises to improve the Czech Republic’s capitalist system, ODS gained victory over the CF and other political parties in the 1992 elections (Hadjiisky, 2001). Since then, little has been done to involve the citizenry in civic affairs.

The Problem in the Czech Republic

The problem in the Czech Republic is the low level of civic participation. In order to understand this problem and how it has come about, this paper will first look at the theory explaining its development. Following the theory will be a look at the history of the Czech lands, including present day Czech Republic, to show how its history has not been conducive to the formation of high levels of civic participation. Finally, the effects of low civic engagement will be described to provide evidence of its existence.

As stated by recent scholars, to produce a strong democracy, the citizenry must participate in the operations and institutions of civic and political affairs. But for this to happen, they must have what have been termed intellectual capital and social capital. Intellectual capital is an understanding of the processes and principles of democracy and the mental capability to apply them to civic affairs (Patrick 1998, Hirsch 1996; Nie, Junn, and Stehlik-Barry 1996). Ordinarily, intellectual capital is accumulated in schools via the curriculum of a history or civics course. Some believe intellectual capital the most important aspect to engage citizens in politics (Milner, 2001); on the other hand, others argue that only when intellectual capital is joined with social capital can education effectively generate students who engage in civic and political affairs (Patrick 1998). Social capital is defined in this case as a combination of civic engagement skills and civic virtues, i.e., personality traits required for the productive engagement of citizens with their government and civil society. Some of these traits are tolerance, compassion, honesty, social trust, concern for the public’s welfare, patriotism, and respect for others (Patrick, 1998). According to Ralf Dahrendorf (1969), these civic or public values are important for the construction of a civil society; they act as a lubricant in society, making relations among people easier, and as an example of how people should interact with each other. Opposed to public values, he says, are private values that cause resistance in individuals to civic matters and develop personal standards for perfection within the individual, standards that distance oneself from society. In other words, a citizenry with mainly private virtues will not have the social foundation, i.e., social capital, to form a civil society. In regards to public values, Coleman (1988) seems to agree with Dahrendorf. He explains that social capital consists of the structural elements of a society that ease or restrict relations among individuals. Social capital develops within the relations of people social networks, trust, and norms of reciprocity. The more individuals are involved in various networks of association, the more probable it is they will get to know and trust each other to such an extent that cooperation for the benefit of each results. Furthermore, when individuals interact in many settings, they will develop the propensity to, depending on the situation, impose sanctions or reinforce norms that encourage actions for the good of all.

In the Czech Republic, intellectual capital seems to be widely present. According to a 1999 civic education study done by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Czech 14 year olds scored significantly higher than the international mean on total civic knowledge (p. 55). This finding likely has a relation to the fact that 51 percent of Czech teachers reported that knowledge transmission is emphasized most in their classrooms[1] (p. 169). Additionally, the percentage of Czech 14 year olds reading newspapers about their nation, watching the news on television[2], and listening to the news on the radio (which Henry Milner (2002) would call indicators of the nation’s “civic literacy,” another term for intellectual capital), were all higher than the international mean (p. 119). Thus, intellectual capital seems, if not extensive, at least available, especially among students who expect to attain high levels of education—for 50 percent (!) of the variance in civic knowledge in that study can be predicted by expected level of education (p. 152). However, according to the same study, elements of social capital are not nearly as evident. For example, the percentage of Czech 14 year-olds who expect to participate in the collection of money for a social cause or charity as adults, in other words, students who have a voluntary disposition, a classic characteristic of social capital, is only 28 percent. This number was 31 points less than the international sample and the lowest of all 24 countries participating in the study (Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald, & Schulz, 2001, p. 124).

One cannot blame the Czechs for this situation; Czech history has not been conducive to the development of social capital. Quite possibly, the origin of this problem is that historically the Czech population was mostly Catholic, a hierarchical and authoritarian institution that fosters familial values instead of communal. This combined with the great oppression of the communist era, the Czech education system, the lack of civic efficacy, and possibly even the recent market economy, has produced a society based on a foundation of private values, the kind of values that impede the growth of a civil society.

Today, we can see the consequences of these private values in the lack of participation in civic organizations and affairs. Moreover, without this participation, serious issues have evolved that not only repulse the public from involvement in civic affairs, but also threaten to destroy the Czech democracy.

Social capital does not develop well in a Catholic society, and, historically, the Czech lands consisted mostly of Catholics (Mendelsohn, 1983, pp. 2-3). Robert Putnam, in his study of southern Italy, explains the effects of the presence of the Catholic Church, stating that it emphasizes “vertical bonds of authority,” meaning the people learn “the traditional values of obedience and acceptance of one’s station in life,” and not “horizontal bonds of fellowship” (Putnam, 1993, p. 107). By instilling the values of obedience and acceptance of one’s place in life, followers are much less likely to buck the system. For in such an atmosphere, aggression is viewed as an act of rebellion, thus a passive people develops. In addition, without “horizontal bonds of fellowship,” interpersonal trust (trust among the general population), a key civic value, does not develop well. The level of interpersonal trust for historically Catholic nations is usually much lower compared to the historically Protestant nations (Inglehart, 2000, pp. 89-90). Instead of interpersonal trust, what develops in historically Catholic societies is a familial trust, meaning trust among a private network of friends and family. Edward Banfield (1958) refers to this as “amoral familism,” a loyalty and obligation to a private network that places one’s actions beyond the moral scheme of society. Therefore, a historically Catholic society can have difficulties developing public values (and without them, there is little social capital).

For most of the history of the Czech lands, Catholicism was able to survive even though the nation was not entirely free. However, after 1948, when the communists were voted into power, they attempted to eliminate all forms of religion in Czechoslovakia. For the next forty-one years, the Czech environment would be oppressive in many aspects. Throughout this period, the Czech people were pressured into joining the communist party and taking part in activities showing their “loyalty” for the communist society, including taking part in civic organizations and celebrations. As long as they kept up these pretenses, they were able to lead relatively stabile and comfortable lives.  This meant they could attend university, receive promotions, and gain other advantages. However, those who did not lived in fear and distrust. On a whim, Czechs, in general, could be taken away to be killed, put in prison, or fired from their job. And spies were everywhere. At work, at school, at the local bar. At any given moment, a person could be turned into the police for sedition.[3] Jolyon Naegele (1999) writes, “Fear (during the communist era) forced most Czechoslovak citizens to lead a double life: a private life of home and weekend cottage, of trusted friends and personal interests—and a public life: job and daily contacts with people who might possibly be working for the secret police.” Mauch (1995) says also, in discussing the education system during communism, “There was always the possibility of informers in classes or among colleagues, and they could report on the presence of incorrect thinking and teaching.” The only “free” places were among the trustworthy friends and family of their private network, at the family cottage, or out in the forest.

Especially after 1968, the communist state was oppressive. Those who had the courage to challenge the system were either imprisoned, killed or exiled. The effects of the oppressive nature of the state were so strong that most Czechs felt that dissidents who riled the system and were consequently punished got what they deserved. In fact, in 1977, when a number of Czechs got together and wrote Charter 77, a human rights petition, only about 1000 people signed it, while even more people were coerced by the ruling regime to condemn it even though they had not read it.

The nation’s communist history reinforced, possibly even amplified, the lack of civic culture caused by Catholicism. Newberg and Carothers (1996) write, “Even before the communist state declined, its critics—central European dissidents most articulately—highlighted the breakdown and in some cases the absence of civil society as perhaps the most serious consequence of the totalitarian state.”

There are several reasons for the amplification. First, the state forced the Czech citizens to enter civic life; this had the paradoxical effect of causing them to retreat from it. Because Czechs were pressured into “volunteering” to be a part of civic affairs and associations, for example, to join the communist party, they developed negative feelings about getting involved in civic and political organizations (United States Agency for International Development, 2000).

In addition, because of the great fear associated with public life, there was little trust among citizens in the public sphere. As a result, the people used a strong network of personal relations as “an effective institution for survival” (Lipset & Lenz, 2000). Valkova and Kalous (1999) mention this in their paper “The Changing Face of Civic Education in the Czech Republic.” She writes, “Communities (during Communism) were relatively closed and based on non-political interests (e.g. groups of families organizing trips together and sports groups). The members of these communities knew each other very well, and the resulting high level of trust allowed for clear and honest expressions of ideas.” Instead of fighting the fear, Valkova and Kalous explain that most people adopted a passive approach to the regime, “escaping into privacy without regret.” Thus, we can see that, faced with an oppressive and totalitarian regime, the people escaped into the safety of their private network, subsequently, reinforcing the private values that had developed from Catholicism.

There are some indicators that this private network still exists today. First, in 1998, a study discussing trends among youth in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Hungary, found that “[o]verall, young people were not inclined to see their community as a caring and cohesive place…. The mean scores on this variable were quite low in each country. If a sense of social cohesion is the integument of a civil society, this result paints a rather pessimistic picture from the youths’ point of view” (Macek, Flanagan, Gallay, Kostron, Botcheva, & Csapo, 1998). Additionally, as noted earlier, the formation of strong private networks fosters what Edward Banfield (1958) calls “amoral familism,” which, he explains, results in greater corruption within a society. This is likely the reason for the extensive amount of corruption in the Czech Republic. Monika Pajerova, a Czech state official for ten years, believes that “[c]orruption [in the Czech Republic] is omnipresent” (Mudranincova, 2001). Police admit to being corrupt (Swoger, 2002); scandals involving politicians occur so regularly that no one is surprised by them anymore (Stroehlein, 1998, February 20); from 1990 to 2000, the percentage of crimes involving theft, fraud, and embezzlement rose 650 percent (Czech Statistical Office, 2001); and the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index has recently dropped the Czech Republic farther down the scale. In fact, in response to the recent publication of the latter, the Czech government, for the second time in the last four years, is claiming it has had enough of corruption and will begin a massive program to rid the country of it by “send[ing] agents to try to bribe civil servants and catch them red-handed” (Horakova, March 28, 2002). The great amount of corruption seems to support the idea that private networks still exist in the Czech Republic.

Exacerbating matters further is the public education system, a system that has not changed dramatically for nearly a century and, in some key manners, reflects the strong presence of the Catholic Church in the Czech lands. Prior to the communist era and during it, teachers used the lecture method to teach their students about facts. (Valkova & Kalous, 1999). Even as recent as 1996, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that “in 80 to 85 percent of cases linked to some of the essential aspects of educational developments such as curriculum or teaching methods, the system ha[d] not yet really changed” (OECD, 1996, p. 19). Therefore, the lecture method as of only a few years ago was still being used by a majority of teachers. Paulo Freire (2000) calls the method of lecturing to students the “banking concept” of education. He states that the teacher’s role in using this method is “to ‘fill’ the students with the contents of his narration,” which, subsequently, turns the students into “automatons” (pp. 72-73). Therefore, lecturing students, coupled with the use of discipline to force students to behave well, would develop the “vertical bonds of authority” that Putnam discusses in regards to the Catholic Church. Additionally, both the Church and the Czech education, specifically the civics courses during the communist era, used dogma and propaganda to instill the value of obedience to the state and communist party and Church (Mauch, 1995). Hence, Czech education has maintained stringent vertical bonds of authority.

Curriculum changes after 1989 that eliminated communist propaganda may have reinforced the use of the lecturing method. With the fall of communism, the need to transform the communist curriculum in schools for a democratic society was all too apparent. Thus, to take its place, three accredited curricular programs were created for schools to choose from; each program “set[s] the content and conditions for achievement through the selection of individual subjects, allocation of class time and the creation of content outlines for lessons.” Schools must choose one of the three curricula or design their own, which, if they do, must then be accredited by the state[4]. The idea behind the new curricula was to give schools the freedom to choose from a number of possibilities, a freedom they did not have in the past. However, the thematic layout of the content of the curricular programs was done in such a manner as to “lead[] many teachers and authors of textbooks to present the subject in a traditional way, for example, in the form of a lecture and without sufficient linkage between individual units” (Valkova & Kalous, 1999). Therefore, though the curriculum has been changed for a democratic society, the content layout reinforces lecturing, the teaching method more appropriate for a hierarchical, authoritarian communist society.

The market economy of present day Czech Republic may be making matters worse. For Czechs have found themselves working more and much harder since the fall of Communism and with more work comes less time for their families, thus, family bonds may be loosening to a degree. A potential positive side of this consequence may be that familial trust is decreasing and, conversely, interpersonal trust is on the rise. As for the former aspect, the only evidence of this seems to lie in the fact that youth, which may have been kept in check by their family and the harshness of the system during the communist era, now have more time and freedom to go off and be with their friends, and the results have been growing numbers of graffiti gangs and more youth crime. From 1990 to 2000, youth crime rose 190 percent (Czech Statistical Office, 2001). On the other hand, there seems little to no evidence of an increase in interpersonal trust. With familial bonds weakening though, it is quite possible that the Czechs have reached a prime moment to instill communitarian bonds for Plato believed that eliminating parental bonds would create an egalitarian society (Plato, 1992).

Because of the youthful history of democracy in the Czech Republic, the lack of successful experience with practices typical of democracies is likely debilitating their civil society. Without this successful experience, it is probable the Czechs lack civic efficacy, meaning the confidence that taking actions to deal with issues facing them will result in successful remediation of those issues. As of yet, there has not been a study done on the degree of civic efficacy among the Czech population; however, one study found “adolescents’ beliefs in the efficacy of individual initiative” to be high in the Czech Republic compared to Bulgaria and Hungary (Macek, et al., 1998). Though sounding at first like positive evidence of the presence of efficacy among the youth, the fact that “efficacy in individual initiative” referred to the likelihood that working hard would result in making a good living detracts from the finding. When money is involved, the Czechs seem to have confidence, but not in civic affairs that have intangible rewards. In another study, there was a possibly more revealing finding: the lack of trust for parliament and political parties. Only 15 percent of the people trust political parties and 16 percent Parliament (Rose & Shin, 2001). With low trust in these democratic institutions, the citizens have little impetus to get involved with them or work with them to make change happen for there is a good possibility the people feel that involvement will not do them any good. It is possible that the lack of civic efficacy is the result of disappointment with the democratic system. With all of the corruption, and other negative issues facing their country, it has been suggested that the people feel let down because, initially, they had such an exaggerated amount of enthusiasm for their natal democracy (Stroehlein, 1998; Pehe, J., 1998). Stroehlein says, “So many people seem to have hoped for so much, and now it seems that as far as the economy, state bureaucracy, corruption and decency are concerned, not much has changed in the past ten years.” Thus, faced with a multitude of overwhelming issues and a seemingly inept state, it is possible the Czechs have regressed to a feeling common during the communist era—impotence, a close relative of civic inefficacy. This would not be surprising considering the Czech government, since the 1992 election of ODS, has encouraged a majoritarian form of democracy, in other words, a form of government in which the politicians take care of political affairs with little or no input from the citizenry.

Because of all these factors, the Czechs almost unilaterally do not participate in civic affairs or associations. According to a 1998 survey, 88% of Czechs said they were freer now to join an organization than during communism (Rose & Haerpfer, 1998). But just how many were volunteering to help out? First, of the approximately 44,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Czech Republic, more than a third of NGOs admit they have problems recruiting volunteers. Second, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), only about 20 percent of Czechs volunteer occasionally to help a non-profit organization (USAID, 2000). In addition, according to the 1997 World Values Survey (WVS), out of a maximum total of nine voluntary organizations, the Czechs average 1.07 memberships per person, a number slightly above the 0.82 mean of post-communist countries, and 19th out of a total of 27 surveyed countries. This compared to the mean for older democracies of 2.6 memberships per person. Further evidence of the lack of civic participation in the WVS survey is only 7 percent of Czechs are members of a political party, as opposed to the mean of 18.1 percent for “older democracies,” 5 percent members of environmental organizations, as opposed to 14.6 percent, 9 percent members of professional organizations, as opposed to 21.7 percent, 4 percent members of charitable organizations, as opposed to 26.1 percent, 17 percent members of church or religious organizations, as opposed to 52.1 percent, 5 percent active church members, as opposed to 18.6 percent, 24 percent members of sports or recreational organizations, as opposed to 43.7 percent, 9 percent members of educational, cultural, or artistic organizations, as opposed to 27.1 percent, 16 percent members of labor unions, as opposed to 34.9 percent (Howard, 2000).

These disparities substantiate the lack of engagement of Czechs in voluntary organizations. Especially telling of these numbers (and reinforcing the reason only one-third of Czechs say they have more influence on the state now than during communism) is the percentage of Czechs who are members of political parties. This number combined with the fact that only 15 percent of the people trust political parties seems to portray a nation of people willing to leave the government to elected officials with little input from them (Rose & Shin, 2001). Moreover, a disturbing thought is the average number of organizational memberships may be in the process of declining. Comparing the 1997 WVS to the 1999 Post-communist Organization Membership Study (PCOMS) survey, which asked for the number of memberships in Russia, Eastern Germany, and Western Germany, it was found that Russia had declined slightly, from 0.66 to 0.45, a change of –0.21; Western Germany had also declined a bit, from 2.12 to 2.00, a change of –0.12; and Eastern Germany had declined a substantial amount, from 1.44 to 0.78, a change of -0.66 (Howard, 2000). Although the Czech Republic is not Eastern Germany, their proximity, similar communist past, and similar percentage of voluntary organizations per person[5], suggest that the Czechs may experience a similar decline.

The consequences of the lack of civic participation seem clear. With little involvement in civic affairs and organizations, issues such as youth crime and graffiti, which might be solved by an active citizenry, grow out of control. Adding to this problem is the reliance on the police to handle these issues. During communism, if a criminal act was committed one could rely on the police to take care of it because police or spies were practically everywhere. Take, for example, the spread of graffiti. In certain parts of the city, wall upon wall is covered with the hastily sprayed-on tags of graffiti “artists.” The graffiti is so widespread that the police can do little to stop it and the public just stands by and does nothing. The same goes for the growth in the number of anarchists and neo-Nazis, race-related attacks, youth crime, and police and political corruption. Without an engaged citizenry, these issues continue to grow worse. The neo-Nazi problem is especially poignant. Late at night, neo-Nazis board streetcars and go about spitting and screaming in the passengers’ faces; neo-Nazis will also wander about at night in search of Roma, otherwise known as gypsies, or any other darker-skinned person to beat up and torture or kill[6]; and they will get into large street fights with anarchists just for the fun of it. These types of activities go on unabated for the people turn their heads and act as if nothing were happening[7]. Without the assistance of the public, the government can only take a more heavy-handed approach to solving an issue. For example, in the case of the spread of graffiti, the state has been forced to increase the consequences for committing the act of graffiti. In fact, at one point, though the measure did not pass, the government was considering punishing all sprayers caught for defacing a monument with eight years in prison, a punishment equal to that of rape or murder (Prague Post, 2001). Another example is, because of the increasing number of youth crimes, the state is considering lowering the punishable age from 15 to 12 years old (P. Padolsky (instant messaging, May 13, 2002)). With little help from the public, the state feels cornered into taking a more oppressive approach to solve such issues.

The Czechs’ lack of involvement in civic organizations means that these organizations, along with the civil society in the Czech Republic, will be weak, and this, in turn, will have a number of consequences. With weak civic organizations, state officials do not feel nearly as much pressure to pass popular measures as they would in a country with strong civic organizations. In the Czech Republic, for example, currently, universities are free, meaning students can attend them without paying any fees. However, these same universities are reportedly in poor condition, and the government does not have the money to improve them. A suggested solution was to charge tuition, and polls show that as much as 60 percent of the people would have accepted tuition for universities; nevertheless, the measure was voted down in the lower House of Parliament (Horakova, February 14, 2002). In addition, without strong civic organizations, decisions made by government officials seem to be accepted by the people because there is a lack of a people’s voice to speak out either for them or against them. For example, the state’s decision to split Czechoslovakia up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia was done behind closed doors while Vaclav Havel and other political players were calling for a referendum on the matter. Only a year earlier, in 1991, a poll had revealed that only 15 percent of Slovaks and 9 percent of Czechs were in favor of creating two separate states (Batt, 1993). However, the referendum never happened and thus the country was divided in two. The Czech Republic’s entry into NATO was also ratified by Parliament and the President with “virtually no public debate on the issue” (Stroehlein, September 13, 1999).

With low participation in voluntary organizations, it should not be surprising that only 33% of the Czechs say ordinary people have more influence now on government than during the communist era, while 42% say it is the same, and the remaining 25% say it is less than during the communist era (Rose & Shin, 2001). Thus, two-thirds of the people feel that they have the same or less influence on the government as they did when the Czech Republic was a communist state. For these people the political system has changed very little, if at all. Without strong civic organizations, the citizens have little influence, and thus, to some, the result is that the nature of society has not really changed.

The presence of strong civic organizations can function as emergency brakes when problems in society become too much for the state to handle. For example, the increasing number of anarchists and neo-Nazis is a problem that could be curtailed by a society of citizens that took action against them, such as forming a civic organization like the Guardian Angels to persuade these youth to pursue activities that are more socially acceptable. However, instead, the state has had to resort to a propaganda campaign aimed at ridiculing, in particular, neo-Nazis. Additionally, the lack of strong civic organizations creates a void between the people and the state, a void that makes corruption in general a greater risk, such as in 1997, when a major political scandal rocked Czech society—the Social Democrats’, the ruling coalition, imploded over a scandal involving questionable funding practices (Pehe, 1998).

Supposedly, because of the lack of a strong civic voice, the integration of the Czech Republic into the European Union (EU) has been delayed. Andrew Stroehlein (July 26, 1999), of the Internet-based periodical the Central Europe Review, writes that “[p]ublic complacency and apathy are actually damaging the project of European integration itself.” He says that the Czech intellectuals assumed that entry into the EU was natural and normal based on the history of the country; subsequently, little was done to motivate the public for the support needed for entrance. In addition, the Czech leadership did little to pass laws through Parliament that would bring the Czech Republic into harmony with EU law. He concludes by saying that “the Czech public’s feeling of powerlessness led to resignation, and that in turn led to apathy on the part of the politicians.”  Without involvement in civic organizations, the voice of the citizenry is diffused or possibly even misrepresented by the more outspoken of critics, while the rest of the population feels powerless to do anything. This same feeling of powerlessness was surely common during the communist era in the face of oppressive government that ruled without the consent of the people. Thus, Mr. Stroehlein makes a good point, but never asks why the Czechs feel powerless in their democratic society—it is because they are not participating in civic affairs.

It has been said that the Velvet Revolution was not the destruction of a political system, but the placement of one political system on top of another (Pehe, 1998). Thus, underneath the democracy in the Czech Republic lies a communist foundation. This is not to say that the Czechs are not enthusiastic about their democracy, for they are, as some studies reveal (Feierabend, Hofstetter, Hofstetter, Klicperova, & Lautenschlager, 1999). However, knowing now the lack of citizen engagement in civic life, one has to question whether or not that enthusiasm for democracy was in actuality enthusiasm for the freedom to pursue wealth for it seems that the Czechs may have a superficial or limited understanding of the meaning of a democracy (Valkova & Kalous, 1999). For even educators, when asked to define a democracy, could only describe the process of voting for government officials (Hamot, 1997). Thus, other aspects of a democracy, aspects taken for granted in nations with long-held democratic traditions, are possibly considered unimportant or ineffective because of the Czechs’ lack of experience with them.

Of the typical democratic practices, the Czechs have most confidence in voting and protesting in mass numbers. Three times in the past four years, the citizenry have come together in large numbers to protest certain infractions, including government control of a television station (freedom of speech) (Johnstone, 2001), the ruling government (Debnar, 2000), and the government’s failure to relinquish promised funding to a university in disrepair (Carey, 2001). These kinds of protests, though certainly a positive sign, only take place in times of crisis and, thus, sporadically and consequently do little good other than to remedy an immediate problem. What is needed to give their democracy a stronger foundation is more consistent involvement in civic affairs spread out over a longer period. As for voting, the percent of the Czech population has decreased since 1990, but remained fairly stable.  In 1990, the percentage voting was 97 percent; in 1992, it was 85 percent; in 1996, it was 76 percent; and in 1998, it was 74 percent[8]. This year 75 percent of the people are expected to vote (Padolsky, P. (E-mail on May 12, 2002)). Interestingly, although approximately 75 percent of Czechs voted in the Chamber of Deputies elections (1996 and 1998), when a Senate was added to the Czech government, only about 33 percent of the population voted. The newness of the Senate seems to have given it less legitimacy than the Chamber of Deputies, which was found in the original government of the Czech Republic. This seems to be more evidence that the Czech people lack civic efficacy, for they only participate in democratic practices they have had experience with—and the Senate is not one of them.

And the future does not seem to be promising. According to the IEA Civic Education study, the percentage of students participating in civic organizations is, for the most part, low. These numbers are: 13 percent of 14 year-olds have participated in some form of student government, as opposed to the international mean of 28 percent, 1 percent in a youth organization associated with a union or political party, as opposed to 5 percent internationally, 13 percent in an environmental organization, as opposed to 15 percent internationally, 2 percent in a human rights organization, as opposed to 6 percent internationally, 22 percent in a group conducting voluntary activities to help the community, as opposed to 18 percent internationally, 18 percent in a charity collecting money for a social cause, as opposed to 28 percent internationally. Although these numbers reflect an inactive student population, though not entirely inactive, the percentage of students conducting voluntary activities to help the community is a bit higher than the international mean and, thus, one positive sign. On the other hand, the expectations of students to participate in future civic activities seems much worse off in comparison to other countries.

According to the IEA Civic Education study in 2001, 65 percent of Czech 14 year-olds plan to vote in national elections when they are adults, while the international mean is 80 percent, 28 percent collect money for a social cause, as opposed to 59 percent internationally, 29 percent collect signatures for a petition, as opposed to 45 percent internationally, and 28 percent participate in a non-violent protest march, as opposed to 44 percent internationally. As for illegal practices, the Czech youth remain below the international mean in all areas as well. The numbers are the following: 12 percent of 14 year-olds expect to spray-paint protest slogans on walls, as opposed to 18 percent internationally, 7 percent block traffic as a form of protest, as opposed to 15 percent internationally, and 7 percent occupy buildings as a form of protest, as opposed to 14 percent. Consequently, it seems current low participators will not participate in legal or even illegal civic activities in the future. The overall expected participation in political activities score was 9.4, significantly lower than the international mean of 10.

In a democracy, lack of civic involvement tends to strengthen the desire not to get involved in civic affairs. That is, the lack of civic involvement allows issues facing the country to deteriorate, and this results in a general disappointment among the populace with the political system that reinforces the characteristics causing civic disengagement in the first place. For instance, the more graffiti sprayed around a neighborhood or the more contact with skinheads, the more people feel a sense of hopelessness the situation cannot be solved, thus, the greater likelihood those people will just give up and do nothing about it. The subsequent inertia of the people may send democracy in the Czech Republic spiraling downward to its destruction.

Past Civic Education Projects in the Czech Republic

Since the revolution in 1989, the Czechs have looked to their democratic past to transform their education system. Subsequently, replacing the communist indoctrinating civics course was “a traditional liberal arts course, covering discipline-based topics in philosophy and history” (IEA Civic Education Study 1999). In addition, European and American projects have worked with Czech educators to implement in schools the tools necessary to ensure the encouragement and maintenance of democracy (Hlebowitsh & Hamot, 1999). These projects include: the Phare Program, Project on Civic Education for the Czech Republic (CECR), Civitas, and We the People . . . Project Citizen (this is the full title). Some aspects of these projects include (1) Teaching in a democratic manner; (2) Making the school environment democratic; (3) Processes for the evaluation of results; (4) Civic education standards and curriculum for teachers; (5) New workbooks and textbooks for different types of schools; (6) Educating civics teachers in methodology and content; and (7) Training teachers on school management and specific aspects of civic education, for example, decision-making processes, roles of citizens, and conflict resolution.

The Phare Program: This program involved an estimated three to four hundred teachers from all over the Czech Republic and resulted in the writing of teachers’ manuals and textbooks for middle school students (grades 6-9). At the same time, workshops and seminars were held to assist the teachers in applying these materials in the classroom. In addition, workshops and seminars also were held for school boards and directors to inform them of the changes in civic education so they would be able and willing to support the changes. At the conclusion of the project, a national conference was held in which over three hundred teachers attended along with notable figures from the private and public life of the Czech Republic and guests from the Council of Europe (Polechova, Valkova, Dostalova, Farnbach, & Bahmueller, 1997). The Phare program also used funds to establish the Civil Society Development Foundation (NROS). NROS gives out grants to organizations such as civic associations, Czech foundations, and a variety of church organizations in order to develop the Czechs’ democratic political system. The grants are for microprojects such as extracurricular programs, lectures and seminars, the monitoring of conflicts concerning minority groups, and the creation of information networks (Czech Press Office, 1998). Currently, there is no record of any evaluations to assess the degree of success of this program.

CECR: The aim of this program was to develop instructional materials for Czech secondary school teachers. After Czech educators met with American counterparts for three months, a teacher’s manual and a number of lesson plans and activities were produced to provide a systematic civic education for Czech students in the third form of secondary schools (ages seventeen and eighteen). The project concluded in the Czech Republic with teachers attending workshops and a final conference, and the dissemination of instructional materials and project publications (Polechova, et al, 1997). During the Czech educators’ visit to the United States, they were asked to identify the competencies of effective citizenship. Hamot & Hlebowitsh write that the Czechs were “quick” to identify these competencies, which included “thinking rationally, writing clearly and persuasively, abiding by the attitude of social tolerance, and demonstrating complete command of basic facts and principles of certain relevant content areas” (Hlebowitsh, & Hamot, 1999). Three years later, Dr. Torney-Purta (1999) evaluated the project, seeking to find out the quality of developed lessons and how well they were received by students and teachers alike.  Interestingly, she reports that “the teachers were not very accurate informants about student interest or how involved the students were in a particular lesson.” Additionally, according to her, it seemed the Czech teachers were “somewhat unclear” about the meaning of “active citizenship skills” and how the lessons dealt with them. She noted that, in the future, a list identifying citizenship skills, including, but not limited to, American formulations, should be identified for their consideration. Some teachers had difficulties placing the lessons in the framework of the country’s national civics curriculum. She makes a crucial point when she concludes that, for future projects to succeed, they should include the Czechs in them from the very beginning, meaning, in this case, those teachers who are going to employ the curriculum should be given proper training to ensure these problems do not happen in the future.

Civitas: In general, this program allows leaders in civic education from different countries to exchange information in hopes of improving the democratic education in their respective nations. In the Czech Republic, Civitas included seminars for educators on the principles of a constitutional democracy, civic educators from both the United States and Czech Republic visiting their respective schools and nonprofit organizations to observe model programs in government and civic education, Czech educators giving lessons to American teachers, American materials being translated into Czech, and the development of curricular materials.

We the People . . . Project Citizen: This is probably the most innovative and comprehensive project. Originally an American program, it was translated and adapted for use in the Czech Republic with middle-school-aged children. This civic education project is designed to develop students’ interest in civic affairs and their ability to competently take an active role in them. A significant aspect of this project is that teachers are only supposed to make the students follow its method—the actual results of it are in the hands of students for they select an issue to tackle then go out into the community to research issues and take action on them (Polechova, et al., 1997). Of importance is, according to the Center for Civic Education (2002), the creator of this project, only about 2,000 students in 35 schools from around the Czech nation have participated in the project since 1997. Although no evaluation of this project has been done yet in the Czech Republic (one is supposed to be done in the near future), the results in other nations, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and the United States, have been very positive. An evaluation of the project in Bosnia-Herzegovina concluded that students “improved their understanding of public policy and gained a feeling of their own importance as citizens in their communities” (Soule, 1999). Significantly, in an evaluation of Project Citizen in Indiana, Latvia, and Lithuania, the evaluators concluded that the project could transfer in its effectiveness to different nations around the world, and it “had a positive impact on one civic disposition, [the] propensity to participate” (Vontz, Metcalf, & Patrick, 2000). Since the “propensity to participate” is a major weak point of the Czechs, this could be a crucial finding.

A lesson learned from these projects that seems important is the need for input from the Czech participants. Polechova, et al. (1997) stated that “[t]he aid of Americans was not always effective…because they tended to ignore Czech traditions and ideas in favor of their own.” Additionally, in regards to Project Civitas, Dr. Torney-Purta (1999) reached a similar conclusion. As noted earlier, she said that, for future projects to succeed, they should include the Czech people in them from the very beginning. Thus, even if transforming the Czech education experience to one that is more civic-oriented is the solution to developing the civic-mindedness of a culturally inactive people, it is important to recognize the need to transform it in such a way that Czech traditions and ideas are taken into account; this will make for a smoother transition in methods.

On the other hand, we can see that, according to the IEA Civic Education Survey, the future level of participation will probably not be high. For what reasons might this be happening? An interesting problem occurred when Czech educators were asked to describe effective citizenship skills. If you will recall, they were quick to respond with “thinking rationally, writing clearly and persuasively, abiding by the attitude of social tolerance, and demonstrating complete command of basic facts and principles of certain relevant content areas” (Hlebowitsh & Hamot, 1999). These skills, besides social tolerance, have little relation to behavioral objectives such as greater civic participation. In addition, knowing that the Czech education system is based on knowledge of content, we might imply from their quick responses that methods of teaching would not change. For many teachers might conclude that civic participation can be taught by lecturing, like any other knowledge, and opt not to use the new methods. Furthermore, the teachers’ not understanding the meaning of citizenship skills does not bode well for the success of the objectives of CECR. This coupled with the fact teachers were not aware of the students’ reactions to the teaching methods should send a strong warning to policymakers that thorough in-service training should include developing this awareness. Overall, these factors decrease the potential effectiveness of the curriculum. For if a teacher is not aware of the students’ interest in the new methods and materials, there is a distinct possibility the curriculum will be scuttled for a return to a reliable method, for a return to lecturing. Moreover, an additional problem is the teachers had difficulties fitting the materials in the framework of the Czech national civics curriculum (Torney-Purta, 1999). If this is true, it may be the result of too much content being taught, thus leaving no room for the new materials. In a supplementary role, what degree of effectiveness will they have?

The Example of Poland

To evaluate the overall effectiveness of Czech efforts, we should look at the successful actions of the Polish. Their actions might shed some light on what the Czechs need to do in the future to improve their efforts at strengthening their civil society.

Poland is similar to the Czech Republic in many respects. Both consisted historically of mostly Catholics, though much more of the population in Poland was Catholic than in the Czech lands. Also, a portion of the Czech population once rebelled against the Catholic Church, while no such rebellion has ever taken place in Poland. While for over a century, from 1795 to 1918, Poland was controlled by a foreign power, namely Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the Czechs were controlled by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for almost three hundred years. With the dismantling of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, both countries gained independence and became democratic nations. But Poland’s democracy seemed to be weak and after only 8 years of factional fighting and corruption the government was overthrown. In fact, the coup d’etat resulted in an authoritarian regime that would last until the German invasion in 1939 (Embassy of Poland, 1998). On the other hand, the Czech democracy lasted the entire 21 years between world wars and seemed like it would have gone on indefinitely if it had not been for the Nazi invasion. At the end of World War II, both countries had experienced much misery, but, whereas quite a bit of the Czech nation remained relatively undamaged (Prague was Hitler’s beloved city so he protected it from destruction), Poland had been ruined. Damage costs for Poland at the end of the war were estimated at a thirteen times (!) the amount of the national income for 1938. In addition, in 1946, the population of Poland consisted of less than 24 million, a drop in 30 percent from the prewar year of 1938. Consequently, Poland was a fragile and vulnerable country. After putting down a scattering of resistance, the communists, with the assistance of Soviet troops, were able to take control of Poland. The communists ruled Poland from 1945-1989, but they would never have the same degree of control over the population as in Czechoslovakia, because the citizenry resisted with mass protests when faced with desperate circumstances (Biskupski, 2000).

Because of the oppression of the communists, Poland has had many of the same problems as the Czech Republic, including relatively high levels of intellectual capital and low levels of social capital. As for the former, according to the IEA Study in 2001, 73 percent of Polish 14 year olds read the newspaper, 91 percent watch television news broadcasts, and 71 percent listen to radio news broadcasts. These numbers are fairly similar to the Czech stats, which read 69, 94, and 60 respectively, all above the international mean for the twenty-four countries (p. 119). Probably the most significant indicator of intellectual capital in the same study is total civic knowledge; Polish 14 year olds scored the highest of all surveyed countries with 111, a score even higher than the Czechs (p. 55). Hence, Polish youth seem to be high on the scale for intellectual capital. On the other hand, as in the Czech Republic, social capital seems to be lacking. Remy and Strzemieczny (1997) describe the problem as the following: “the legacies of communism and Poland’s more distant history (of control by foreign powers) remain and continue to pose significant challenges for civic education and democratic consolidation.” These legacies consist of “widespread alienation towards public life and serious underdevelopment of ‘public virtues’—that constellation of attitudes and values related to people’s ability to work together and participate effectively in the political system and civil society.” Consequently, the history of Poland has caused the need to develop public virtues or social capital, just as in the Czech Republic. However, when talking about the history of Poland and social capital, we need to recognize the role of Catholicism.

The Poles had been faithful Catholics for over nine centuries when the Germans invaded Poland and World War II began. The war, as mentioned earlier, had a tremendous effect on the Polish nation, maybe more so than the other countries involved. One obvious effect was the death or removal of Poland’s cultural minorities (i.e., Jews, Romany, and Ukrainians) resulting in a religious uniformity that did much to strengthen the position of the Church in the lives of the people (Biskupski, pg. 136). In fact, the Church has gained such a strong foundation in Poland that there is a tendency to associate Catholicism with Polishness. Thus, the phrase ‘Pole is Catholic,’ meaning good Poles are Catholics, has been with the people for a long time (Janowski, 1999). In Poland, the Catholic Church has “traditionally regarded itself as the defender of the national heritage” (Biskupski, M.B. The history of Poland. Pg. 136). Therefore, even though the Church certainly fostered vertical bonds in Poland, as in the Czech case, it might have also served as a rallying point for those Poles who associated attacks on the Catholic Church with attacks on their national identity. In other words, the Church may have debilitated the Polish civil society in general, but at least elements of the population may have also found inspiration in its presence to join together and attack the communist regime—even in light of communist oppression. If this is true, then it would explain the presence of the dedicated few who have made increasing the level of civic participation their prime goal since 1989.

The communist era had many of the same effects on the Poles that it had on the Czechs. Besides the lack of public virtues mentioned earlier, just as in the Czech Republic, civic work took on negative connotations because it was often misused by the communist government. Termed “social activities,” the communist government made it mandatory for students to take part in haphazardly organized activities, such as helping farmers or cleaning parks (Owad, September, 1998). Marta Zahorska-Bugaj, a professor of sociology at the Warsaw University in Poland, describes the problem facing the nation as one of definition. She believes that the most harmful legacy of the communist system is that many fundamental concepts that are important to understanding political, social, and economic issues have lost their true meaning, thus making communication between people difficult. She explains that the concept of “civic education” is defined as indoctrination, “citizen” as someone who has no influence over the governing body, “democracy” as in reality a dictatorship, “politician” as someone who is free to do as he/she desires, and “economy” as a sphere of society under government control (Zahorska-Bugaj, 1997).

According to Jacek Jakubowski, 50 years of living under communist rule has left the youth of Poland apathetic. In fact, he says, to take part in community activism used to be a crime. Other effects of communism in Poland are a lack of teamwork, a lack of social cohesion, an aversion towards political parties, and the atomizing of the Polish society caused by mistrust during the communist era. Furthermore, there is a lack of efficacy among the youth; consequently, Jakubowski says, out of confusion and frustration, they resort to crime, drugs, and other illegal activities (Day, 1999). Thus, we can see that communism in Poland had many of the same effects on the Poles that it did on the Czechs.

During the communist era, schools in Poland were very similar to those in the Czech Republic, emphasizing centralization and uniformity. The aim of education was to create “a good, socially minded member of a ‘classless, egalitarian, and collective’ society.” In the classroom, as was traditionally expected, students were supposed to be passive, obey the teacher and memorize factual knowledge. Teacher education was based on Soviet pedagogy and used to indoctrinate and select teachers (Owad, September, 1998). The school system itself was the scene of ideological indoctrination[9], the imposition of “communist morality,” and attacks on religion. (Janowski, 1999). Consequently, when the communist government fell in 1989, educators had no idea how to teach democracy to the student population and had to start again.

In 1990, the Ministry of Education eliminated the former social studies and civic education textbooks and curricula. To take their place, the ministry began a project to create new textbooks and curricula for a democratic society. Ever since then, a number of individuals and teams have worked to implement this task. The main objectives of this “core curriculum” only consist of skills the students are to acquire; therefore, teachers have plenty of room for their own initiative (Janowski, 1999).

In 1991, as a means of reforming education, the Polish Parliament passed the Education System Act. With this act, the state gave up its monopoly on education and agreed to decentralize educational and decision-making activities in the future and has since then been implemented. In addition, the act stressed student rights and granted local officials the right to run their own schools, parents involvement in schools through membership in school councils, and students the opportunity to participate in student government.

Created in 1991, the Education for Democratic Citizenship in Poland (EDCP) is the largest civic education project in Poland. Poland’s Ministry of Education asked for EDCP to be created in cooperation with The Ohio State University, the Merson Center, and the ministry. In 1994, Jacek Strzemieczny left the Ministry of Education and created the Center for Citizenship Education (CCE) to continue his work with EDCP and to start additional civic education projects.

Soon after Poland became a democracy the Ministry of Education identified civic education as one of its top priorities, and invited Remy to advise officials on the opportunities for civic education in Poland. EDCP’s long-term goals were: (1) developing the civic-mindedness of Polish educators so they can create their own programs in the future; (2) using American resources and expertise in civic education to assist Polish educators with any identified needs; (3) contributing to a national discussion among educational leaders, university scholars, and Polish teachers on civic education and democratic citizenship; (4) building strong and lasting relations between chief civic educators in Poland and the United States; (5) establishing civics courses in all Polish schools within the next decade.

To teach democratic skills and ideas to students and increase the skills and knowledge of the teachers, EDCP believes that simple, yet conceptually sophisticated instructional materials are the key. With these materials, EDCP does not have to wait for the next generation of teachers, but can retrain those already in place. In other words, while the teachers are using these materials with their students, they are learning as well. Two main curriculum products developed by EDCP are Law and Civic Education: Lesson Scenarios for Secondary Schools and Civic Education: Lesson Scenarios (for primary schools, grades seven and eight). Both curriculum products contain over 100 lessons that have easy to use step-by-step instructions; in addition, each lesson uses at least one active teaching and/or learning strategy such as simulations, role-playing, and debates. Because, historically, curriculum materials in Poland consisted of lists of subjects to be taught, these teacher-assisted lessons have been a hit among Polish educators and are in great demand.

In order to disseminate the Civic Education: Lesson Scenarios curriculum, a project called “Civic Education in Local Government Schools” was set up. The decentralization of the education system in Poland gave the CCE the opportunity to gain the support of local governments in disseminating the primary school curriculum to the teachers and schools in those regions. As a result, the CCE can enter into contract with regional governments to provide schools and teachers with the necessary materials and instruct the teachers on how to use them, and the local governments agree to pay teachers for their additional teaching hours (for this course) and for in-service training. As of the school year 2000-2001, about 200,000 students were participating in the EDCP civics course for primary schools. In addition, a similar program for secondary schools was in the works.

A survey of three hundred teachers using the primary school civics course conducted by the Ministry of Education found that the popularity of the lessons lies in the fact the methods are different than traditional methods and approximately 40 percent of these teachers emphasized that the new methods were especially stimulating for students whose participation in traditional subjects is normally poor.

When possible, CCE and EDCP have also conducted teacher education activities, even though many teachers do not see the importance of transforming their schools or behavior and do not have an understanding of the basic principles of democracy. Not only have they worked at educating teachers already in the classroom, but CCE and EDCP have gotten involved with preservice teacher training as well so as to influence future generations of educators.

EDCP and CCE have also worked together to develop several civic participation projects. These include: Civis Polonus: A close-up look at Polish politics and government, Young People Vote, Mock trial program, and “The River Speaks” project. The idea of Civis Polonus (Polish citizen) is for students and their teachers to experience politics by having them meet with governmental leaders and view political activities as they take place. In its first run in 1994, students had conversations with policy-makers, visited important governmental institutions, and participated in a simulation on the Senate. Young People Vote teaches students the importance of voting and the role of the citizenry in elections. In addition, it organizes committees that conduct activities at secondary and primary schools that parallel those of the real candidates. The students coordinate the election, count the votes, and inform the National Youth Electoral Committee of the results. When the results are in, the national press reports the student results alongside the outcome of the actual elections. Developed in collaboration with the Polish Ministry of Justice, the Mock trial program involves students competing in mock trials to increase their knowledge of legal procedures and the law. “The River Speaks” is an interdisciplinary project involving students studying various aspects of a river and then reporting their findings to policy makers

EDCP’s boldest goal was to have civic education established in all schools in Poland. Finally, in 1997, it happened: the Ministry of Education implemented a core curriculum plan that included civic education as a key subject for all students at all grade levels to take, giving it equal status with other more traditionally important subjects, like science and math.

To assist educators implementing the newly developed civic education materials by disseminating information and offering support, a network of seven Centers for Civic and Economic Education was established in Gdansk, Lublin, Wroclaw, Olsztyn, Krosno, Krakow, and Warsaw. Financial difficulties forced the closure of three of the centers, and the center in Warsaw in 1996, with substantial support from the European Commission, became the European Center for Civic Education and Information. Still, the other centers continue to conduct seminars, inservice workshops, courses, and other development activities for schools and teachers throughout Poland (Remy & Strzemieczny, 1997).

The results of the Polish efforts to strengthen their civil society seem to be very positive. Students expect to take part in civic activities in far greater numbers than Czechs. According to the IEA Civic Education study, 88 percent of Polish 14 year-olds plan to vote in national elections when they are adults, compared to 65 percent for the Czech youths (the international mean is 80 percent), 57 percent collect money for a social cause, as opposed to 28 percent for the Czech youths (59 percent internationally), 48 percent collect signatures for a petition, as opposed to 29 percent for Czech youths (45 percent internationally), and 43 percent participate in a non-violent protest march, as opposed to 28 percent for Czech youths (44 percent internationally) (p. 119). Additionally, the overall expected participation in political activities score was 10.5, significantly above both the international mean of 10 and the Czech youths’ score of 9.4 (p. 122). To understand the significance of these numbers, we should compare them to an older democracy, such as the United States. The American youths scored nearly the same as the Polish: 85 percent plan to vote, 59 percent to collect money for a social cause, 50 percent collect signatures for a petition, and 39 percent participate in non-violent protest (p. 119). Since the Polish youth seem to be on the rise in respect to civic engagement, it is possible future surveys will show Poland surpassing the United States.

Greater participation expectations among youths is a positive sign of Poland having a potentially strong democracy in the future. Certain other findings in the IEA survey may reveal the reason for the high number of Polish planning on participating in future civic affairs. First, 99 percent of Polish teachers have participated in in-service training sessions, while only 41 percent of Czech teachers have (p. 161). Therefore, in the Czech Republic, it seems a majority of teachers are given more freedom to develop on their own, thus possibly they do not have the training necessary to increase the attitudes of students toward civic engagement. And, in fact, the OECD reported that “[w]hat is sorely lacking [in the Czech Republic] is a comprehensive conception of in-service training, the interlinkage of qualification growth, promotion and salary scales, as well as a network of institutions and specialists providing these” (OECD, 1996, p.55). Another possibility is the instructional methods used by teachers. According to Polish teachers, on a scale of 1-4, 1 meaning "never and 4 "very often," group work was used 3.1, projects 2.9, role-playing 2.7, and controversial issues discussions 3.2. On the other hand, these same areas for the Czech Republic are 2.2, 2.1, 2.2, and 2.7, a substantial difference (p. 164). Subsequently, greater use of group work, projects, role-playing, and controversial issue discussions, may act to improve participation. Another potentially significant statistic was the percentage of students whose teachers agree that teaching civic education makes a difference for students’ political and civic development. For the Polish, it was 96 percent, almost all; while for the Czechs, it was 53 percent, about half (p. 170).  Thus, quite possibly, the more who believe in its importance, the more relevance the subject has for students.

With the Polish success in mind, I would like to make some recommendations to the Czechs if future attempts at improving their civil society are to be considered.


For the Czech government to create a strong civil society, important steps need to be taken. First, their philosophy regarding the formation of a civil society needs to change. In the following quotes, we can see the philosophies of both Poland and the Czech Republic in dealing with the need for civic engagement following the 1989 revolutions. The first is from the Polish Deputy Minister of Education. He writes:

When I took the post of Deputy Minister of Education in the first non-communist government of Poland in Fall 1989, I was sure that two fields required special care and urgent action. These were the teaching of foreign languages and preparing young people to function in a democratic society. For years I was convinced that there is a strict connection between democracy and the learning process. I was certain that the building of democracy is a creative process, one which involves long-term action. I was convinced that one should not wait passively for society itself to mature into democracy in a country in a country now enjoying the opportunities for independence and growth (Janowski, 1999).

With this statement, we find recognition of the important factors needed to cultivate a strong civil society: the link between education and democracy, the recognition of it being a long-term process, the need for action, and a determination to make change happen. It seems to be the essence of the Polish democratic spirit and may be part of the reason for their success.

Conversely, we can look at a statement from Vaclav Klaus, who was the Czech Prime Minister from 1992-1997 and may be elected again in June of this year. During a discussion on Czech television in 1994, Mr. Klaus was asked to define a “civil society.” His reply was the following:

I am a little confused by the term “civil society.” It seems to have become a hollow phrase that I would rather not use. [In the elections] we voted for something else. We voted for a democratic society whose bedrock is individual freedom. That which lies above the citizen is derived from him. Therefore, the term “civil society” seems to me a bit superfluous…. I do not think that a civil society is different from a democratic society. If necessary, I will fight with all my might to preserve the term “democratic society.” Instead of “civil society,” I would rather say “society of free citizens” who cooperate, assemble, and organize how they wish. For me, the term “democratic society” is enough.

Regarding Mr. Klaus’s final statement about the Czech Republic consisting of “a ‘society of free citizens’ who cooperate, assemble, and organize how they wish,” this is an important aspect of a democracy, but what if the citizens are not cooperating, assembling, and organizing? The television moderator seems to deduce this same problem and, subsequently, asks Mr. Klaus how to get citizens involved in civic affairs. He responds that he is not certain, however, he does think it is important (!). Following that, he sidesteps the question by proposing another question (Havel, et al., 1996). Vaclav Havel, famed president, writer, and former dissident of the Czech Republic, has been a strong supporter of a participatory society. However, even in a statement by him, we can infer that, at least initially, the philosophy of leaving matters to their natural evolution was his response to the changes in the Czech Republic. He states:

In the atmosphere of common brotherhood and enthusiasm characteristic of the November 1989 revolution, many of us hoped—and what is more, deeply wished—that a significant change in the very way that human beings coexist would take place. It seemed that people would quickly crawl out of the egotistical shells into which they had been driven by the communist regime, and that all of social life would suddenly assume more humane features. It seemed that people would stop being unkind toward others and that a small portion of the feeling of brotherhood evoked by the revolution might even remain permanently within them. It seemed that such values as solidarity, a spiritual dimension of life, ‘love thy neighbor,’ tolerance, and civil society would experience some kind of renaissance (Havel, et al., 1996).

But these public values did not manifest. Based on Havel’s statement, we can infer that his hope that a “significant change” would come naturally, i.e., (in his position) without government interference. This hope is probably the result of his desire to take a hands-off approach to implementing policies that may appear to indoctrinate individuals in a certain ideology[10] since there is a general rejection of them among people. It is probably this attitude that has vastly weakened Czech attempts to strengthen their civil society for the subsequent attempts have been limited and piecemeal. For without decisive steps towards developing a civil society during the past twelve years, little has changed in the character of the Czech people.

Getting the citizenry involved in civic affairs is not impossible nor is it difficult or costly, if the appropriate steps are taken over a lengthy period. To make recommendations, though, we should again take a quick look at the theory regarding how to develop a more active citizenry. For civic engagement among the citizenry to take place, we should recall, intellectual and social capital must be present. We have already stated that, in the Czech Republic, intellectual capital is available, and that the problem lies in the lack of social capital. We should also recall that social capital is the social networks, trust, and norms of reciprocity needed to ease or restrict relations among individuals in society.

According to Coleman (1988), social capital develops in the following manner: the more individuals are involved in various networks of association, the more probable it is they will get to know and trust each other to such an extent that cooperation for the benefit of each results. In addition, when individuals interact in many settings, they develop the propensity to, depending on the situation, impose sanctions or reinforce norms that encourage actions for the good of all. Putnam (1993), in his study of civic engagement in northern and southern Italy, made similar observations, but not involving individuals in different networks of association; instead, when individuals interact with each other in voluntary organizations, they develop social capital. Nevertheless, he explains, the type of voluntary association is crucial. He differentiates between two types, which I will term here, participatory and submissive. Organizations in which members participate in the decision-making, i.e., those that develop “horizontal bonds of fellowship,” such as labor unions, generate greater social capital (p. 107). And those organizations in which the members submit to an authority and accept their conditions in life, i.e., those that develop “vertical bonds of authority,” such as the Catholic Church, do not foster social capital. To sum up both points of view, individuals have to interact with a variety of individuals in various manners to develop the necessary social networks, trust and norms to engage citizens in civic affairs, to make democracy work.

John Dewey is well known for his progressive approach to education and writings on democracy and education. He was a great believer in the school acting as a sort of microcosm of society to prepare the students for society beyond the school walls. Education, he said, acts to socialize by having the immature participate in a group process, thus generating development and direction in them. In other words, an individual’s education will reflect the quality of life within the group. Students were to be educated in a group comprised of a variety of individuals that represented the democracy at large. This would develop a democratic nature within them that consisted of two main characteristics: (a) the recognition of many different shared interests and how those interests relate to one’s self, which is a crucial aspect to creating greater social control, and (b) adaptability and personal initiative, both necessary to deal with a mobile and ever-changing society. According to Dewey, the development of these two characteristics creates a structure of social life in which the interests of all are interwoven into the fabric of that society and readjustment of social habit is an important consideration, thus giving a democratic community a greater investment in that community (Dewey, 1944, pp. 81-87).

As stated earlier, most schools in the Czech Republic are authoritarian in nature, with teachers lecturing students to transfer content, thus, social capital cannot develop. However, if a school truly changes and acts like more a labor union, allowing its member to participate in its direction and decision-making, it can generate social capital—without the need for students to join a voluntary association. Some Czech educators are already aware of this for they believe that the best way for students to accept and understand democratic principles is for schools to have a climate favoring the active participation of the student body and their parents. Valkova, et al. (1999), in their review of the Czech education system found that changes in school practices have positively influenced the atmosphere of some schools in the Czech Republic; however, at most schools, they say, these kinds of changes have been minimal at best. According to them, an inspection of 362 Czech basic schools in 1995 revealed that 66 percent of them had no mention even of students’ rights. In addition, almost one fifth of them had their conduct code written completely in the form of orders. The IEA Study (2001) agreed with this idea. It found that “schools that model democratic values by promoting an open climate for discussing issues and inviting students to take part in shaping school life are effective in promoting both civic knowledge and engagement.” In other words, when students are actively involved in school affairs, their knowledge and participation in civic affairs increases. Additionally, the research of Elizabeth Smith (1999) found that students who attend a school with a more open climate were more likely to engage in political discussions with other students.

To create an open climate in a school on a micro level, Czech teachers can allow students to assist in choosing the curriculum of a course. Currently, the state allows teachers to select up to 30 percent of the curriculum on their own (Valkova & Kalous, 1999). Teachers could allow students to choose all or part of this 30 percent. By allowing students to choose a portion of the curriculum, the teacher is giving some of his/her control to the students. Not only will students take a greater interest in their portion of the class (because they chose it), but it is likely they will work harder during that time too. Giving students the power to decide a portion of the curriculum is having them participate in their education, it is having them invest themselves in their education. The teacher is no longer the all-powerful authority, but the sharer in authority fostering “horizontal bonds of fellowship” and social capital.

To create at least the start of a more open climate, the most common and possibly simplest idea is to have students discuss issues in groups. Groups of four or five students sit in a circle and discuss an issue while one person takes notes on what is said. Students can discuss the causes of the issues (e.g., the low level of civic participation), the effects of it on the nation, and solutions to it. This sort of group work is used in the CECR curriculum. Thus, using the CECR curriculum is a good idea, but thorough in-service training needs to accompany it so Czech teachers understand, as Dr. Torney-Purta (1999) reported, the meaning of “citizenship skills” and are able to discern the effects of the new teaching methodologies on their students[11]. Without solving these problems, group work will be useless.

Another idea to create a more open climate could be to allow students to teach the class and hold them accountable for the content of their teaching. Teachers can give the students a list of possible units they can teach and then let them teach the rest of the students these sections. Of course, the teacher will probably have to assist them in the preparation of the materials. But, as long as the students are given a greater role in the classroom, they will begin to feel more a part of it and want to participate more. In addition, teachers could allow the students to create the class rules. Or teachers could create a class government that organizes activities for the students. Therefore, any activities that allow the students to participate in the creation of their own education or that simulate democratic institutions in the classroom can potentially develop social capital.

Beyond the classroom, there are a number of activities that teachers or anyone can organize for students to get involved in and develop social capital, e.g., voluntary organizations and student government. According to Robert Putnam, social capital is acquired when students participate in civic and voluntary associations  (e.g., environmental, athletic, charitable, educational, arts), government, and community. And studies seem to agree with him—there is a strong correlation between the involvement of youth in extracurricular activities (at school or independent of school) and voluntary associations and their political participation as adults (Hanks & Eckland 1978; Hanks 1981; Trenfield 1965; Lindsay 1984; Beck & Jennings 1982; Almond & Verba 1963; Verba, Schlozman & Brady 1995; Rosenstone & Hanson 1993; Milbrath & Goel 1977). Putnam also states, as mentioned previously, that engagement is much more likely when these associations engender horizontal bonds, in other words, strong relations among a cross-section of peers. Another way of stating this is the organizations must be student-centered and not student-oriented. As a side note, Verba, Schlozman and Brady (1995) also found that involvement in school sports was not a predictor of future activity like involvement in clubs and student government was (pp. 425-6). Smith (1999) also found, “[i]n particular, extracurricular participation over the course of a year caused individuals to develop greater political trust,” a key finding for a Czech population that has very little trust in its political institutions. In addition, the opportunity to practice civic skills through extracurricular activities led to a greater sense of civic duty.

Although the Czechs do not customarily participate in voluntary organizations, when they do, changes take place just as the research reveals. An example of a voluntary organization functioning in the Czech Republic can be found in the Kiwanis club, an organization that helps less fortunate individuals, particularly physically and mentally disabled children. Recently, the Kiwanis set up organizations and had some success recruiting members. However, Dmitrij Svec, the Kiwanis Club of Prague president, admits that success was difficult at first. He describes the difficulties this way: “In 1989, we (Czechs) expected that, as before, the central government or someone else would do the job, and nothing was coming from the country’s citizens…. It’s the same with Kiwanis. People come to the club and expect that someone else will do the work of the club. They are not used to saying, ‘Hey, I’m here; let’s do something.’ It's difficult to get past that way of thinking” (Jonak, 2000). In other words, when Czechs join this voluntary association, they are not prepared to participate so it takes them some time to learn. Still, they do learn and, subsequently, social capital does develop. Thus, we can see these kinds of voluntary organizations can make an impact on Czech society. Teachers or administrators can initiate these organizations at their schools for students to join, but teachers have to remember the students (and not them) must decide the direction of the organization once it has begun.

In addition, schools could create a student government in which representatives from each class meet to organize events and activities for the student body, parents, and community. This not only would create social capital, but if events are organized that involve the parents in the education of their children, research has shown that their involvement will improve student achievement. Verba, Schlozman and Brady (1995) have found that involvement in student government, clubs, and other activities was a strong predictor of future political activity because these kinds of activities provided hands-on training, “not by teaching about democracy” (though courses that allowed for conversations about current events were also a predictor of future activity, but not as strong of one). Rahn, Brehm, and Carlson have also found that elections alone can generate social capital (139). However, it should be noted that, as in all the suggestions being made, issues tackled by the student government must be meaningful to make it truly work. Otherwise, students will believe the student government (or whatever they are participating in) is a farce and quit.

Another option at the school level is to integrate the classes. Currently, graduating classes in the Czech Republic consist of approximately 30 students who are in the same class for as long as eight or nine years (and the teachers move from class to class to teach different courses). By segregating these students from the other students, the school is reinforcing the value of a private network of friends and family and “amoral familism,” and social capital cannot develop. Instead, when a class period ends, some or all of the students should change classes (and the teacher remains) to gain a greater sense of the range of individuals in their school. This can create the variety of networks of association for the students that Coleman believes are important for the development of social capital.

Poland has many local projects working to engage the citizenry in civic affairs that are worth taking a closer look at for potential inspiration or reproduction in the Czech Republic. One noteworthy project, not mentioned previously, functions to build communities (and engage the citizenry in civic affairs) with Local Activity Centers (CAL, in Polish) by guiding community activity to generate local solutions. For example, at one CAL, Grazyna Gnatowska started a club meant for families. She handed out fliers to children advertising music, theater, and arts and crafts that invited their parents to join them. Now, using two volunteers and two paid employees, they operate a dance class and exercise class for seniors, piano lessons, and a bridge club. As a result, when she walks down the street, people from the neighborhood greet her, a sure sign that the community is growing closer, and there is a genuine opportunity for the development of public virtues. The creators hope that there will be 1000 CALs in existence by 2010.

A further example of a Polish project that is producing high levels of social capital is the Universal Youth Academy (PAM, in Polish). Two of PAM’s major goals are: “to break the traditional barriers between society’s various groups,” (a goal that just happens to be one of Dewey’s in developing a democratic society) and, to transform young Poles from passive observers into active, engaged citizens. This nine year-old organization does not direct youths but “activates” them, meaning its 16-20 year-old members select and plan their own projects, find their own funding and outside assistance (from organizations managed by adults), and carry out their projects themselves. PAM, itself, only provides youths with preliminary workshops and networking assistance—no funding and no specific agenda. The methodology is based on the belief that youths need less direction and guidance and more preparation to set their imaginations free. This is a crucial aspect because, by initiating these steps, members learn what it takes to make change happen and, subsequently, can reproduce it on their own. Also importantly is the fact that, in such an environment, claims of indoctrination have no merit for adults act as a guides and not teachers. Thus, the organization will be attractive even to those who fear indoctrination. Because of this organization, a wide variety of projects, anything from environmental initiatives to art exhibitions to anti-alcohol concerts, have been implemented. For this process to work, first, psychologists visit youth groups and schools to attract youths to participate in a three-step process. Second, facilitators (volunteer psychologists) run self-examination exercises and workshops for the selected individuals to build self-confidence and self-knowledge in them. Third, with a series of exercises to build teamwork, the youths cultivate their administrative and organizational abilities; and, lastly, once members reach a high enough level of maturity, they brainstorm and select a project that they feel will transform their community. One group took origami lessons into elementary schools to assist teachers in the classroom (Owad, June, 1998).

The latter project is similar to Project Citizen: We the People, which has already been implemented at some middle schools in the Czech Republic. Of all the Czech projects mentioned, this one holds the most promise for the future of the Czech Republic. The problem with it, though, as it stands now, is its scope. Only a small percentage of the Czech student population has experienced it; more students need to take part in this project if it is to make a significant impact. To ensure the success of Project Citizen, it might be a good idea to have pre- and post-activities that make the experience more substantial, more concrete, for, though it entails the major characteristics necessary to produce civic-minded individuals[12], it might only have a superficial effect in the Czech environment, in a society in which communism has had such profound effects on the population.

Outdoor education/experiential learning has also been linked to instilling in youth the necessary civic traits to pave the way to greater participation and social responsibility and may be more palatable to a Czech society who has a strong appreciation for and finds much pleasure in the outdoors. In particular, there are three noteworthy kinds of outdoor (meaning outside of the classroom) education normally used to generate civic responsibility in youth: service learning, adventure education, and participatory research and cultural journalism. Service learning entails students participating in community service that is connected to education in the classroom. Elements that make up a good service learning program are: (1) clear goals that have a reasonable chance of accomplishment, (2) tasks that involve trust and real responsibility, (3) projects that have real meaning to the community, (4) ongoing involvement of community members from the outset, (5) community support, (6) ongoing student involvement in selecting and designing the project from the outset, (7) appropriateness for developmental level, (8) concrete results, and (9) a clear relation to learning in the classroom (Garman 1995; Boss 1998). There is growing proof that involvement in community service projects, no matter if it is voluntary or mandatory, increases the likelihood of civic participation, particularly if that service is regular, meaningful, and firmly interwoven into the school curriculum (Putnam, 2000). The evidence also indicates that if the service-learning project is well-designed, it can improve civic efficacy and self-esteem, increase civic responsibility, enhance civic knowledge, teach cooperation and leadership skills, and possibly reduce racism (Newmann & Rutter, 1983; Hodgkinson & Weitzman, 1997; Battistoni 1997; Janoski, Musick, & Wilson 1998; Melchior, & Orr 1995; Astin & Sax, 1998; Giles Jr. & Eyler, 1994; Niemi, Hepburn, & Chapman, 2000). An example of just such a project took place in California at Rosemead High School. To learn about the importance of plants and trees in preventing erosion and filtering polluted air, 40 high school students joined forces with 8 landscape architecture majors from the local college to replant an area that had once been paved over to save money on maintenance costs (Stine, 1997).

A different form of outdoor education is known as adventure education, and it ordinarily takes place in the wilderness, and aspires to teach awareness of the environment and develop self-confidence by having students participate in activities that involve a certain degree of stress or risk, e.g., ropes course, rock climbing, and other carefully designed activities. Those interested in using this approach need a good deal of training that leads to special certification. Of all adventure education programs, probably the most well known is Outward Bound. A meta-analysis conducted on 96 studies of Outward Bound programs found that it improved leadership skills, develops interpersonal competencies, and positively affects the participants’ sense of empowerment, independence, self-control, assertiveness, decision-making skills, and self-understanding. (Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997). In addition, Outward Bound develops within youth a sense of connectedness with nature and the greater community. This sense of connectedness overflows into an awareness of our relation to others in the community (Fouhey & Saltmarsh, 1996). An Outward Bound program has existed in the Czech Republic since the early 1990s and does work with a small percentage of Czech youth. (Javurkova, H. (e-mail, May 9, 2002). This is a good start. However, to solidify learned characteristics, students returning from the Outward Bound program should be required or offered the opportunity to organize a club or association that has as its goal the organization of events that bring their community together. For example, during the communist era, neighborhoods had social gatherings for holidays[13]. But since the revolution, such events have been lost. Organizing these kinds of events will not only reinforce their experiences at Outward Bound, but also increase the level of social capital within those neighborhoods. These kinds of activities would be fun, a great learning experience, an excellent way to solidify civic virtues learned at the camp, and a good way to spread those virtues to the surrounding neighborhood.

With cultural journalism, students go out into their community and research the history of the people and places surrounding them. As a result, students gain a greater understanding of the community and the connections between them, their relatives, and other members of the community. They find they are a part of a community that is living together within a realm of collective traditions (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985). This experience assists in building a foundation for future mutual support and cooperation. To this date, Foxfire is the most well known example of this approach. The Foxfire students, after doing research about their community, have published a popular magazine and a number of books (Boss, 1998). A major advantage of this type of education (and the next one) is it is cost effective—Czech teachers can have their students act as cultural journalists without any need for funding.

A near relation to cultural journalism, though more focused on contemporary issues, is participatory research. In doing participatory research, students research a problem or issue that affects them. Examples of this kind of research include: (1) discussing an issue to define it and finding experts in the community or group; (2) holding meetings with the public to involve members of the community; (3) creating open-ended surveys to find out the view of a broad range of people on a particular issue; (4) organizing fact-finding teams to go out into various sections of the community; and (5) communicating the findings (Participatory Research Network, 1982; Tierney, 1992). These are all fantastic activities that would give students useful democratic skills and prepare them for greater civic engagement in their future.

As for on a macro level, as mentioned previously, not much has been done because of the state’s hands-off approach to preparing students for civic involvement. On the other hand, the Czech government could learn from the actions on the part of the Polish government. In Poland in 1993, the state passed a law that would alter the education system. First, the new law decentralized the school system. This gave more power to the residents of the local school districts, and, symbolically, was a boost of confidence in the competence of the citizens; both are important if the emphasis on a strong civil society is to be taken seriously. Second, this law not only decentralized the school system, but it also stressed the need for student governments, another important feature that can strengthen a civil society. After that, the state altered the curricula to emphasize skills instead of knowledge, so that the teachers had greater freedom in the classroom, therefore continuing the trend of placing greater trust in the people to make any necessary changes on their own. The emphasis on skills instead of knowledge probably also helped to eliminate the use of the lecturing method of teaching. Or, if not eliminate it, at least prepare teachers for the possibility of using other teaching methods. Additionally, the state organized the EDCP for the very purpose of strengthening the civil society. With the EDCP and the assistance of American educators, the Poles have been able to develop a comprehensive plan to transform the entire education of Polish youth and ensure the future of democracy in Poland is a stable one. Such a comprehensive plan has not existed in the Czech Republic, but should, for without one, band-aid jobs here and there will only temper the situation temporarily.

The Czech government should also know about some of the other important factors that have led to the success of Poland’s pursuit of a civil society. They are the following: the placement of the development of a civil society as one of Poland’s four major goals since 1989, the implementation of a number of projects to make the climate of schools more student-friendly, Polish schools giving priority to education for democracy, the Ministry of Education distributing teaching and resource materials for civic education organizations to the provinces (Owad, September, 1998). All of the factors mentioned combined seem to have set the foundation for a strong civil society in the near future of Poland. There is no evidence the same can be said about the Czech Republic.


The Czech lands have been stepped on throughout much of their history. Now, without a foreign oppressor to deal with, history seems to be oppressing the Czechs in the shape of the problems facing Czech society today, specifically police corruption, political corruption, youth crime, graffiti, and increasing numbers of extremists, just to mention a few of them. These issues are at least partially the result of the lack of social capital within their nation, for social capital is, as Dewey mentions (though he does not use the term “social capital”), the glue that keeps society together and controls it, in other words, keeps individuals from transgressing societal norms. Therefore, significantly for a Czech nation riddled with these problems, not only will the development of social capital increase much needed civic participation and give a voice to the people, but also it will minimize the extent of these problems.

The tremendous growth of these problems has the Czech government considering or passing laws that are oppressive in nature. This is not the solution, for such laws may not only exacerbate the problems by angering those individuals involved in their perpetration (in other words, giving them further purpose to commit the transgressions), but also have the effect of generating a feeling of disappointment among the people[14] with the state of affairs of their democratic nation, a feeling that a few authors believe has already set in (See Stroehlein, 1998, and Pehe, 1998). In response to the spread of graffiti, one woman said, “It makes me want to cry…. It’s so disrespectful.... We never used to have problems like this before, everything was always clean and in order” (McCune, 1996). This is not an auspicious sign. With nascent democracies, as Daniel Nelson (1996) writes, such disappointment may mean that democratic institutions will lack the legitimacy that cements their place in society, and thus the risk of revolution is increased.

The Poles, with assistance from their government, on the other hand, have made a comprehensive effort to eliminate the remnants of their history and increase the level of social capital, and their efforts seem to be paying off, as exemplified in the findings regarding the attitudes of Polish youth. As for the Czechs, similar efforts have been much more limited, and the effects, if any, have been limited as well. The Czech government recently did narrowly pass a law that could encourage a stronger civil society[15]. After seven years of debate, the Czechs were finally given the use of the referendum[16] so that the public could have a hand in enacting future laws. This by far has been the state’s single greatest gesture of confidence in the people since choosing a democratic nation in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution. However, this law alone will not ensure the Czechs will change their mentality, will develop a strong civil society. For use of it by the citizenry will likely only occur in times of crisis, like the mass protests—which is only a way to treat the symptoms of the problem and not the roots. What needs to be done is the state or Ministry of Education must, like the Polish, develop a comprehensive plan for the long term to counter the basis of the problem—the lack of social capital. And if not the state (though without the state, the process will be much more difficult), then a group of concerned and dedicated citizens, like Monika Pajerova who would like to see the Czech Republic “a functioning democracy…[in which] a citizen is treated as a true partner, not as an enemy” (Mudranincova, 2001). On a smaller scale, teachers or school administrators can help develop social capital by implementing any of the recommendations stated in this paper, Social capital can be developed without a tremendous amount of money, but the people must work hard to make it happen. As Thomas Masaryk, famed Czech philosopher and president, once said: “Life is a struggle, particularly for a small nation, but one can come out of it with honor, difficult as it is” (Korbel, 1977, p. 14). Difficult as it is, the future of the Czech Republic may depend on it.


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[1] Strangely, only 3 percent of teachers reported that knowledge transmission should be most emphasized.

[2] Milner mentions that public television, or in this case watching news broadcasts, serves to complement the effect of newspaper reading on civic literacy in most countries (Milner, 2001).

[3] After 1989 graduation classes would come together for reunions and one person would be missing—the spy.

[4] Only a small percentage of the schools have chosen to design their own curriculum (Valkova & Kalous, 1999).

[5] See Marc Howard’s “Free Not to Participate: The Weakness of Civil Society in Post-communist Europe” (2000).

[6] Violent crime has risen 200 percent from 1990 to 2000 (Czech Statistical Office, 2001).

[7] This is based on personal experience.

[8] I was not able to find why there was no election in 1994.

[9] Specifically a ‘civic education’ course in students’ final year of primary school and a ‘knowledge of society’ course taught in secondary schools attempted to indoctrinate students.

[10] In a similar vein, Valkova & Kalous (1999) explain that one of the curricular programs offered to schools has not been popular because of “the rejection of anything resembling indoctrination.”

[11] It is necessary for teachers to recognize that group work (and other new methods) is having the desired effect on their students so the teachers do not revert back to using the lecture method, a method in which discerning the reactions of students is not nearly as important.

[12] See previous discussions of this project in the “Past Civic Education Projects in the Czech Republic” section.

[13] Although these social gatherings may have increased the level of social capital during communism, the “cloak of fear” that existed probably limited their effects.

[14] As evidenced in the low percentage of the population that trust political institutions.

[15] Supposedly, the only reason the law passed was that members of the party against the bill were late to the vote (Padolsky, P. (phone conversation, March 2, 2002).

[16] The Poles have had the referendum for years, even during communism.

About the Author

For the past two years, I have been an Information Specialist at NCELA in
Washington, D.C. Prior to that, I spent four years teaching EFL and
literature and organizing a civic engagement program in the Czech
Republic. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I did some teaching, took some
coursework in American literature, and got heavily involved in student
government and other extracurricular activities. I also have a teaching
credential and a bachelor's degree in history from San Diego State