The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, Joštova ulice, Brno, by Stanislav Dusík

Judicial review of the electoral process is always a fraught thing. Depending on the outcome of a case, it will be welcomed by some as blessed relief from unfair legislation, denounced by others as activist overreach. And then there are cases that can just be surprising and, frankly, baffling.

Such was the decision Pl. ÚS 44/17 of the Czech Constitutional Court on February 2, 2021, which struck down key elements of that country’s electoral system. Departing from the tendency of most prior cases to defer to legislators’ choices, eleven of the fifteen judges ruled that the combined use of the…

Václav Havel after arriving at Heřmanice prison in January 1980. From the National Archive of the Czech Republic.

Why prison letters from 40 years ago are timely now.

In the course of this year I have read a lot about covid-19, its effects on the human body, and what we might do to treat or halt it. I don’t yet feel ready to read about its other effects, on the psyches of billions of people who have had to adjust their daily lives. The fact is that until it is over, I won’t even understand how it has affected me, let alone everyone else.

That’s why I’ve wanted to turn instead to a record of another person’s experience…

Václav Havel in his study at Hrádeček, May 1974. Photo by Bohdan Holomíček.

This April marks the forty-fifth anniversary of a letter.

Not just any letter, but an open letter written by Václav Havel in 1975, at the very midpoint of his eventful life. Addressed to the leader of Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party, Gustáv Husák, it lamented the parlous state of the country, seven years after the Soviet-led invasion to stop the reforms of the ‘Prague Spring’.

Havel’s letter to Husák, however, is more than just a description of a society corralled into a suffocating ‘normalcy’ after a traumatic event. It is a timeless essay on the contrast between a politics of life and…

How do UK Conservative and US Republican legislators line up demographically?

Boris Johnson with new Conservative MPs, December 2019.

Headlines after the 2018 US midterm elections and the 2019 UK general election had one thing in common: They both announced that the new lower houses (of Representatives and Commons, respectively) would be the most diverse ever. This comes despite the different parties in control — Democratic and Conservative majorities, respectively, of comparable margins (Democrats hold 53 percent and Conservatives 56 percent of seats).

This inspired me to line up the Conservatives and the Republicans in the US House and draw out their demographic differences. While they could both…

Here are some pictures I took during the failed coup in Moscow in August 1991. I found some of the locations on Street View to offer a then-and-now contrast. You can also listen to me describing the events here:

https://coldwarconversations.com/episode81/

Photo: Viktor Chlad, MAFRA.

At what point might the publicity that comes with holding office amount to undue influence at the next election?

Strakonice, a Czech town of around 23,000 people set in the lovely south Bohemian landscape, was known in the past for making fezes, firearms and motorcycles, and more recently its Dudák (Bagpiper) beer. The first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk, was its representative in the Austrian imperial parliament in 1891–93. The current president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, won 56 percent of the vote there in January 2018, five points above his national share. …

In 2017, gun rights became a hot-button issue in Czech politics. It did so in response to moves by the European Union, but it was also an expression of an older anxiety that will accompany 2018’s bevy of historical anniversaries.

A Czech protestor on Wenceslas Square, 15 March 2017, announces that unlike the students of the 1989 revolution, gun-rights advocates are not bare-handed.

One of the legislative highlights of 2017 in the Czech Republic was an attempt to constitutionalize gun rights. Citizens can keep and bear arms under an ordinary statute from 2002 that Czech gunowners praise as one of the best firearms laws in the world; it does indeed seem to strike an exemplary balance between regulation and access. There would have…

Ten years ago, Václav Havel published his final play, Odcházení (“Leaving” or “Exiting”). When I first read it, I was disappointed. I came to it expecting the equivalent of one of his seminal political-philosophical essays from the 1970s and 1980s, a stage version of “Letter to Dr Husák” or “Politics and Conscience”. Instead, it struck me as an almost slapstick pastiche, a riff on classics such as Shakespeare’s King Lear and Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, but one lacking the verve and intricacy of his 1972 adaptation of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, my favorite of Havel’s plays.

It took several years for…

Václav Havel in 2007. Photograph by Bohdan Holomíček.

Hillary Clinton quoted the Czech writer and statesman Václav Havel in her commencement speech at Wellesley on May 26. But if he were alive today and giving speeches, would he quote her?

Havel and Hillary Clinton were well acquainted. They met many times in the 1990s, while Bill Clinton was president of the United States and Havel was president of the Czech Republic. Photos from a state dinner at the White House in 1998 show Hillary and Havel twisting on the dance floor like Thurman and Travolta at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. …

Kieran D Williams

Comparative political scientist, Drake University. https://www.drake.edu/polsci/facultystaff/kieranwilliams/

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