Jaroslav Šabata, synopsis and incomplete transcript of interview in Bratislava, March 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Another old issue was also clarified for me by Jaroslav Šabata, a Slovak former dissident, now a Member of Parliament, who can be called the “father of HCA.” During the founding assembly there had been a lively debate between the Czechoslovakian delegates and most of the Western delegates over the inclusion of politicians in HCA leadership roles. HCA had been developed largely by members of Charta 77, the human rights activists who had opposed the communist regime and who quickly became the leaders of the new government after the revolution of November, 1989 and who then stated that “civil society is now in power.” Šabata, who was prominent among those new politicians, explained to me how HCA had almost been taken over by right-wing nationalists as a result of the policies of Western members. I had actually been one of those Western delegates opposing the inclusion of Members of Parliament in HCA, on the grounds that, as an organization of civil society, by definition it should consist of citizens who are not in the government. But as Šabata explained,
“In the first free elections in Czechoslovakia, members of the parties that were not elected took a hostile attitude toward parliamentarian democracy and toward those who had been elected to parliament. They maintained that the HCA should work as a body of those parties that could not take part in the parliament — that these enemy parties are the ones representing the real civil society. These parties now constitute the right wing bloc, especially the group known as ‘The Club of People who are not Organized in Parties.’ These very militant people claimed that the HCA should belong to them, since they, and not parliament, are the real civil society. They regarded the position of Western delegates, who sometimes oppose governments, as their own position, and they looked for support in the Western position. Everything connected with the criticism of parliament they understood as a position that supports their opinion. It was not a conflict between civil society and the establishment, but rather it was a political conflict.”
So that is why Charter 77 politicians had insisted on participating in HCA: it was to keep their new organization from being taken over by their political enemies!
But the political situation in 1992 seems quite different from that of 1990. A staff member of the HCA secretariat had explained to me that HCA is now unpopular in Prague, since it is thought to be controlled by the Western European left, whereas public opinion throughout Eastern Europe has shifted far to the right. Because the Charter 77 politicians now find it dangerous to be seen as too close to the HCA, this has created some internal strain within HCA. However, she explained to me that recently the Czech Members of Parliament had created a more conservative new organization, the International Network for Democratic Solidarity. By identifying publicly with it instead of with HCA, they might be able to save their own political reputations and also relieve some of the strains within HCA.
When I asked Sabata about this, he seemed flabbergasted by this interpretation.
“It is a project that aims to make contact between parliamentarians from several countries who intend to support the initiatives of civil society and are positive toward the Helsinki process.The idea was created by Russian and Bulgarian M.P.s because they found a necessity for a common support for democracy. The first working meeting of that network was prepared during June and July, and the people met for the first time here in Prague three days after the putsch in Russia was defeated. Of course, the people had an urgent need for support from other places. It is one strategic initiative from European civil society. But unfortunately, some of our friends from the ICC don’t believe in it. We don’t know why. It is a project, not an organization. The next meeting will be held in Prague next month. It is not only for parliamentarians. The aim is to make a chain of close connections with parliament in those post-communist countries to connect parliamentarians who on the basis of their experience react to the same ways. This strategic initiative aims to overcome nationalistic positions in the parliaments. An important element of this project is our close cooperation with scientific institutions of academic political scientists who can understand the new model of democracy — humanitarian oriented in the civil society, and to form a real basis for analyzing properly the post-communist society here, which is in a real danger from anti-communist radical positions. It is an international organization opposed to the right wing.
Metta: Well, if there is a confusion there, that may explain why HCA is lukewarm to the idea. I hope it is cleared up because this should be a nice partnership.
Sabata: I would use some strong words but I wouldn’t like for you to imagine these words. I am sure that a lot of people on the International Committee of the HCA didn’t understand the project. There are some prejudices toward powerholders. The principle of the assembly might be chaotic or unproductive if the Network for Democratic Solidarity is not established as a stable body of the civil society from below.
Metta: What is the danger — that it might not work?
Sabata: The assembly was established spontaneously from below, and any such assembly is chaotic. It is a natural situation. It is putting order in its chaotic nature because it is a civil society which has to have some structure.
First part of this tape he describes the “Europe of Regions Transfrontier Cooperation” to overcome national prejudices. The idea of Euro-regions was discussed in the first HCA general assembly. There was a conference for representatives of people from the various frontiers surrounding Czechoslovakia. On the Czech Republic there will be seven such regions that are going to be established on the frontiers with Germany, Austria, and Poland. The first one was established on the Czech frontier with Germany and we would like to spread this kind of activity more to the East. We would like to form a chain of Euro-regions for people from below … In the Czech republic there are also such initiatives that would create on such a level as these local Euroregion initiatives would represent step by step toward abolishing frontiers. This initiative may be felt as a wider initiative from below from the CSCE, but it is necessary to say that this initiative should be realized from the initiative of local people as local self-government and the local people initiative is spontaneous because they are interested in cooperating with people on the other part of the world.
MS: What do you expect the relationship to be between HCA and CSCE?
Sabata: The cooperation on the government level should be regular and HCA should work there as a consultative body. That means that each national committee should influence his national government and also the general assembly. But some members of the government do not even know what CSCE is. It is important for us to show the MPs how the CSCE is important The M.P.s don’t want to support the general idea of the CSCE because they don’t know what it means. They think it is unnecessary. For example, Finance Minister, Mr. Klaus, expresses his doubts repeatedly about the necessity of the functioning of CSCE. He opposed sending missions of CSCE to other countries.