Anglophilia is big in Prague: there’s a square named after Winston Churchill, a bunch of English-language bookshops and several branches of Marks & Spencer. Since the Velvet revolution that heralded the end of communism in 1989, most Czech politicians, diplomats and opinion-formers have routinely deferred to Britain as a cradle of democracy and common sense. All this has added to Czechs’ bewilderment at the seemingly chaotic drama unfolding at Westminster as the UK staggers towards the EU departure gate.
Jiří Pehe, a political analyst and director at New York University in Prague, recently summed up the mood when he tweeted that politics in Britain had become even worse than its Czech counterpart. “The infantilisation of politics, to say ‘if it’s not my way, it won’t be any other way’, reminds me of Czech politics,” he explains. “We ascribe it to the fact that Czech democracy is so young, and recovering from communism. To see an established democracy like Britain descending into this chaos and irrationality is really disheartening. It’s a very comprehensive defeat for British politics.”
Some Czech policymakers worry that Britain’s impending departure from the EU will undermine the Nato alliance. Yet growing awareness of the political paralysis wrought by Brexit may have had one unexpected spin-off – a rise in support for EU membership here, where recorded levels of Euroscepticism have often matched, or even surpassed, those in Britain.
“It’s not a coincidence that support for the EU, although still under 40%, has risen in the last two years and one of the reasons is the mess we see in London,” says Ondřej Houska, a European affairs specialist with the daily Hospodářské newspaper. “If we’d voted for Czexit, I could have expected to see this in Prague. But Britain has never experienced totalitarianism, its civil service is world class, its political elite went to Oxford and Cambridge – so we’re amazed at their inability to agree on anything.”