Česká cesta and Voucher Privatisation: Making Sense of the Past
27. 10. 2014 / Sam Graeme Beaton
As a work-in-progress documentary, Česká cesta (dir. Martin Kohout) will unlikely make it to television screens in its current form. However, this does not mean that there is a lot of value in the work presented, and potentially a thorough document of the infamous `voucher' or `coupon' privatisation scheme in postcommunist Czechoslovakia.
The documentary mostly takes the form of talking heads of various politicians and Civic Forum, combined with archive footage, to outline the debates leading up to the privatisation scheme; arguing that contrary to the political ideals of Václav Klaus and his allies, the transition to a neoliberal capitalist economy was not universally accepted amongst Czechs and Slovaks. Kohout's use of archival footage at the beginning of the film is effective -- it entrenches us firmly in the context and political climate of the post-1989 state. It is therefore to the film's disservice that such footage peters out by the midway point, leaving some sections feeling rather dry; if these sections can be fine-tuned, audience attention can be maintained throughout. The director certainly knows what he is doing when it comes to content -- before joining the documentary film department at FAMU, he graduated with a degree in sociology, writing his thesis on the voucher scheme. His main aim in Česká cesta, he says, is to understand why so many people wanted Klaus in the first place, taking into account society after 1989. On this front, he is again partially successful, Klaus still maintaining his position as a political object of fascination. Midway through, there is an interesting talking point about the cultural gap between dissidents and mainstream society, offering a useful angle for Kohout's sociological investigation -- I'd like to see this point developed further in the finished article.
Of equal interest to the documentary was the well-attended discussion afterwards, with a panel comprising of the director alongside Petr Pospíchal, Petr Fischer and Jiří Dienstbier. Dienstbier's comments that Česká cesta should focus more widely on the economic debates, rather than merely portraying them as a case of Havel trying to placate an increasingly popular Klaus, were particularly convincing in this regard. His fleshing out of some of the discussed themes was useful , and perhaps a number of these could be incorporated into the film before it is released. Pospíchal offers another angle, which is not fully engaged with in the documentary, namely that "the dissident environment not understanding that economics was the key". It strikes me that uncovering the extent of that statement would be a significant avenue of exploration should It be incorporated. In addition, it leads on to discovering exactly where things went wrong -- for example, was a two-year long gap between elections sufficient enough to fully imagine the government's economic vision?
On the whole, there is some way to go before Česká cesta can reach its full potential. However, what has been presented is a solid foundation for an investigation which could have a significant impact of our understanding of the early postcommunist political process.