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After the Velvet Revolution, comes the next generation

Their parents overthrew a communist government, but some young Czechs aren't happy with the outcome.

Ondrej Liska, the 32-year-old chairman of the Green Party was also open to the students’ reforms, but said he wasn’t in a position to offer much tangible help given that his party is struggling to maintain the 5 percent minimum public support they need to stay in parliament.

Count Karel Schwarzenburg, the former foreign minister who now leads the newly formed TOP ’09 party, wowed the students with his candidness.

“He spoke very clearly and plainly and he agreed with us,” Mitlenerova said.

He was so plain-spoken, in fact, that he aroused suspicion. “It can’t be a politician, something smells there — but maybe not,” Mitlenerova said. “I trust him that he’s not in politics for the money — he has money enough.”

(Indeed, that seems to be Schwarzenberg’s broader appeal — an aristocrat with considerable wealth, combined with a moral compass in-line with his friend Vaclav Havel, has created a public perception that he is above reproach. His TOP ’09 party regularly garners 10-15 percent support in opinion polls — an exceptionally high number for a start-up political entity.)

In the end, “[We] didn’t get very far,” Mitlenerova said, though she added that they were far from discouraged. The group had originally planned to phase out with the revolution’s 20th anniversary. But instead they’ve decided to try to keep the flame burning.

Inventura Demokracie member Jiri Boudal said he’d like to focus on pressing the public to become more engaged like they are in other European countries. “My aim is to help found a center for civic education,” he said. “In Germany, there are public service announcements on television telling you how you can participate, and change your environment, instead of just sitting around and complaining.”

Vladimira Dvorakova, a political science professor at the Prague School of Economics, says political reform is urgently needed, and she’s heartened by the students’ enthusiasm.

“They can do a lot, or nothing,” she said, “If they try to change everything in a year they’ll be frustrated.”

She traced the low-grade political culture here to a prevailing arrogance and insecurity among politicians. The result is a lack of civil discourse, which leaves the public feeling alienated from the process and reluctant to criticize those in power.

“We don’t want this type of behavior from our politicians,” Dvorakova said. “We need to make changes towards a liberal democracy based on the rule-of-law.”

Jaroslava Gajdosova, a sociology professor at the Anglo-American University in Prague, said it could be the dawning of a new era.

“Every generation has its horizon,” she said. “For the generation that brought down communism their horizon is fading.”