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Country Reports: Czech Republic - Protest for a future II

Authors:
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Czech Republic
Bronislav Fark
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Background
The history of the Czech environmental movement can be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s
when grassroot environmental movements were one of the important driving forces of the
fall of the communist regime. During the 90s, pro-environmental issues were partly
incorporated into governmental agenda, and also environmental movements were active (for
example blockades of nuclear power plant Temelín; see Novák 2020).
On the turn of the century, many environmental organizations professionalized, and
“transactional” activism became prevalent in Czech environmental movements their
strategies became narrowed to lobbying with limited possibilities to include volunteers (Císař,
2009). During the presidency of Václav Klaus in the 2000s, public debate regarding climate
change has been shaped by his strong and active climate change denial. Environmental
organizations started to be reactive to oppose views of the president (Vidomus, 2018).
However, new movement organizations have appeared in the recent years. The movement
“Limity jsme my” (We are the Limits) brought back direct actions to the strategies of Czech
environmental movements. The movement has been organizing climate camps inspired by
similar events in Germany (annually since 2017) and other direct actions to speed up the end
of coal industry in Czechia. Moreover, Czech branches of Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for
Future were formed in 2019. The movements are personally interconnected and have a
similar agenda, because the majority of electricity in Czechia is made by coal power plants,
advancing the agenda of fossil fuels.
Fridays For Future in Czechia were formed in spring 2019, just before the first protest which
took place on 15th March 2019, attracting several hundreds of protesters – mostly high school
students. The movement have organized several more demonstrations and happenings since.
The protest event
Data for this study were collected on the protest that took place on 20 September 2019 on
Staroměstské square in the city centre of Prague. The event was organized by the Czech
branch of Fridays For Future.
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The author of the report wants to express many thanks to Ondřej Císař, Jiří Navrátil and Kateřina Vráblíková,
who prepared the Czech questionnaire and coordinated and conducted the data collection.
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The protest attracted around 900 participants, making it a fairly big event in the Czech
context. Other major pro-environmental protest events in the context of the Czech Republic,
such as protest during climate camps, usually attracts similar number of participants.
However, the initial guess of organizers was considerably higher, and it was a smaller event
in international comparison (see p. 10).
The event started around 9AM with around 200 participants, but the number rose to 700-900
at 10AM. Protesters carried banners with slogans such as „The planet is at risk“, „For a cool
climate“, „For the climate and the snowmen“, „Like the Ocean we rise“, „Coal belongs below
the ground“. The programme was composed by speeches by organizers, scholars focusing on
environment and slam poets. The programme took about 4 hours.
Other participating organizations could have been recognized by their banners (e.g.
Greenpeace, Beyond Europe). There was a considerable number of foreigners in the crowd,
most probably foreign students staying in Prague or tourists passing by. There was also small
counter demonstrations staged by libertarian extra parliamentary party Strana svobodných
občanů (Free Citizens‘ Party).
Methodology
As the number of participants was estimated to be lower than 1000, interviewers were
instructed to distribute the questionnaires to everyone in the crowd. Simultaneously, pointers
were observing the process and later suggested interviewing the newcomers to the
demonstration. Interviewers reported positive and friendly responses, there was very low
number of denials.
Overall, 803 questionnaires were distributed. 185 of valid web questionnaires were collected,
153 (82.7 %) were completed. The response rate was 23.0 % (which is comparable to other
country surveys). Both complete and incomplete questionnaires were included in the
analyses.
Results
1. Demographics
The mean age of the respondents was 23.5 (SD = 10.8). However, the age distribution was
skewed by several older respondents the median age was 19. Division by age groups is
presented in Figure 1.1. No person of 66 or older participated in the study.
Compared to the protests in other surveyed countries, participants in the Czech Republic
were the among the youngest participants (together with other Central European cities
Warsaw and Bucharest). The environmental agenda and activities of Fridays For Future
resonates particularly strongly among adolescents in the Czech Republic.
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Young people generally prefer non-institutional forms of political participation (Sloam, 2014;
for Czech context see Petrúšek, 2017). Within the area of environmental activism, some
authors suggest that the high numbers of young activists reflect also limited effectiveness of
individual pro-environmental behaviour, such as consumer choices (Amel et al., 2017), that is
also perceived by young activists themselves (Wallis & Loy, 2021). There could also be a role
of Greta Thunberg or visible personalities of the Czech FFF that could serve as role models for
young people. The history of the Czech environmental movements, with low grassroot
participation in the 2000s and recent flourishment (Novák, 2017), could also partly explain
the high number of young people among the protest participants.
Figure 1.1 Age composition
Regarding gender, female participants (58.9 %) slightly dominated among protesters. There
were substantial differences in gender among the age groups (Figure 1.2). Among teenagers,
there were far more women, whereas men prevailed among older age groups.
The gender distribution of the Czech sample reflects the mean number for the aggregate
sample. However, for various age groups the pattern of gender proportion is different to
other countries, suggesting that in the Czech sample the differences of gender proportions in
both age groups are stronger that in other country subsamples.
The prevalence of women in environmental movements, especially among the youngest
participants is interesting and deserves more attention. Women have been generally found
to have larger environmental concern and higher rates of pro-environmental behaviour,
although there could be some cultural or structural intervening factors (for review see Gifford
and Nilsson, 2014). In the perspective of environmental justice, women could be seen as
group that does not benefit from the status quo (Bell, 2016). Moreover, Greta Thunberg could
serve as a role model for female activists, perhaps especially for those who are of similar age.
The prevalence of females in environmental movements, especially among youngest
participants deserves more attention.
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Figure 1.2 Gender division in each age group
2. Prior experience of political participation and formally organized activities
There was a substantial number of newcomers among young participants, suggesting that the
demonstration had significant mobilizing potential to attract newcomers (Figure 2.1). Not
surprisingly, among older groups there were less newcomers, with a substantial amount of
very experienced protesters.
Figure 2.1: Previous participation in demonstration
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Participants also reported experience with other forms of political participation during the
last year (Figure 2.2). Respondents were widely active in “formal” political participation, such
as contacting politicians, and were also active in less formal political actions, such as changing
one’s own diet for political reasons. A slightly higher prevalence of political activities was
found in adult subsample. The difference between younger and older subgroups was bigger
for contacting politicians and signing petitions, suggesting that younger people are less active
in formal political actions, which is in line with contemporary research (Petrúšek, 2017; Sloam,
2014).
Figure 2.2 Previous political participation
Regarding membership in formal organizations and political parties, older respondents were
more active in environmental organizations (Figure 2.3). Not surprisingly and similarly with
findings regarding previous participation in protests, it suggests that older respondents were
more experienced in various forms of environmental civic participation.
We found only marginal percentages of members or supporters of political parties among the
respondents (Figure 2.4). This finding could reflect generally low rate of participation in
political parties in the Czech society (Vráblíková, 2017) and non-existence of significant
political party with clearly formulated pro-environmental agenda in the Czech politics.
Compared to other subsamples, Czech respondents reported comparable rates of previous
political behaviour with their counterparts from for instance Austria or Germany, with
exception of the membership in political parties. As noted above, it could reflect differences
of party politics in the Czech Republic and other countries.
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Figure 2.3: Organizational membership of protesters environmental organizations
Figure 2.4: Organizational membership of protesters political parties
3. Why did they protest?
Our respondents expressed various motivations to join the protest. They widely agreed with
several reasons for participation pressing politicians, raising public awareness, expressing
their solidarity, expressing their views, or defending their interests. Moral obligation was
reported less often as a reason to participate, and only about one fifth of respondents agreed
that they joined the protest because someone had asked them.
There were interesting differences of indicated motives between adult and youth subsample.
Defending one’s own interests was more prevalent among younger respondents (Figure 3. 1).
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Slightly more adults indicated that they joined the protest to express their solidarity (Figure
3. 2). The FFF protests are primarily labelled as events of young people and students, targeting
the mobilization to young people. This could be the reason why older participants more often
joined to express solidarity with younger participants.
Our findings are partly in contradiction with recent evidence of motivations of activists in
Fridays For Future in Germany (Wallis & Loy, 2021). In concordance with the social identity
model of pro-environmental action (SIMPEA, Fritsche et al., 2018) the study found a strong
effect of moral obligation and perception of friends active in the movements on the
participation in the FFF protests. In contrast, we found higher rates of other reported reasons
for participation, related to clearly manifested goals to change policies. Therefore, other
theories stressing intentions (Ajzen, 1991) or efficacy (Van Zomeren, et al., 2008) should also
be considered.
Figure 3.1 Motive - defend my interests
Figure 3.2 Motive express my solidarity
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4. Emotions and the ‘Greta effect’
Respondents widely reported emotions of anger, worry and frustration, around two thirds or
more responded that they feel those emotion “quite” or “very much” in connection to climate
change. Fear, frustration, hopelessness and powerlessness were reported less often.
Differences between the young and adult subsamples were found for emotions of anger,
anxiety and fear (Figure 4.1), Younger respondents reported higher intensity of all of those
emotions, compared to adults.
Compared to other country reports, worry was the major emotion both for Czech
respondents and their counterparts from many other countries. There were also low rates of
hopelessness for both the Czech and the international sample. Interestingly, Czech
respondents and especially adults showed low levels of anxiety, which is in contradiction with
findings from Berlin, Vienna, and many other cities.
Emotions play substantial role in social psychological models explaining environmental
activism (e. g. Kleres & Wettergren, 2017). Low rates of reported hopelessness and
powerlessness suggest that participants of the protest feel rather optimistic about solving
climate change and it is also in concordance with contemporary theories stressing the crucial
role of efficacy, such as social identity model of pro-environmental action (SIMPEA, Fritsche
et al., 2008). Recently there has also been research on the role of hope, turning attention to
the role of positive emotions (Bury, et al., 2019). However, our data do not allow us to draw
any conclusions about the role of emotions for participation of protest. We consider the study
of the role of emotions as a highly relevant topic that requires more detailed elaboration.
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Figure 4.1: Emotions
Greta Thunberg had generally some effect on participation of respondents. A considerable
proportion of respondents agreed that she made them more interested in issues of climate
change. Generally, a lower proportion agreed that Greta Thunberg also played role for their
decision to join the climate strike. Compared to other countries, her influence was relatively
big for respondents’ interest in climate change, but not for their decision to join the strike
There were differences in answers in both age groups. In the younger group, substantially
more respondents indicated that Greta Thunberg had inspired them to be interested in topics
relating to climate change, compared to the older sub-group (Figure 4.2). However, no such
difference were found regarding decision to join the Climate strike.
We could suggest that for young protesters, Greta Thunberg played a role as a general
“gatekeeper” or “influencer” to be interested in climate, but not as a direct influence to actual
participation in the protest. Greta Thunberg may have been perceived as role model for
people of the same age group, who could have identified with her more than older
respondents. Older subgroups also had more previous experience with protests (see Figure
4.3) which could also have mitigated Greta Thunberg’s influence. This finding would need
further exploration, testing for example also possible gender differences.
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Figure 4.2: Greta Thunberg has made me more interested in Climate change.
Figure 4.3: Greta Thunberg has affected my decision to join the Climate Strike
5. What do they want and who should do it?
We also examined opinions on possible solutions of environmental crisis. Participants
preferred an environmental agenda over economic aspects, they generally agreed at most
with the following statements: “Protecting the environment should be given priority, even if
it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs” and “The Government must act on
what climate scientists say even if the majority of people are opposed.” On the other hand,
the statement “Companies and the market can be relied on to solve our environmental
problems“ was least supported. The preference of environment over economic aspects is in
line with research suggesting that environmental concern is connected to post-material
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values (Booth, 2017). Scepticism towards market solutions is in line with findings suggesting
that environmental activists are generally sceptical about effectiveness of individual pro-
environmental behaviours, such as “consumerism” (Wallis & Loy, 2021).
There were found several differences in political opinions between the younger and older
subsample. Younger respondents showed more trust in science regarding solving
environmental problems (Figure 5.1). Older respondents were more sceptical about role of
companies in solving environmental problems (Figure 5.2), and slightly less supportive for the
role of lifestyle changes (Figure 5.3). The differences of support for some of the policies
among age groups contradicts the notion that young people have generally more post-
materialistic values (Booth, 2017), but because of the small sample, our findings would
require more detailed exploration.
Compared to other country samples, respondents from Prague did not substantially differ in
most items. However, they were very doubtful regarding the role of modern science. This
finding is quite surprising, considering that scientists made up a substantial part of the
speakers on the protest event.
Figure 5.1: Modern science can be relied on to solve our environmental problems
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Figure 5.2: Companies and the market can be relied on to solve our environmental problems
Figure 5.3: Stopping climate change must primarily be accomplished through voluntary
lifestyle changes by individuals
Conclusion
In the previous paragraphs we analysed characteristics of participants of Fridays for Future
protest on the 20th of September, 2019. In many characteristics, respondents from Prague did
not differ from their counterparts in other countries. However, there were also several
interesting differences. Czech respondents were among the youngest participants, together
with respondents from Warsaw and Bucharest. This could be possibly explained by the history
of the Czech environmental movement that had low grassroots participation in the 2000s but
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a recent flourishing of new movements. Respondents also reported low rates of participation
in political parties, possibly reflecting the Czech context where there is no major political party
with a strong environmental agenda. Czech protesters had also rather low rates of anxiety,
compared to their counterparts from other cities, which would require further investigation.
Generally, we have also found a strong role of goal-motivated intentions to participate,
suggesting the role of explicit goals and perceived efficacy of the participation in the protest.
Low rates of hopelessness suggest that the role of positive emotions should be considered
and explored in more detail, in concordance to recent empirical evidence (e. g. Bury, et al.,
2019; Kleres & Wettergren, 2017).
Our country report for the Czech Republic has also several limitations. Contrary to other
countries, only data from the protest in September 2019 are available. Therefore, we were
not able to analyse possible changes in the sociodemographic composition of protesters,
motivational factors, emotions, and other examined variables. Second, the total number of
respondents in our sample was limited, although the interviewers were able to approach
almost all participants. The resulting number of completed questionnaires was not sufficiently
large to explore relevant subsamples. Like in other country reports, we present the results for
youth and adults separately, but differences should be interpreted with caution because of
our small sample size.
Despite these limitations, the survey is to our knowledge the first survey of Fridays for Future
activists and supporters in the Czech context and one of the few surveys of participants of
environmental collective action, adopting the method of onsite data collection and
incorporating social psychological factors such as motives and emotions. Therefore, these
data could be a very relevant starting point for further examination of the timely topic of
environmental collective action and personal factors important for the participation in such
actions.
References
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Bell, K. (2016). Bread and roses: A gender perspective on environmental justice and public
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Booth, D. E. (2017). Postmaterialism and Support for the Environment in the United
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