This article examines the linkage of markets and democracy in the post-1989 Czech transition as a neoliberal populist discourse that delegitimized alternatives to the market as a return to authoritarianism. Using Laclau’s concept of equivalential linkages, I analyze Václav Klaus’ texts surrounding the voucher privatization program to determine how he formulated this linkage and communicated it to the public. Framing markets as natural, essential, and fundamentally Czech, Klaus constructed the people as a virtuous community of market individuals while othering those who opposed markets as communist holdouts and elitists. Klaus further legitimized marketization through identification with international neoliberal projects and thinkers. Through his moralized and dichotomized discourse, Klaus communicated to the public that there could be no freedom without markets, nor markets without freedom: a circular formulation that continues to influence Central and Eastern European political economy.
neoliberalism, post-communism, Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, discourse, populism
Keith Prushankin is a PhD candidate in political science at the Freie Universität Berlin, a researcher at the Cluster of Excellence “Contestations of the Liberal Script,” and a Europaeum Scholar. His research interests include populism, authoritarianism, and nationalism in post-communist countries.