Trafika

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Trafika
Informal practice commonly found in Czech Republic and Slovakia
Entry written by Alzbeta Semsch.
Alzbeta Semsch is affiliated to School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London.

Original text by Alzbeta Semsch

Trafika is a term used in the Czech Republic and Slovakia describing an office in the public sector – most often on boards of state-owned companies, embassies and consulates – assigned to a fellow politician in return for certain favours such as political support or covering up.

A person benefiting from trafika is called a trafikant. Such a post typically requires no or very little work, but provides a significant salary. A trafikant can simultaneously be a member of many supervisory boards of state companies as well as running his own business. In this respect trafika differs from the other forms of party patronage, such as the contemporary spoils system in the United States. Here, offices are routinely handed over to supporters of the winning party, but unlike trafika these handouts require actual work and a suitable skill set (McLean and McMillan 2009[1]).

Trafika is one of the traditional forms of party patronage in which state resources are traded for political support (Hopkin 2006[2]). Kopecky (2012[3]) argues that this form of patronage, which he calls patronage as an electoral resource, has declined. It is being replaced by a practice of patronage as an organisational resource: using power to appoint people to certain positions, ensuring parties’ survival and success by appointing ideologically friendly and loyal individuals.

The word trafika originates in Arabic and came to Czech and Slovak through the Italian traffico (to trade). Its original meaning in Czech and Slovak is a small kiosk selling tobacco, newspapers and other small goods. The second meaning, denoting a practice of handing out state jobs to politicians for their services, originates from a tradition under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where the state granted licences to run trafika kiosks and sell tobacco to war veterans in recognition of their service. This tradition continued in newly established Czechoslovakia after the First World War.

Party patronage, of which trafika is a form, exists in many forms across the globe in both democratic and non-democratic regimes. What varies is the degree of acceptance of it in each society. While in the Czech Republic trafika is mostly accepted as part of the everyday give and take of political life, in other countries, such as Norway (Allern 2012[4]) such a practice is considered a form of corruption. Some countries have restrictions on who may become a member of a supervisory board or to be appointed to a post in a state-owned company. In Finland, ministers, MPs and senior public officers cannot be appointed to supervisory boards. In Austria, there is a restriction on how many boards one person can be a member of. In Poland, members of boards have to complete an exam held by the Ministry of Finance. In Greece, there is no salary provided for being a member of a supervisory board.

Czech politicians are aware of the potential impact of cases of trafika on their popularity, and some have presented proposals to curb the practice. One of the latest measures is the establishment of a nomination committee, which assesses candidates for the supervisory boards of state-owned companies. However, Czech anti-corruption campaigners have argued that the nomination committee has not made any real impact on the practice of trafika.

Trafika cases are well-covered by the media, but as traditional forms of party patronage are declining and patronage as an organisational resource is increasing, party patronage is becoming less identifiable (Kopecky 2012[5]). Elsewhere (2008[6]), he has argued that the spread of party patronage in Czech politics, and that of clientelism to a lesser degree, is overestimated in the media and public debate.

How deeply trafika is embedded in Czech politics is well illustrated by the long drawn out passage of the law on the civil service, aimed at making handing out offices in this way more difficult. The Czech Republic pledged to adopt a package of legislation on civil service reform as part of its accession to the EU in 2004. A Civil Service Act was passed in 2002, but Czech politicians from across the political spectrum repeatedly delayed the implementation of the law. A new, replacement law was only eventually implemented in 2015, eleven years after the Czech Republic had originally pledged to do so.

The most high-profile case of trafika in Czech politics is that of former Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who was accused of bribing three deputies of his own party to resign their parliamentary mandates and thus allow the legislation they opposed to pass, by promising them lucrative posts in state-owned companies. The three MPs involved also faced prosecution for accepting bribes. Although the scandal forced Mr Nečas to resign in 2013, it is revealing that he did not deny his actions as such, but denied any wrongdoing by claiming that such deals are part of standard political conduct. There was a fierce public debate in the media about whether or not this case of trafika should be regarded as corruption, with politicians fiercely divided on the issue. The case went to the court, on the very question of whether an act of corruption had taken place. However, the court ruled that nothing illegal had taken place, despite the fact that society considered it immoral, and Nečas as well as the trio of MPs were acquitted.

Similar practices to trafika have existed in various political systems and at numerous points in history. Eighteenth and early nineteenth century British politics was characterised by the widespread practice of sinecures – official salaried positions which required little or no work – which were used to reward political loyalty and provided a substantial source of income for members of the political elite at public expense. Contemporary Radical critics branded the all-pervasive system of sinecures, patronage and influence ‘Old Corruption’ (Rubinstein 1983[7]). In France, a practice of emploi fictif – fictitious employment of party activists or supporters, where a person is granted a position in exchange for support – still takes place. Such a person effectively does no work, but receives a salary (Wolfreys 2001: 442[8]). In the Soviet Union the creation of fictitious jobs that required little or no work was common, mostly to maintain the zero percent unemployment rate (Urban 1988: 3[9]) or to provide professional sportsmen with a prestigious job title (often in the military) and enable them to retain their status of ‘amateur’ athletes (Riordan 1991: 4-5[10]).

References and Bibliography

  1. Kopecky, P. and Spirova, M. (2011) Jobs for the Boys? Patterns of Party Patronage in Post-Communist Europe. West European Politics, 35 (5), 897-921.
  2. Vidlakova, O. (2001) Politico-administrative Relations in the Czech Republic. In: Politico-Administrative Relations: Who Rules? ed. Verheijen, T., 86-109. Bratislava, Slovakia: NISPAcee.

Notes

  1. McLean, I., and McMillan, A. (2009). Spoils system. In: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Oxford University Press.
  2. Hopkin, J. (2006) Clientelism and party politics. In: Katz, Richard S. and Crotty, William J., (eds.) Handbook of Party Politics. Sage: London, UK.
  3. Kopecky, P. (2012). Give Me Trafika: Party Patronage in the Czech Republic. In: Kopecky, P., Mair, P. and Spirova, M. Party Patronage and Party Government in European Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Allern, Elin H. (2012) Appointments to Public Administration in Norway: No Room for Political Parties? In: Kopecky, P., Mair, P. and Spirova, M. Party Patronage and Party Government in European Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Kopecky, P. (2012). Give Me Trafika: Party Patronage in the Czech Republic. In: Kopecky, P., Mair, P. and Spirova, M. Party Patronage and Party Government in European Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. Kopecky, P. and Scherlis, G. (2008). Party Patronage in Contemporary Europe. European Review, 16 (3), 355-371.
  7. Rubinstein W. D. 1983. ‘The End of "Old Corruption" in Britain 1780-1860’, Past & Present, 101: 55-86.]
  8. Wolfreys, J. 2001. 'Shoes, lies and videotape: Corruption and the French state.' Modern & Contemporary France, 9(4): 437-51
  9. Urban, G. R. 1988. ‘Introduction’ in G. R. Urban (ed.), Social and Economic Rights in the Soviet Bloc (Oxford: Transaction Books)
  10. Riordan, J. 1991. Sport, Politics and Communism (Manchester: Manchester University Press)