Are Czechs warming up to the Communists?

If elections were held today, opinion polls suggest, voters' support would be almost equally divided between the left and the right side of the political spectrum. Most leftist voters support the ruling Social Democrats. The Communist Party also enjoys enough public support to be represented in parliament - currently with the third largest number of seats. But the Communists stand alone, as all other parties have vowed not to cooperate with them. Results of an opinion poll commissioned by Czech Television suggest that more and more Czechs are warming to the Communists and four out of ten would actually not be against them taking a bigger part in the decision-making process.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
"Have we already forgotten what this country went through just fifteen years ago?" That was the reaction of the leader of the Christian Democrats, Miroslav Kalousek, upon the news that 38 percent of those polled would not oppose the Communists being part of a governing coalition. But Jan Hartl, the head of the STEM agency, which conducted the poll, says there is no need to ring alarm bells as it appears that four out of ten Czechs want more participation from the Communists for a reason other than their ultimate return to power:

"Surveys, especially qualitative surveys, among left wing voters recently showed that a typical attitude of the people was that the Communists were not banned in the early 1990s and stayed in parliament, so we should be practical about it and give them some responsibility. In this way they will not be able to criticise everything easily."

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
The 38 percent in favour of the Communists in government were mainly older people, people with a lower education, and more than half were supporters of the Social Democrats. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, who is expected to lead the Social Democrats into the elections next year, told Czech Television he belongs to the 62 percent of Czechs who are against the Communists becoming ruling coalition partners:

"The Bohumin resolution stands and it is clear, so a direct coalition partnership with the Communists is out of the question."

The Bohumin Resolution, referred to by Mr Paroubek, was adopted during a Social Democrat Party conference in 1995, banning cooperation with the Communist Party on a national level. Prime Minister Paroubek may rule out a governing coalition with the Communists (whose policies include a rejection of NATO and EU membership), but he says that he would not mind their passive support for a minority Social Democrat government:

"I can imagine this government will look for support across the whole political spectrum, which includes the Communists."

The Communist Party has welcomed the poll's results and sees it as a sign that their support may grow. "The days when the Communists were considered the bogey-men of the country are over", says Communist Party deputy leader Jiri Dolejs.

But commentators say he should not jump to conclusions. Czechs may want the Communists to be more active (with no other left party in parliament, the Communists can help the Social Democrats serve their supporter's purposes) but have certainly not forgotten the forty years of totalitarian rule, from which the party has never fully distanced itself.