The Communist Party and its renegades twelve years after 1989


In the last pre-election edition of Talking Point Pavla Horakova looks at communists in the Czech Republic - that is at the Communist Party itself and all those ex-communists featured on the ballots of other parties. What does the Czech public think of that? - Find out now in Talking Point.

Three weeks ago, a new memorial to victims of the Communist regime was unveiled in Prague, erected by the Prague 1 council. Twelve years have passed since the fall of Communism and only now has Prague built a monument dedicated to its victims. One of the guests at the ceremony was the chairman of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, Stanislav Drobny, who thinks that many crimes committed during the communist regime remain unpunished. After 1948, Mr Drobny was imprisoned for some time and although he was a trained lawyer, he was forced to work as an electrician for his whole life. Now he is campaigning against what he says is the growing influence of the Communist Party and also the amount of coverage the party gets in the media. Stanislav Drobny also says that with a few exceptions, political parties have not addressed the issue of the past in a clear way in their manifestoes.

"I don't think we have come to terms with our past. Everybody should think about their own guilt. For example those people who went to communist meetings and signed execution orders for political prisoners. We have to redress these things. People who were members of the Communist Party played an active part in destroying democracy. Everybody has to have the strength to look into their past and they must accept it. They should feel sorry and try and redeem their errors. We know that to err is human and even though somebody was an ardent communist, over the years they can change their opinion. But to be a communist is always either a moral defect or a rational calculation. Either somebody was not able to analyse Marxism and Leninism and see the great flaws in them or it was a matter of moral standing. Or they wanted to do better for themselves and they knew it would be easier with the party."

Twelve years on after the end of communism with many people still remembering the crimes committed in its name, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Communist Party retains a steady electorate of about 11 percent. Some recent polls even suggested the party might have a chance of gaining up to 18 percent in this year's election. Also the party, which has not undergone major reform and still maintains many of the orthodox principles it stood for before 1989, has by far the largest membership - a party faithful of about 113,000. How is that possible, a question I put to Jiri Pehe, one of the country's leading political analysts.

"Well, I think it's the result of many different developments and factors. One of them is the fact that the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia was not really a liberalised democratic, let's say social-democratic group which the Hungarian and the Polish communist parties were and as a result those communist parties were then able to transform themselves into social-democratic parties very easily. The Czechoslovak Communist Party was a very rigid orthodox group and as a result when it survived it was able to keep its clientele, many of its former members and also a lot of members of the so-called 'nomenklatura'. But I also think, of course, what has helped is that the new democratic system was not really very thorough in dealing with the Communist Party, so the party was able to keep a lot of its property, a lot of assets and in that it had a huge advantage over other democratic parties."

Shortly after the Velvet Revolution, which brought down communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the old Communist Party of Czechoslovakia lost a substantial part of its membership, which was until that time around a million people. Many people had joined the party just because it enabled them to do their job or their children to study at universities. Of course, many of those ex-members are still around. Some of them have found their way into other political parties and are also included on this year's ballots. A week before the general election I asked several people in the street whether they minded former members of the Communist Party running for parliament on other parties' ballots.

"Yes, I mind a great deal. It's absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is unacceptable only to a small number of our population. But I wish that could be changed and unless we learn to deal with that fact of our past we cannot go forward."

RP: And do you think that twelve years after the fall of communism these things don't really matter?

"Oh, they always matter. Those crimes that they've committed will never be erased or undone, they have impacted generations of lives. It's inexcusable."

"Well, it's just a fact of life and the ordinary voter should perhaps observe who is actually running and who he is voting for. So for myself, I don't vote for parties where I know that communists are sort of over-represented. Such as the Social Democrats."

"I'm going to vote for the Civic Democratic Party and I hope they are the party which is the least likely to include ex-communists or undercover communists."

RP: How about Mr Tlusty, for example?

"Mr Tlusty? I think he is the deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Party."

RP: He is a former communist.

"Is he? You see, I didn't know that. But I hope that there are not many like him. I hope the number is minimal compared to other parties. But I definitely mind former communists trying to seize power again, obviously, because what they did to us was dreadful and I definitely I don't want to have it again or go through it again."

"I think that it's good that they are going to the parliament but I don't agree with the fact that some communists are involved in other parties than the Communist Party, for the Social Democrats and also the ODS (Civic Democrats)."

"Well, I'm going to vote for the Coalition and especially for the Freedom Union. And as far as I know they refuse to accept any ex-communists. So I hope that there won't be any."

But contrary to those views it seems that at least half of the Czech population do not mind, according to how many would vote for parties with former communists and the Communist Party itself. The party with the most ex-communists among its members are the ruling Social Democrats. More than 30 former communist party members are featured on the Social Democrats' ballots and ten out of 14 regional election leaders of the Social Democrats have that one detail on their CVs in common. The opposition Civic Democrats have five ex-communists running while the Coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union have none. The Coalition even made all its candidates sign a declaration saying that they had never been members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Of course, the largest number of members of the old Communist Party can be found in the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, a direct successor of the ill-famed KSC.

And what does political analyst Jiri Pehe say - should voters really be bothered by the number of ex-communists on other parties' ballots now, twelve years after the Velvet Revolution?

"Well, I think it would be a bit hypocritical to be bothered too much simply because this was a society which for forty years was totally dominated by the Communist Party and although only about ten percent of the people were members of the Communist Party, everyone was connected in a way. That means either family members or people being members of socialist youth organisations, the Revolutionary Trade Union Movement and so on. And all of that is simply something that we still have to deal with. We have not managed to do so. But over all I think it would be very difficult to be too critical about the fact that some former members of the Communist Party are no longer members of the party and they are in other parties. I don't know where we would find people in this society."