Communist Party conference shows lack of will to reform

Vojtěch Filip, photo: CTK

The head of the Communist Party Vojtěch Filip was re-elected party leader at a national conference over the weekend, disappointing both reformists and radicals within the party who had lobbied for change. For years the party has been split over whether to reject the communist legacy and become a modern left-wing force with a chance of one day entering government or to remain loyal to its past.

Vojtěch Filip,  photo: CTK
The Czech Communist Party is the only communist party from the former Eastern bloc not to have changed its name. More significantly, they never renounced the communist putsch of 1948, which to this day they consider perfectly legal. Indeed, the re-elected chairman Vojtěch Filip has said it was more legal than the 1989 revolution. While this stand might satisfy the majority of the party’s 78,000 members, it poses some serious problems for the party’s future, as noted by the communist MEP Miloslav Randsdorf, who unsuccessfully ran for the post of chairman at the conference.

Miloslav Randsdorf,  photo: CTK
“There is a contradiction between the formal image of the left and the present day reality. Modernization was typical for the left in the past, but now in the Czech Republic, the left has the reputation of being a conservative force. This is something very difficult for the future because you cannot attract young supporters if you are the conservative force.”

So where does the party’s old-new chairman stand? Some of the things he says about how much good communism brought to Czechs and Slovaks, and the fact that he consistently blames the crimes of the regime on the Cold War, make him look like a true Bolshevik. But he’s in a difficult position – forever balancing on the fence and trying to keep both the hard-liners and the reformists in the party happy. His re-election, by 65 percent of the votes, shows that for the time being, the conservatives within the party are stronger than the reformists. By contrast, MEP Miloslav Randsdorf, who is considered one of the leading moderate politicians within the party, only got 22 votes out of 275.

Photo: CTK
In the 2006 general election, the Communist Party lost 15 MPs but the real problem is that they are losing membership. The party has in fact calculated that it naturally loses 16 members a day. As Mr Ransdorf pointed out, the communists have problems attracting young members and young voters, mainly due to the party’s ultra-conservative and rigid character.

Many pro-reform communist politicians are also increasingly frustrated with the party’s 19-year-long isolation and the fact that, as a result, their coalition potential is very limited. The head of the Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, who cooperated with the communists to a certain extent before the last election, refused to come to their party’s conference over the weekend precisely because they would not renounce their past. The weekend conference indicates that even 19 years after the fall of communism the party is not yet ready to make that decision – but until it does it cannot hope to become a regular modern left wing force.