Communists in row over whether to apologise for past regime

A row has broken out in the Communist Party over whether or not to apologise for crimes committed by Czechoslovakia’s former Communist regime. Twenty years after the Velvet Revolution, the party still largely remains a pariah on the political scene - at least on the national level. An apology would theoretically be one step towards political acceptance.

Jiří Dolejš
Twenty years after the Velvet Revolution a new apology by the Communist Party would probably be written off by many as insincere and irrelevant. But for the party itself, such a move could make political sense. For years, the Communists have been blocked from cooperating with their natural allies the Social Democrats under the latter’s Bohumín resolution, and if that is to change anytime in the future, they’ll have to take steps. Deputy leader Jiří Dolejš, seen as more liberal among his party, has pushed for an apology without conditions, but that has put him at odds with party leader Vojtěch Filip. On Monday, Mr Filip agreed an apology might be in the cards, but only in return for concrete political gain: namely a pre-election agreement with the Social Democrats on future cooperation. Political analyst Jiří Pehe says power – not remorse – is what is at stake:

“I am convinced that this apology offer has totally pragmatic roots. The party has had twenty years to go to the roots of the problem, that is to say that what its predecessor did was wrong. It had made opportunities to apologise for moral reasons and never did so. Many of the people there are the same people who have been there all along. I don’t think they have suddenly become troubled by the fact that apologises issued before far were not forceful enough or did not take on the real roots of Communist rule.”

But even a politically-motivated apology could have positive consequences; Jiří Pehe continues:

“One can be grateful for an apology driven by tactics, because it will change the perception of the party and change the power-balance in the Communist Party, opening the door for more liberal politicians. That is why Mr Dolejš is for an apology without conditions and why party chairman Vojtěch Filip is tying it to an agreement with the Social Democrats. You can describe this as an internal struggle between the liberals and hardliners: Mr Dolejš is well aware if the Communists were to apologise without conditions it would tip the balance in his favour and strengthen his wing.”

Who will come out ahead remains uncertain for now but this much is clear: twenty years after the Velvet Revolution, the Communist Party still has to at least make some show of contrition or it will continue to remain on the sidelines. Three months ahead of elections, though, they are not likely to get any kind of promise from the Social Democrats, who have to balance among their own voters - many of whom would be dissatisfied if the Social Democrats slid too far in the Communists’ direction.