Czech communists re-elect Vojtěch Filip as party chair

Vojtěch Filip, photo: CTK

Amidst growing public support, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia elected a new leadership at a party congress in Liberec at the weekend. The re-election of the pragmatic incumbent chair, Vojtěch Filip, reflects the dilemma the party faces: modernization could rob it of support by communist hardliners while a more radical approach would make it unappealing to the growing numbers of voters disillusioned with the centre-right Czech government.

Vojtěch Filip,  photo: CTK
Czech Communists did not take any risks at the 8th party congress held in Liberec over the weekend. The delegates re-elected the current party chair Vojtěch Filip who in the second round of voting beat hardliner, Stanislav Grospič by a comfortable margin of over 100 votes. The third candidate for the post, a more liberal representative of a new generation of Czech communists, Martin Juroška, only received 96 votes.

The results of the vote reflect the party’s unwillingness to modernize in order to attract a wider spectrum of voters besides the regular 10-14 percent of protest votes the party usually receives at the polls. But it also shows how difficult it is to keep the party hardliners at bay. Kateřina Konečná is a 31-year old communist MP from northern Moravia.

“People know that Vojtěch Filip is not someone who glorifies the past and sees only positive things about the communist regime. The delegates at the congress considered all possibilities and decided to support Mr Filip. But I think that the important thing is that they rejected attempts to return the party to the past.”

The Communist Party congress in Liberec,  photo: CTK
Ms Konečná is referring to the fact that the congress favoured Votěch Filip over hardliner Stanislav Grospič. But rejecting the extremist wing within the party does not necessarily mean reshaping it into a modern left-wing party.

In a series of recent polls, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia ranked second strongest in the country with around 17 percent voter support, behind the opposition Social Democrats but ahead of the centre-right Civic Democrats. That might open the way to government for the long-ostracized party. But the communists would have to make a clean break with the past and lose the stigma of the totalitarian party that ruled the country with the help of Soviet tanks.

Commentator Jan Čulík says that in recent elections, frustrated Czechs voters again and again supported new parties which would deal with some of the pressing issues of the day, such as corruption. But the Communists have so far been unable to tap that voter potential.

Jan Čulík
“I don’t think that the support for the Communists is generated by the fact that voters would like Marxism-Leninism and the pre-1989 regime. It’s a protest vote. […] It’s very regrettable that the Czech Communist party is absolutely unable to step into the present and start dealing with the problems and the disillusionment the Czech population feels as a modern political party.”

The Social Democrats have until now shunned the Communists although the two parties did form some regional governments together. The Communist Party now looks to the autumn regional elections with hope a good showing at the polls might make them a more attractive match, and eventually pave the way for them to enter government.