Czech Senate proposes law banning Communist Party symbols

In October last year, an explicit ban on the propagation of Nazism and Communism was proposed by the upper house of Czech parliament, intended to force the Communist Party to distance itself from its past. The amendment to the penal code was rejected earlier this month by the Chamber of Deputies, where Communist and Social Democrat deputies hold a majority, but its authors said they would resubmit it if the balance of power changed after the elections. Now, a group of senators, led by Martin Mejstrik and Jaromir Stetina, want to propose a new law, extended to include all Communist symbols.

Bohumil Laušman, foto: ČTK
If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. This has certainly been the mentality of the Senate in recent months with regard to the proposed ban on the propagation of Nazism and Communism in the Czech Republic. The previous attempt to push the Penal Code amendment through the mostly left wing Chamber of Deputies was swept aside, as 68 out of 135 deputies voted against it. But in spite of this failure, senators are now adopting an even stricter stance on the issue, calling for a total ban on Communist symbols in the country. This will include the hammer and sickle, and possibly even the red star and flag. The group of senators, headed by Martin Mejstrik and Jaromir Stetina, believe that such a ban is necessary as courts rarely prosecute left wing extremism, which is not treated with the same severity as Nazism. I spoke to Senator Stetina about the issue:

"I think the political reasons for the ban on the propagation of Nazism and Communism are extremely serious, as the existing Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is contravening Article 5 of the Czech constitution. The article renders it illegal for any party whose policies include violence of any sort to be part of the democratic system, and the manifesto from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia's last congress includes precisely that. Therefore I believe this is a party against the constitution, and that is why my colleagues and I are taking action."

If passed, the revised law would have a significant impact on the Communist Party, affecting everything from the symbols used in propaganda to party policy, as Senator Stetina explains:

"If this ban, or rather this law, for the prevention of Communist and Nazi propagation were passed, it would mean that the Communist Party would have to be renamed and would need to reapply for registration as a political party. In this process there would be a stage whereby parliament would have to make sure that calls for violent solutions to social problems were omitted from the programme when registering the new left-wing party. Essentially, this is an effort to transform the last Stalinist party in Eastern Europe into, hopefully, a regular left-wing party."

But previous attempts to pass the law have been met by stiff opposition from leftist politicians, amongst others, who claim that there is nothing in the Communist manifesto opposing the Czech constitution and that the amendment is in contravention of freedom-of-speech. And since the Communist Party does not openly condone revolutionary violence at present, experts foresee that this lack of grounds for legal action could cause problems for Stetina's proposal a second time around.