May Day without the Communists forever?

Prague Letna, photo: CTK

For decades Letna Plain was reserved on May 1st for the Communist Party - whether it was the totalitarian Communist Party of Czechoslovakia before 1989 or the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia after it. Each year this large open space a few hundred metres from Prague Castle was filled with red flags, and Letna rang out to the sound of the Internationale. But this year, Letna was moving to a different rhythm.

Prague Letna,  photo: CTK
This year a group called the Confederation of Political Prisoners pipped the Communists to the post. They camped out overnight at the local council offices, and booked Letna Plain for themselves. So on May 1st Letna was full of the red, white and blue flags of various organisations and political parties, mostly from the right end of the political spectrum. The coalition Christian Democrats were very much in evidence, as were the opposition Civic Democrats. And even the scouts - who were heavily persecuted by the Communist regime. I spoke to their deputy leader Petr Mach.

"Scouting was interrupted three times in Czech history. Once by the Nazis, and twice by the Czech Communists. Our members were destroyed in concentration camps throughout the Czech Republic and the Soviet Union."

What was it about the Scouts that the Communists were so afraid of?

"Maybe it was because of our founder in the beginning of the last century, Antonín Benjamin Svojsik, who said after coming back from the Soviet Union before the Second World War that communism isn't scouting and scouting isn't scouting, and the Communists will destroy the Scouts."

But the Communist regime is over. So why are you here?

"Because the Communist Party hasn't been abolished. At the moment scouting is supported by democratic powers and the Communist Party is still growing in popularity. The people who vote Communist didn't change their mind and their style of life and their values."

There was certainly a carnival atmosphere on Letna this year, but a month before the elections, the mood was highly political. Among the parties pitching their tents on Letna Plain this year were the European Democrats, led by the former mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl.

"Is it fair that a party that destroyed so many people's lives, so many human beings, over decades be allowed to celebrate anywhere in the city? I don't pity the Communists [who have been denied the chance to gather on Letna] but those who were punished, who couldn't live their lives during the Communist regime. So I was really pleased to speak here on behalf of the SNK-European Democrats and to praise a future without the Communists."

But the future is already a future without the Communists isn't it? They haven't been in power for 16 years, and it doesn't look like that will change. They're an opposition force, and a spent force.

Prague Letna,  photo: CTK
"Well, I was calling for the abolition of Communists inside ourselves. I was calling for the punishment of those who wish to collaborate with the Communists in the future. The Communists are not out of power. They have 18 percent support in parliament. They have a certain proportion of power. Their people are involved in many committees, they're travelling, they're representing the country, they're in the European Parliament on behalf of the Czech Republic, six of them. So they are definitely not out of power."

But that's parliamentary democracy. That's what's you fought for in 1989.

"Well, concerning democracy I agree. But a non-democratic party cannot be a party of democracy, that's the problem. Is the Communist Party a democratic party? Should they be allowed to play on the stage of democratic parties? The question is that the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is not a democratic party because they didn't cut themselves off from the past. They never said - we are very sorry, we do not continue. There is a legal continuation from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. I have nothing against a democratic left-wing party. But the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is not that type of democratic party. So I don't think they should be allowed to be part of the democratic system."

Jiri Dolejs,  photo: CTK
Just a few days ago a Communist MP, Jiri Dolejs, was badly beaten up in the street on his way home. The Communist Party says this is part of an atmosphere of violence and confrontation that you - the right-wing parties - are fostering.

"First, I am very sorry for what happened to Jiri Dolejs. I know him from the municipal assembly of Prague, he was my colleague. I'm so sorry for the physical injuries he received. But was it really a political attack? Was there not something else behind it? Nobody knows, and Jiri Dolejs couldn't prove it. So I'm so sorry for what happened, but I'm not sorry for the campaign that was started by the Social Democrats and of course played by the Communists, and I'm afraid that Jiri Dolejs has been misused in a certain campaign against democratic parties."

Prague Letna,  photo: CTK
But among the stalls here on Letna Plain there are some selling T-shirts with anti-Communist slogans, including "Kill A Communist - Support World Peace". Surely that encourages an atmosphere of violence?

"No, that's stupid, and it's something I can hardly support. I don't think the atmosphere in the Czech Republic is so violent and anti-Communist - "Kill A Communist And Go To Heaven" - it's not like that. This is provoked by the past, and 40 years of a regime where anti-Communists were fired from their jobs, the children of people who refused to support the regime were not allowed to study."

So the music played, the beer flowed, and the anti-Communist T-shirt stall did a brisk trade. We'll have to wait and see if this year's "May Day Without Communism Forever" was just a one off, or really forever.