MP insult row illustrates difficulties with addressing communist past

Zdeněk Ondráček, photo: CTK

The Czech Chamber of Deputies has recently been embroiled in a controversy over one deputy calling another a “communist fízl”, a scornful term for policemen and their informers. The heated debate over whether the MP should apologize has produced no conclusion. However, it does illustrate the difficulties of addressing the nation’s communist past.

Zdeněk Ondráček,  photo: CTK
Czech MPs spent several hours on Thursday discussing whether or not a former police officer who beat anti-communist protesters in 1989 can be called a “communist fízl”. That is the term that outspoken TOP 09 deputy Miroslav Kalousek used to describe Communist Party MP Zdeněk Ondráček during a lower house session in June.

There is no English equivalent to the expression fízl. It usually refers to police officers and their informers; some have argued it is vulgar but others say it is commonly used. Even the MPs argued about its exact meaning, and Czech TV asked a linguist for his opinion.

Mr Ondráček joined the communist police force in 1988, a year before the Velvet Revolution. In January 1989, as a member of the riot unit, he was one of several hundred officers who violently supressed anti-communist rallies on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, beating protestors with batons and spraying them with water cannons.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
However, taking issue with being called a fízl, Mr Ondráček complained to the Mandate and Immunity Committee of the lower house, which ordered Miroslav Kalousek to apologize. But he refused, raising the matter in a lower house session.

“I would never use the word to refer to regular police officers under communism, or to investigators and traffic wardens. But members of the secret police and the riot squad served a criminal regime by supressing people’s free expression, their civic opinions and desire for democracy. Those were communist fízls.”

The deputies on Thursday eventually took two votes on the issue; in one, they rejected Mr Kalousek’s proposal to annul the committee’s verdict. But only a few minutes later, they also rejected a motion to confirm it.

Several commentators and activists have come out in support of Miroslav Kalousek, arguing that his apology would in fact amount to the legitimisation of the communist regime.

But his opponents believe that Mr Ondráček had little to be ashamed of. Commentator Jiří Pehe says the discussion illustrates the difficulties of the Czech society’s reflection of its communist past.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“The ANO party leader, Finance Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was a member of the communist party, and is suspected of having collaborated with the secret police.

“While we have this situation on the highest level of government, MPs resort to calling each other names. I think that is symptomatic with how the Czech Republic has, or rather has not dealt with its past.”

Mr Kalousek will most likely face no penalty for his refusal to apologize. Although the voting produced no conclusion, lower house lawyers determined the committee’s verdict never entered in the force.