On November 21 2012, the head of the Czech Museum of Agriculture was fired for selling a book praising communist-era agriculture. In a separate ceremony, former WWII resistance fighters were publicly thanked and paid 15.2 million Czech crowns (Kč.) by the country as a gesture of reward for their bravery. Yet, at the same time, regional public elections were held, with the result that the communists garnered up to 20% of the vote in some regions, which led to the appointment of a communist governor in one region and the communists assuming leadership positions in the regional coalition governments. Most political analysts attributed the communists strong showing to a protest vote against the policies of the ruling conservative coalition.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) remains a strong influence in the Czech Republic, with political power and ads everywhere. The party has public support – in the 2012 regional elections, the communists won 20.4% of the vote, second only to the CSSD, which had 23.6% of the votes. Who sides with the communists, and why?
One such person, perhaps very representative, is Kateřina Konečná, a parliamentary member and an active member and believer in the KSCM. The 31 year old was elected to parliament at age 21, making her the youngest MP in the Czech Republic’s history. She had already been working in protests against the adoption of international currency and against the recent war in former Yugoslavia. “It was a crazy time,” Konečná says of her blast to parliament. “In January I was sitting and discussing things at a bar, and then in July I was in Parliament.” Now, Konečná as an MP works in the Foreign Affairs Commission, and is the chairman of the Environmental Committee as well as a member of the council of Europe.
Konečná does not match the American idea of a typical communist. She is small, bubbly, happy and open (though she became worried when I mentioned this article may be published – “We always say, do not talk to the newspapers,” she said.) With her short blonde bob, stylish clothes, and warm courtesy, she would blend in among the soccer moms at a Virginia sporting event.
A large part of Konečná’s motivation to join the communist party stems from pacifist ideology. “I worked in protests against the war in the Balkans. I was there and saw what America was doing there, and I wanted to change it,” she says. “Our former president Mr. Havel said the bombing [in the Balkans] was humanitarian. We need young people who think another way,” says Konečná. She also opposes the approximately 24 to 58 billon Kc that the Czech Republic spends each year on military expenditures.
In Czech politics, Konečná says the KSCM fights to make the state provide the services that citizens deserve for free. Though the Czech Republic currently does not require its university students to pay tuition, Konečná says that’s not enough, since some citizens can’t afford school for financial reasons. “I think the Communist Party is good social politics for people who are not so rich…When I lived in Northern Moravia, there was one student whose family paid 6,000 Kč. for him to eat, live there, for travel and books. In this region, a salary of 8,000 Kč. is normal. If you have 3 kids and only 20,000 Kč., it’s impossible.”
However, she doesn’t agree with all state spending. She, along with many other communists, is staunchly against the retribution of churches, a legislation recently passed to reimburse the Catholic churches in the Czech Republic for loss of property during communism. She also does not agree with all equality measures in the Czech Republic – she opposes the quota system, in which a certain percentage of women are required in the government. “I know many women say no, because they have a family, but they all have a chance.” She also adds, “If I have children, I will end with politics.”
Konečná says it was her passion for peace and welfare that brought her to the Communist party in 2002. “It was a program,” she shrugs, when asked why she joined. “I don’t agree with NATO as an army alliance. The Communist Party was a party that didn’t agree [with NATO.] We see war as the worst solution, we need to find reason in a diplomatic way.” However, Konečná is open to foreign relations. “The UN is good,” she explains, “because every country can discuss. I believe in speaking with people, because the army is no solution.”
Yet many Czechs remember a very different life under communism, a reign that lasted from 1948 to 1989. Closed borders, secret police, censorship of ideas, executions, show trials and a neglect of mental illness patients were just a few of the horrors that surrounded Czech life under communism. Many fear that electing the communist party to government will cause a relapse into the old regime.
Konečná believes this is impossible. “We no longer live in a world split by east and west,” she says. “We don’t want the former regime. The last regime made many mistakes.” However, she does venture to call the Velvet Revolution “a disappointment” for the people, since, she says, “It was about money,” referring to the corruption and uninhibited capitalism that came after the Velvet Revolution as the country attempted to get on its feet after the regime change.
“The Communist Party has its own history from 1993,” she says. “But it’s natural for people living from 1948-1989 who will say it’s not good. We have to show people we are not so horrible.” What Konečná does not mention is the fact that the KSČM is the only communist party in post-communist Central Europe that has not reformed itself, and that refuses to renounce it’s criminal and bloody past, which is why many people rightfully see it as a direct continuation of of the pre-1989 communists.
This duality is personified in KSCM leader Vojtech Filip. In an interview with the Prague Post, he says, “We are not so stupid to repeat the mistakes that the communist party of Czechoslovakia made for so long that rid her of authority in the society.” However, a moment later, he states, “I am convinced that currently the majority of the citizens are doing worse now than they were in Czechoslovakia before 1989.” It is thus up to the Czech people to figure out if the KSČM represents a true change, or is merely a continuation of the past.
published: 30. 12. 2012