Europe, Headlines

CZECH REPUBLIC: Communism Alive, Despite Isolation

Zoltán Dujisin

PRAGUE, Oct 2 2008 (IPS) - The government's frequent use of the 'communist card' against opponents is casting a shadow on its lustration attempts in a country where an isolated but strong communist party persists.

A former prime minister, two former cabinet ministers, a presidential candidate, a state attorney and an archbishop are some of the high-ranking figures that have recently faced accusations of cooperating with the communist secret services.

Efforts to remove all traces of the communist past from the state apparatus have gained new impetus following the nomination in 2006 of Ivan Langer, a prominent member of the ruling neo-liberal Civic Democrats (ODS), for the post of interior minister.

Parliament last year approved the creation of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes to collect, analyse and publish documents on the Nazi and Communist periods in Czech lands, giving particular attention to the activities of the communist secret services.

"Seeking for StB (the state security service of former Czechoslovakia) collaborators is still an important activity. Czech people must learn that immoral behaviour can't pay off," Lukas Cvrcek, a historian at the Institute told IPS.

The social-democratic opposition and the communists are unhappy with the Institute, and fear that personal information can be selectively used to discredit political opponents, as was recently the case in neighbouring Poland.


"Of course many informers were forced to cooperation by exaction and purposely gave only non-significant facts. That is why each case needs very careful analysis before final judgment," Cvrcek says.

The communists, the third strongest political force in the country with an almost 13 percent showing in the 2006 legislative elections, complain of persecution in the present-day Czech Republic.

According to Czech law, members of the former ruling Communist Party of Czechoslovakia cadres, StB agents or officers and graduates of Soviet intelligence schools are banned from taking important functions in the state administration.

"Those who threw out their party cards and changed their identity overnight kept their jobs, the rest was persecuted," Hassan Charfo, head of the Department of International Relations at the Czech Communist Party (KSCM) told IPS.

Cvrcek reminds critics that the controversial institute is not the country's highest authority. "When somebody believes the conclusions of our institute are wrong, he can litigate for defamation before an independent court," he told IPS. Right-wing politicians say Langer has simply inherited the work his predecessors should have done, and that the left fears its links to communism will be revealed.

The pages of the archives of the former state security run 17 kilometres long, and number 155 million pages of information on 220,000 officers. Only half of this material has been processed, and the intention is to declassify and publish the reports.

The case of state attorney Radim Obst raised suspicions how the government will treat the material.

Obst was accused in 2007 of cooperating with the StB just as he investigated a corruption scandal involving a leading politician of the right-wing coalition. He was cleared of the accusation only after his replacement Arif Salichov hastily dismissed the corruption case.

The 'red menace' has also come as a silver bullet against civic groups. "The moment that one party lacks arguments, the easiest thing to do is to smear opponents," Jiri Tutter, head of the Czech branch of Greenpeace told IPS.

"The communist or leftist sticker can be devastating in the eyes of the public, even if our organisation is filled with people who are liberal or even hate communism," says Tutter. In 1995, he says, Greenpeace was included in a list of "extremist organisations".

Tutter says a common theme in right-wing smear campaigns is to question the funding of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). "Langer asked 'who knows who pays them?', so we invited him to check our accounts, but he never came," says Tutter.

Much of the press and politicians have frequently implied that Russian secret services are behind the activities of civic organisations opposing the construction of a U.S. radar to be integrated in the U.S. missile defence system.

The communists' complains are even stronger: the communist youth union has been disbanded for including goals such as the elimination of private ownership and the overcoming of capitalism through revolution.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Graber also ventured into Czech domestic politics by saying he would not tolerate the existence of a party which goes "against market economy, suppresses free enterprise, rejects NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) membership", and has a notorious past.

Although the KSCM programme does not run against the market economy or private enterprise, there was only mild criticism for Graber's diplomatic escapade. The communists are convinced the country has fallen victim of what Charfo calls the "politics of anti-communism."

"People are afraid of being active with us because they risk losing their jobs, that's the main reason for the difference between participation in our actions and election results," he says.

With slightly less than 80,000 members, the KSCM is still the political force with the largest membership in the country.

Far away from the 350,000 members it had in 1992, its ageing membership is bringing numbers down, although the communists also boast the highest number of young members.

KSCM head Vojtech Filip has so far managed to balance tensions between the hard-line and the younger modernising trends within the party, but the practical result has been that the communists cannot forge permanent alliances with any political force. They are accused of not having distanced themselves enough from the past.

"In 1990 we apologised for many mistakes of the past," Charfo reminds critics, adding that the communists "believe in political and economic pluralism; in the private, social and collective sectors; and in recognising the role of the opposition."

The party official seems to imply that only an electoral victory of the left will bring them to the mainstream. "If the balance of forces is changed, everything changes."

 
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