Czech Communist Party Gains in Popularity

Owen Jones owen.jones at
Sat Aug 28 04:48:57 MDT 1999

--- This came as a big shock to me. I thought the restoration of capitalism
in the Czech Republic was not as harsh as in the other former Soviet
nations, and therefore anti-leftwing feeling was still strong due to the
stagnation and oppression of the Stalinist system. Not so. According to this
report from the rightwing think-tank, STRATFOR, in the opinion polls the
Czech Communist Party has increased its popularity - more popular than the
ruling Social Democratic Party. This is obviously an important development.

 However, does anyone know anything about the Czech Communist Party? I mean,
I used to have hopes for the Russian Communist Party, which was radically
misplaced considering. Have the CCP capitulated to the market, and become
little more than reformist Social Democrats? Or are they a bunch of
Stalinist ex-bureaucrats seeking their power back? Well, certainly this
article gives promising news. --- OJ


 Communist Party Gains in Czech Republic August 27, 1999


 Communists have attained their greatest popularity in the Czech Republic
since the end of the Cold War and are poised to gain seats in upcoming
Senate elections. The rise of the party in one of NATO¹s newest members
signals dissatisfaction with economic change and the sudden and very real
burdens of membership in the alliance. While the communists will not
drastically alter the Czech government, they are a bellwether of how poorly
change is being received in some of NATO¹s newest members.

 The Czech Communist Worker¹s Party (KSCM) has 4 seats in the senate. A key
seat in the 81-seat senate is up for grabs in the August 27 vote.   The
front-runner is the dominant Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), now
holding 23 seats. The second largest party, the right-wing Civic Democratic
Party (ODS), holds 26. Communists, however, are rising in the opinion polls.
At this point KSCM¹s popularity stands at about 17 percent, with the ruling
party CSSD at 15 percent and the ODS at 23 percent.
 While there is lingering resentment at the loss of Slovakia, much of the
surge in support for the KSCM and right-wing opposition groups is pure
frustration at a badly mishandled economy. The Czech Republic, like
Slovakia, is in a deep recession. Worried about unemployment, the Czechs are
increasingly interested in trying to keep Slovak workers out of the
 Topping it off, the republic¹s decision to join the European Union, which
is struggling even to build a common currency, is widely seen as stretching
the limits of a mismanaged economy. Czech dependence on the EU is growing,
too. Czech central bankers are testing the international bond markets, with
reported plans for a US$300 million bond issue.
 Though desired, the reality of the transition to the West has been a
jolting surprise to many Czechs. Acceptance to NATO earlier this year has
come with a considerable price tag. Early in the year, western militaries
began turning up the pressure for aspiring nations to modernize their
militaries. And as soon as the summit in Washington granted the Czechs
membership, they were asked to extend overflight rights to alliance aircraft
enroute to bomb Yugoslavia. As the war dragged on, and talk of invasion
mounted, the republic faced the unpleasant prospect of having to help invade
a fellow Slavic nation.
 The communists opposed entry into NATO, when the senate voted in April,
1998, to seek membership by a margin of 64 to 2. Ever since then, the KSCM
has been taking advantage of anti-Western sentiment, including feelings
against radical economic reform. NATO¹s bombing of Yugoslav bridges on the
Danube River triggered Vojtech Filip, the leader of the KSCM deputies group,
to accuse U.S. President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright, and Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO commander, of war crimes. Though
extreme, these accusations are consistent with the KSCM perspective.
 KSCM is hostile to the growing U.S. and German influence in the region and
the West¹s effort to co-opt post-Soviet states for Western strategic
advances. Features of KSCM that make the party attractive to voters are its
active campaign for socialism, its anti-corruption platform and cooperation
with unions and interest organizations.
 Support for the party is genuine; but communism in the Czech Republic is
not fashionable, and is not favored by dispirited youth. The party appears
set for a promising minority role in the parliament. Senate seats are held
for six-year terms, allowing KSCM to profit heavily.
 The rise of communists in what is arguably a crown jewel for NATO suggests
a broader problem. Democracy has clearly won in what was once called Eastern
Europe. Capitalism is still an uncomfortable companion. Poland¹s coalition
government has begun to tackle difficult economic reforms ­ particularly in
heavy industry ­ that were once seen as too tough. Reform is the price of
joining the EU. Poland will have to grapple with tension between its trade
unions and pro-market forces.
 Hungary has created growth by selling off state-run enterprises to foreign
investors; today foreign-owned firms account for one-third of the economy
and two-thirds of exports. But Hungary, too, has a long way to go in
becoming part of the West it has ostensibly joined.
 In the Czech Republic, an increase in KSCM senate seats will give the
communists more leverage, particularly as their politics are not entirely
incompatible with other parties. With a larger senate presence, the KSCM
will be involved in more of the give-and-take of democratic politics. This
will enable it to influence the outcome of much legislation, including
legislation dealing with relations with the West. The Czech Republic¹s
cooperation with NATO, then, stands a greater chance to be challenged in the
long term. This will be especially true if other parties start contending
with KSCM¹s popularity by borrowing from the anti-NATO, anti-EU sentiments
in their campaigns.

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