Fwd: Neocommunists in Czech Republic

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMhotmail.com
Tue Nov 2 00:26:59 MST 1999






>From: Donald Todd <donald at sfu.ca>
>To: mstainsby at Hotmail.com
>Subject: dsanet: Fwd: Neocommunists in Czech Republic
>Date: Mon, 1 Nov 1999 16:59:35 -0800
>> >This message is from: "J. Hughes" <jhughes at changesurfer.com>
> >
> >A communist comeback
> >
> >Broken promises of prosperity drive many to blur bad memories, embrace
> >neo-socialism
> >
> >BY LORI MONTGOMERY
> >
> >Mercury News Berlin Bureau
> >Published Sunday, October 31, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News
> >
> >PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- At 21, Sarka Snoblova is old enough to do the
>sad
> >math of her life. Her monthly salary as a small-town seamstress is $120.
> >Her allergy medicine costs $30. An apartment would cost $150, excluding
> >water, electricity and heat.
> >
> >``It's impossible to get married now,'' said Snoblova. She can't even
> >imagine making enough money to move out of her parents' house. ``That's
> >why, three years ago, I started voting communist.''
> >
> >Ten years after the fall of communism, the communists are not gone.
>Visions
> >of prosperity that once flourished in central Europe have given way to
> >disillusionment and the realization that corruption and inequality can
> >flourish in free soil, too. Drastic economic reforms left many behind,
> >creating new and widening gaps between rich and poor.
> >
> >Political parties founded by leaders and supporters of disgraced
>communist
> >regimes still sit in every parliament and hold mayors' offices in
>hundreds
> >of towns and villages. Stock in many ex-communist parties is rising
>across
> >central Europe.
> >
> >In Germany, the Party of Democratic Socialism scored stunning victories
> >against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party in recent
> >state elections. In Poland, the ex-communist Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej
> >(Democratic Left Alliance, known by its acronym SLD) not only holds the
> >presidency but also hopes to stage a comeback in parliament.
> >
> >But nowhere is the pro-communist surge more striking than in the Czech
> >Republic, home of the ``Velvet Revolution'' and dissident President
>Vaclav
> >Havel. Buoyed by voters such as Snoblova who are disillusioned by low
> >wages, few jobs and a rising cost of living, the Communist Party of
>Bohemia
> >and Moravia now claims the support of 1 in 5 Czechs, polls show. It may
> >soon be the nation's most popular party.
> >
> >These, however, are not your father's communist parties. In most nations,
> >the ex-communists are socialists who water down their Marxist theory with
>a
> >draft of open markets. Apologetic about ``mistakes'' of the past, they
>try
> >to temper the ravages of capitalism by maintaining the social safety net
> >and guaranteeing jobs.
> >
> >In Germany, no leader from the Party of Democratic Socialism held high
> >office in the Communist Party of the old German Democratic Republic.
> >
> >``We of course understand that the GDR has been defeated,'' said Michael
> >Benjamin, the head of the PDS's communist platform.
> >
> >Poland's SLD isn't even socialist. Many Poles and Wall Street analysts
> >consider the SLD a more reliable steward of free-market reforms than the
> >anti-communist -- but trade-union dependent -- Akcja Wyborcza Solidarnosc
> >(Solidarity Electoral Action).
> >
> >In the Czech Republic, on the other hand, the Communist Party of Bohemia
> >and Moravia hasn't even changed its name.
> >
> >``This is a total neo-Stalinist party and they make no bones about it,
> >either,'' said Jiri Pehe, a former dissident and Havel adviser who now
> >heads the Prague campus of New York University. ``If the communist party
>is
> >the most popular party in the country, it should send shivers down
>anyone's
> >spine.''
> >
> >Czechs also are not typical ex-communist voters. In Germany, the bulk of
> >PDS support comes from young protest voters or disgruntled easterners who
> >are tired of being preached to by richer west Germans. Voting PDS -- a
> >purely east German party -- lets easterners support something that is
> >solely theirs.
> >
> >Czechs, on the other hand, are being presented with the kind of Marxist
> >rhetoric most countries shelved 10 years ago -- and many are responding
> >with hearty approval.
> >
> >At a recent rally to celebrate Miners' Day, a communist-era holiday, a
> >crowd of about 500 filled the town square and lined the streets of
>Pribram,
> >a former mining center where all the mines have closed, to hear Communist
> >Party chief Miroslav Grebenicek denounce the Czech government.
> >
> >``The conditions for honest life for simple people have been worsening
>and
> >worsening. . . . We're disgusted with 10 years of empty promises!''
> >thundered Grebenicek, whose party opposes membership in NATO and the
> >European Union and supports a planned state economy with guaranteed
> >employment.
> >
> >``Every worker, every farmer, every citizen who works honestly and hard .
>.
> >. is more useful to his country than all the so-called market economists
> >who steal our money,'' Grebenicek said. ``Social rights are also part of
> >human rights. Despite anti-communist rhetoric, the Communist Party
>provided
> >social rights for everyone, not just the rich.''
> >
> >Afterward, a throng of autograph seekers cornered Grebenicek under a
>linden
> >tree. A short man with a shock of white hair burst from their ranks.
> >
> >``I've never voted communist before, but what you said is 101 percent
> >true,'' the man said, pumping Grebenicek's hand.
> >
> >On the strength of such appeals, the party claims four of 81 seats in the
> >Czech senate and 24 of 200 seats in parliament. Its 143,000 dues-paying
> >members contribute 0.5 percent of their earnings. Thousands more, said
> >party Deputy Chairman Vaclav Exner, are ``collaborators and
>sympathizers.''
> >
> >But didn't the world reject communism? Not according to the new
>communists.
> >
> >``By pure Marxist theory, nobody has achieved communism yet,'' said
>Exner,
> >who keeps a large bust of Lenin in his office in downtown Prague. ``I
> >consider it a nonsense statement when somebody says communism was
>destroyed.''
> >
> >What existed in the Soviet bloc for much of the 20th century was
>socialism
> >-- and a flawed form of socialism at that, Exner and other communists
> >argue. If only the Czechoslovak regime had done a better job of managing
> >the economy and had not ``adhered to useless restrictions on freedom,''
>he
> >said, ``it wouldn't have been defeated.''
> >
> >To a large extent, the popularity of the communists is the fault of the
> >ruling coalition, a shaky marriage of convenience between the Social
> >Democrats and the right-wing Civil Democratic Alliance. With the
>government
> >paralyzed by basic policy differences and internal bickering, the
> >transition has stalled.
> >
> >Meanwhile, cronyism and corruption are rampant.
> >
> >State-owned companies were routinely handed over to communist-era elites,
> >who milked them for profit and shut them down, costing thousands of jobs.
> >While ordinary people are suffering through a long recession with nearly
>10
> >percent unemployment, society's winners are flaunting their privileges.
> >
> >Consider Miroslav Stepan, once one of the most hated men in the nation.
>In
> >1989, as demonstrators took to the streets in what would later be known
>as
> >the Velvet Revolution, Stepan, head of the Prague Communist Party, sent
> >police to beat them.
> >
> >One of the few communist leaders imprisoned for his actions, Stepan today
> >is a successful economic consultant and restaurant owner who trades
>openly
> >on political connections. He greets visitors in a chic hilltop mansion
> >equipped with sophisticated art, pricey furniture, a miniskirted
>assistant
> >and a spectacular view of Prague.
> >
> >Bizarrely, Stepan has also founded the breakaway Communist Party of
> >Czechoslovakia. Asked why he -- a consummate capitalist -- advocates the
> >return of a political system that trampled human rights and collapsed
>under
> >the weight of the misery it created, Stepan is blunt.
> >
> >``Human rights are a concept developed in America,'' he said. ``Talk to
> >people about human rights, and most will do this.'' He shrugs. ``The fact
> >is Havel talked about human rights . . . and rich people who lost their
> >property talked about human rights. But we weren't building the system
>for
> >them. The system was built for the 99 percent of people who, when they're
> >asked about human rights, shrug.
> >
> >``I don't object to these rights. But to make them the focal point upon
> >which history breaks as the millennium turns, I think there are other
> >things more important to the majority.''
> >
> >Across the Czech Republic, at least 1 in 5 people tend to agree.
> >
> >As Snoblova, the seamstress, said: ``It's very simple: When the
>communists
> >were in power, people had jobs, health care. We didn't have to worry
>about
> >anything.''
> >
> >
> >-------------------------------
> >James J. Hughes Ph.D.
> >Assistant Director of Institutional Research and Planning
> >Trinity College
> >71 Vernon St.
> >Hartford, CT 06106
> >860-297-2376
> >james.hughes at trincoll.edu
> >
>
>

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