Czech Communists

jbm7 at jbm7 at
Thu Sep 16 12:37:59 MDT 1999

Some more on this development which was discussed recently
Jim Monaghan

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Czech Republic

Czech workers are turning towards the Communist Party, in
frustration at the country's first Social Democratic government.

Adam Novak

Unemployment has continued to rise since Milos Zeman's Social
Democrats took power in 1998. And the party has failed to take
the promised action against "thieves and profiteers" who
dominated the country's mass privatisation process. As the
overwhelmingly right-wing media try to discredit and divide the
Social Democrats, the main benefactors seem to be the Communist
Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which now has over 18% voter
support, up from 11% during the 1998 elections.

"Voters expected dramatic steps from the Social Democrats,"
explains Jan Herzmann of the Sofres-Factum public opinion survey
company. "71% of those who voted for the Social Democrats in 1998
wanted the party to investigate all cases of privatisation since
1989, and at least half wanted the new government to
renationalise all 'bad' cases of privatisation."

In fact, after nine years of limited reform under "Thatcherite"
Premier Vaclav Klaus, it is the Social Democrats who are now
trying to privatise the country's (highly profitable) breweries
and (less successful) airline.

About eleven percent of Czech voters are solid supporters of the
Communist Party. It has renounced Stalinism but (unlike its
sister parties across Eastern Europe) resisted the trend towards
social democratic politics. A recent opinion poll suggests that
the increasing support for the party comes from strongly
anti-Stalinist voters, who are angry at the country's mainstream
parties. Communist preferences have particularly risen in the
northern regions most heavily hit by economic decline since 1989.

Although the party's core support comes from older workers and
the retired?the main victims of the transition to capitalism?the
new supporters include many younger people. But according to
Herzmann, "these younger supporters are mainly attracted to the
original, Communist ideal. The party has done little to open
itself, for instance, to frustrated ecological activists."
The party has 22% support among those over 45, but only 7%
support in the under-29 age group. Eighteen percent of manual
workers now say they would vote for the party. Most of the
increasing support for the Communists comes from men. Only 12% of
women say they would vote for the party, compared to over 20% of

Voters "increasingly have the impression that the current
political class do not behave any better than the pre-1989
[Stalinist] elite," says Herzmann. "The feeling that the pre-1989
system was a bad one is weakening. People are gradually
idealising the past. Sometimes for understandable reasons. When
someone loses his job after thirty years, and can't find work,
then his main memory isn't that, in the Communist days, there was
always a shortage of bananas. He is more likely to remember that,
in the old days, everyone was in work, everyone earned a salary."

"There is a general radicalisation of society. Radical feelings
about unequal property relations; income inequality; hostility
towards multinational corporations and foreign investors. More
and more people are willing to consider participation in some
form of protest, or voting for a radical party."

Since 1989, the Czech media and political elite have marginalised
and demonised the Communist Party. But some now think that
incorporating the party into the mainstream would be the best way
to neutralise worker discontent. Pollster Jan Herzmann is
convinced that "the party's core voters could easily be
reoriented towards the centre-left," if the party adopted a
social-democratic programme. According to Mlada Fronta Dnes
newspaper, a "modernised" Communist Party could hope to win 25%
of the vote, reducing the Social Democrats to 10-15%.

Only 15% of those who voted Communist in 1988 would like to see a
return to pre-1989 conditions. Hardline ex-party boss Miroslav
Stepan is trying to organise these voters behind an unrepentant
Stalinist party. As the Communists are capturing most of the
strongly dissatisfied voters, support for the Stalinists, and for
the far-right Republicans, has fallen sharply.

Source: Based on a report in Mlada Fronta Dnes, 19 August 1999

· Government human rights emmissary Petr Uhl has pleaded with
residents of the north Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem not to
"ghettoise" their Roma ("gypsy")  population.

The ghetto was created in 1993, when authorities began
concentrating "non-rent-paying" families, and those expelled when
private landlords reclaimed their pre-1945 property under the
controversial "restitution" laws. Two years later, white
residents in the adjacent streets demanded action against their
"noisy and smelly" Roma neighbours.

The town council promised to build a  four metre high wall down
the middle of the street. When the story was picked up by
international media, they backed down?proposing only a two-metre
high, ceramic structure, "purely as a noise barrier."

Until 1989 Uhl was a key member of the Charta 77 dissident
movement, and one of the few revolutionary Marxists in the
east-European pro-democracy movement. Since the fall of the
Stalinist regime he has focused on new human rights questions,
particularly the defence of the Roma ("gypsy") minority. When
Czechoslovakia split, he demanded a Slovak passport, to
illustrate the arbitrary nature of the rules that divided the
population and threatened to exclude most Czech Roma from
citizenship on the basis of their (often distant) Slovak origins.

Source: Lidove noviny, 2 September 1999

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