Communist roadblock

The only unreformed reds remaining in Europe should be finally called to account

By Martin Jan Stránský

July 19, 2006

Czechoslovakia’s first president, T.G Masaryk, said it would take 50 years for democracy to take root here. From the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 until today, Czechs never got that chance. The founding of a free Czechoslovakia in 1918 was cut off a mere 20 years later, with the betrayal of its allies via the Munich Agreement, in which the Western powers ceded large parts of the country to Hitler as a form of appeasement. This left yet another deep psychological scar on a people used to political betrayal.

In 1989 we got another chance. Today, we are 16 years down the line. We complain that our politicians are the worst of the lot. Really? Does our neighbor treat us that much better?

Masaryk knew why we need 50 years. A people who never in their history had an adequate chance to rule themselves cannot be expected to simply do it right off the bat. New functional models need to spring up and progressively replace the old ones. All that takes time, during which our thinking will slowly change as well.

That’s why, though we elected Stanislav Gross – a mere child without any practical experience or moral credit â as prime minister; we were further along the way than when Václav Klaus was prime minister. We tolerated Klaus’ not explaining where he got millions of dollars for his Civic Democrats (ODS) party. Not so with Gross, who was forced to resign for not being able to account for a far smaller sum. Our tolerance for corruption is just a bit less now than it was then.

If there is a single telling barometer of just where we are along Masaryk’s time course today, then it is the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) which, as the only remaining unreformed communist party in Europe, has not renounced its brutal past and instead represents itself as a continuation of the old system. The party and its continued existence remains a source of constant debate. Some say it should be allowed to continue under our “democratic system,” others say it should be outlawed, or that it should be given all the power it wants so as to prove just how ineffective it really is.

A society in which many segments are still mired in a post-communist mindset cannot be expected to resolve such a complex issue overnight.

With the help of their still-active former communist judges, members of the KSČM continue to evade blame for the many atrocities of their past.

A recent judge’s pardon of KSČM’s chief Vojtěch Filip, in which he claimed that he didn’t know he was working for the former communist secret service while on the job for their sister organization, serves as continuing evidence that old ties are alive and well.

Challenging such decisions takes courage, since in essence one is not just challenging a system itself, but also creating a new moral background against which a new national identity can emerge. For the time being, this is something we are afraid to do – it’s simply too abstract, aloof and above all, dangerous, since whenever we tried to do such a thing in our history (such as in 1938 and 1968), we always paid a severe price.

Nevertheless, there will soon come a day when we will be ready to take the next step along the path. This time, as opposed to the largely individual initiatives of senators or citizen groups, our entire society will eventually decide to place the communists under a strong magnifying glass. At that point, it will be clear to one and all that the existence of such a conglomerate in its present state is absolutely incompatible with us proceeding forward along Masaryk’s way. The argument of giving the KSČM increased powers or any power at all will suddenly be an affront to our intelligence.

That’s why the current post-election political stalemate – in which the conservative party victors of the election cannot form a cabinet due to the seats in Parliament being split evenly down the middle between the Social Democratic (ČSSD) opposition coalition and the winner’s coalition – presents a much deeper lesson than most care to see. Thus far, all politicians, from President Klaus to Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, have prostituted themselves to the Communists in order to secure their votes for key political maneuvering.

The current political stalemate is the direct result of the continuing “dependency” on a political party that single-handedly represents all the evils of the past. If, however, politicians decided to “act like real men” (a phrase they understand), they could discover that, together, they could quite simply get rid of a competing political party (an argument that they understand even better) by simply giving the KSČM an ultimatum: Change and renounce your past or face the consequences of a joint attack aimed at liquidating your existence.

Such a step would have untold positive consequences for our national character, not to mention for our remaining politicians. This is confirmed by the glaring irony that the eradication of the KSČM would actually help the left-wing ČSSD the most, since it would be they to whom most of the former Communist voters would gravitate. Hence, it would be the ČSSD and not the conservatives who would today be given the obvious choice of forming a cabinet. There would be no stalemate at all.

And that’s an irony that is sad, but hopeful as well.

– The author is a physician, commentator and publisher of The New Presence.


The Prague Post19.7.2006

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