Czechs consider banning Communist Party

AP News
Posted: Jul 29, 2011 8:03 AM
Czechs consider banning Communist Party

They're the Czech Republic's fourth-largest political party, but the hardline Communists could soon be outlawed if the center-right government has its way.

It's more than two decades since communism collapsed here, but the survivors and ideological heirs to the party that ruled from 1948 until the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989 are under increasing political pressure.

Petr Necas' government has taken the first step toward a possible ban by asking the Interior Ministry to work on a legal complaint to make it happen. A study commissioned by a Senate committee compiled numerous complaints from lawmakers about their conduct.

The party, which is vehemently opposed to NATO, brands opponents "terrorists" and maintains friendly ties with the ruling Communists in Cuba, China and North Korea.

Unlike most other communist parties in the region that have joined the left-wing mainstream, the Czech party has maintained its hardline stance.

Supporters of the ban say it is a direct successor of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, whose members killed more than 240 political prisoners while thousands of other opponents died in prisons.

Jaromir Stetina, the main force behind the Senate report, said the Communists are an anachronism.

"The Czech Communists adore the violent communism based on Marx and Lenin," Stetina told The Associated Press. "They adore revolutionary violence."

He says the party should have been banned immediately after the Velvet Revolution.

"Of course, it was a mistake, that's true _ but it's still not too late to correct that mistake," he said. "The party remains dangerous."

But the Communists retain a support base. It's mostly formed of supporters of the communist-era party who oppose post-1989 changes. They are also able to attract voters by criticizing mistakes made by governments and problems connected with the country's transition from to democracy.

They currently have 26 members in Parliament's 200-seat lower house. In the 2010 election, they won 11.3 percent of the vote and regularly get more than 10 percent.

Communist Party chairman Vojtech Filip dismissed government criticism, saying his party's activities have never broken any law or violated the Constitution.

"They just can't ban a (political) view," Filip told AP. "They can't be serious about that."

Only the fringe, far-right Workers Party has been banned since 1989. The Supreme Administrative Court _ which would have the final word on banning the Communists _ took that decision in 2010 based on a government complaint, ruling that the party threatened democracy and was linked to neo-Nazis.

Filip said the government "is afraid of the opposition," and suggested they should spend their time tackling potential threats from right-wing extremists, especially in the wake of the Norway massacre.

Bohumil Dolezal, a prominent political analyst, called the government's move "a futile attempt" to regain sagging popularity and divert attention from fierce public opposition to its reforms of health and pension systems.

"It's nonsense," Dolezal said. "There's no sensible reason for the move. The Communists operate within the legal framework. They're careful not to break any law."

The Interior Ministry is scheduled to complete the legal complaint by the end of October.

Many Czechs who had to live under the totalitarian communist regime for more than four decades are welcoming the move but say it comes too late.

"I'd agree with the ban, but it seems we missed the right time," said Jaroslava Tesinska, 65, a retiree from Prague.

According to a 2011 survey, 50.1 percent of Czechs support the party's ban while 39.6 percent were against it. The SANEP agency questioned 6,812 people aged 18-69 in the Feb 17-20 poll. The margin of error was 1.5 percentage point.

Historian Petr Blazek of Prague's Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes said one of the reasons the party has not changed is that reform-minded communists were expelled from the party in the years after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that crushed the Prague Spring.

"The party lost its reform potential, unlike their counterparts in Poland or Hungary," Blazek said.

Poland's communist party was dissolved after the Soviet collapse and most of its members have vanished from politics, into business. That party's offspring is the European-style leftist Democratic Left Alliance that is in parliament with support well over 10 percent.

In Bulgaria, the Communists abandoned their ideology and changed their name to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which has been in power several times. In Hungary, most of the members of the old communist party transformed themselves into the Socialist Party, which has led three governing coalitions since 1990.

Adding insult to injury, the Czech Communists face ridicule as well as possible extinction.

Last month, a pink tank with a raised middle finger on top _ moored in the middle of the Vltava River with Prague Castle as a backdrop _ turned into an impromptu tourist attraction marking the 20th anniversary of the Soviet troops withdrawal.


Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Veselin Toshkov in Sofia contributed.