Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 19
1 November 1999

Jan Culik C U L I K ' S  C Z E C H  R E P U B L I C:
Completing the Circle?
A Communist come-back ten years after the revolution

Jan Culik

On 21 October, less than a month before the tenth anniversary of the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, it was reported in Prague that the Czech Communist Party had taken the lead in the opinion polls.

According to the IVVM polling organisation, 23 per cent of Czechs would now vote for the Czech Communist Party and 21 percent would support Vaclav Klaus's pseudo-right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS). The ruling Social Democrats are supported by 17.5 per cent of the population. IVVM says that the margin of error is more than two per cent. This means that either Klaus or the Communists could win if an election was to take place today. Both these parties are dogmatic, hard-line and cut off from the real world.

Naturally, the fact that large numbers of Czechs now support the Communists does not mean that they wish the Czech Republic to return to the totalitarian pre-1989 regime. It is a protest vote. The economic situation in the Czech Republic is very difficult. Prague may be doing relatively well, but the overall unemployment rate in the Czech Republic has reached 9 percent and in many regions, especially in northern Moravia and in northern Bohemia unemployment is serious, reaching as much as 17 percent in some districts. Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that people wish to vote for the Communists.

The Czech parliamentary parties have excluded the Communists - who have always won at least ten percent of the vote at the elections since 1989 and were thus always represented in parliament - from any decision-making. President Vaclav Havel has damaged his democratic credentials by refusing to meet the parliamentary representatives of the Communist Party. Due to their exclusion from the political decision-making processes, the Communists are now the only Czech political party who are not implicated in the political and economic mismanagement of the Czech Republic over the past ten years.

Nevertheless, the country is seriously polarised. Many people, especially those suffering unemployment and those who are frustrated by the current political and economic situation, now support the Communists. Others support the Klausian brand of post-Communist "right-wing" ideology. Vaclav Klaus himself says he does not believe there is such strong support for the Communist Party in the Czech Republic. Communist supporters are not in the streets that he frequents, he adds. He is even less willing to accept that it is him and his incompetent policies that have driven many Czech voters to support the unreconstructed Communists.

The Czech Communist Party, although it has only weak ties with the previous Communist regime, has never renounced the crimes of Communist totalitarianism. Many people in the Czech Republic are still filled with intense hatred of anything Communist. They mythologise about the true nature of the past Communist regime. Since they are unable to see its features and causes in a realistic light, they are unable to analyse which of these features have survived in the Czech Republic today, and why. .

Even if the Communists won the next, or the one after the next, general election, it is highly unlikely that they could do anything in power other than what the European Union (EU) and the international economic markets would force them to do. (Incidentally, Klaus's Civic Democratic Party seems to want the Communists to win. -He has suggested that all the parliamentary parties except the Communists should join a government "supercoalition." It can be predicted that after such a "supercoalition" discredits itself, the Communists would easily win the next election as the only opposition party untainted by the mistakes of the government.)

People in the Czech Republic, however, see it differently. Here is a somewhat paranoid nightmare scenario, put forward by one Britske listy reader. Since its publication in Czech, several responses have been received from Czech readers expressing the view that the scenario "rings true". If nothing else, the text is interesting evidence of the frustration some Czechs feel about the "selfishness and indifference" of the West:

You think that in the current geopolitical situation the Communists are powerless. But the question must be turned around: Are the Communists able to change the geopolitical situation? What if they cleverly introduce protectionist measures against the European Union? What if they leak confidential information from Brussels? If they did it several times, the Czech Republic would find itself in such isolation as now afflicts Belarus orUkraine. And then a Communist dictatorship would return. The Communists can manipulate their voters in the Czech Republic very successfully, even now. The Czech Republic is a buffer zone between East and West. It would not be difficult to turn the Czech Republic into a country in which both East and West would be utterly disinterested and the local rulers could do what they wanted. The local rulers would introduce their own rules. Honest international businessmen would avoid this area. Agreements would be made with the less honest ones.

The Communists' strategy would be to free the Czech Republic of all ties with the West and to create a climate here which would be unacceptable for all Western business. Then they would quietly rule here as they wished. If people do not emigrate from here in thousands, the West will gladly tolerate Communists in power. It is now being decided whether the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Ukraine will become the buffer zone between East and West. Nothing has been set in stone yet. I have no illusions about which alternative is closest to the comrades' hearts.

It is interesting how the comrades have managed to change the structure of Czech society - inconspicuously, power and influence has been concentrated in the hands of obedient individuals. The only thing that decent Czechs have left is their decency and their high esteem towards education.
This is one of the reasons why Czech intellectuals are so badly underpaid.

The Czech Republic is only valuable for the West as a buffer zone and as a source of cheap labour force. It is not in the West's interest that the Czechs should earn as much money as people in the West. Nor is it in the interest of the Czech Communists. The Czech Republic can become a reservoir of labour which it will be necessary to tame so that people will not rebel and try to run elsewhere,where they might be better off. The Communists know very well how to run such a society... If only living standards was the reason why governments fell, people like Milosevic or Kravcuk would not still be in power...

And the Czech labour force is amenable. I have had the honour of acquainting myself with the situation in a number of businesses inPlzen, West Bohemia, which have been bought by the Germans. There is fear in those companies, Czech employees behave sycophantically towards their new German bosses, they inform on their colleagues to them. The Czech employees in these businesses work absurdly hard - this has nothing to do with improving of the productivity of work. The only reason is to show the Czech workers who is the boss. For instance: although the Czech workers work on their machines independently, they are afraid to leave them even for a minute in order to go to the toilet or to get a coffee from an automatic dispenser.

If in future the Czech Communists create a stable, even though a corrupt regime, nobody will be bothered. The Czech Republic will serve Europe as a supplier of cheap labour and as a place where it will be possible to quietly dump dangerous waste or dangerous production lines. It is not in the interest of Germany to share this source of cheap labour with the rest of the European Union or to allow their frontier regions to be flooded by cheap labour from the Czech Republic.

I am greatly impressed by the honesty of the current German government which is trying to fight these kind of pressures. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic is not trying to help the German government very much in this.

Who blackmailed whom?

And indeed, the Czech Republic has currently much more pressing problems to deal with. Yet another Byzantine scandal blew up last week. In a nutshell: On 24 June, the Czech Social Democratic Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, said on television that when Klaus's Foreign Secretary Josef Zieleniec was in office, his ministry had concluded more than sixty contracts with individual journalists and media agencies which bound them to write favourably about Zieleniec.

It is true that Josef Zieleniec has the reputation of having got on "exceptionally well" with some Prague journalists. It is also well known that many Prague journalists have been willing lapdogs to politicians in power.

Having said that, it is rather unfortunate that over the past four months, Prime Minister Zeman has failed to come up with any evidence to corroborate his accusation. Zeman has apparently asked the current Foreign Secretary, Jan Kavan, to provide the necessary evidence, but to date he has not obliged.

On 7 September, Vaclav Hruby, the manager of the Stirin Castle, the property of the Czech Foreign Office, was sacked, allegedly for gross mismanagement and irregularities in the accounts. Stirin Castle was a place where Zieleniec met with journalists.

On Wednesday 27 October, Vaclav Hruby released a tape recording to the media of a telephone conversation with Premier Zeman's advisor Jaroslav Novotny. Novotny allegedly tried to blackmail Hruby, ordering him to "find" evidence against Zieleniec or Hruby would be sacked.

There are numerous interpretations of this story. Maybe Hruby was really in serious difficulties (the Czech Foreign Office is planning to raise criminal charges against him for gross financial misconduct) and so he has tried to fire a missive to deflect the wrath of the authorities from himself. There is also information that adviser Novotny and manager Hruby were close collaborators. Maybe this is an ODS plot to liquidate Jan Kavan, who has been the target of considerable, irrational hatred by the Czech right wing.

On Saturday 30 October, Czech public service radio reported information from some diplomats in Brussels alleging that Kavan had never anything in common with the whole Zieleniec affair from the outset. Or is this a Kavan attempt to clear himself of any suspicion with the help of his allies in the West?

The affair has acquired truly Byzantine proportions. It is like an absurd play by Vaclav Havel where everybody tries to manipulate everyone else by lying so that it is impossible to distinguish anything at all in the end. Watch this space.

Jan Culik, 1 November 1999

The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britske listy.

Other Articles by Jan Culik in CER

Race Relations, 25 October 1999

Reminiscing Revolutionaries, 18 October 1999

The Educated Poor, 11 October 1999

Pricking Havel's Bottom, 4 October 1999

More Moribund Manouevring (Further TV Nova Tales), 27 September 1999

Mixed Czech Nuts, 20 September 1999

Nova TV: The saga continues, 13 September 1999

UK: Central Europeans Keep Out!, 30 August 1999

Czech Public TV: The yellow-bellies, 23 August 1999

Zelezny Pulls the Plug on Czech TV Nova, 16 August 1999

Czech Media and Civil Society: A survey, 16 August 1999

Czech Revival: No Pulse 99, 9 August 1999

Princess Diana, Al Fayed, the CIA and a Czech Spook, 2 August 1999

Nova TV: Commercial success or embarrassing failure?, 2 August 1999

Book Review: Martin Fendrych's Jako ptak na drate, 26 July 1999

A Concrete Example of Muddy Thinking in the Czech Press, 19 July 1999

Press Freedom under Threat, 12 July 1999

Corruption at the Czech Law School, 5 July 1999

The Czech Malaise, 28 June 1999



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