Czech Republic

A Spectre of Communism is Haunting the Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, the real problem appears to be the communists, or rather, the spirits of the country's communist past

Most of the outrage aimed at the newly-approved Czech Government does not, curiously enough, have anything to do with the all-too-current threats of corruption, the concentration of power in the hands of one man or kamikaze-style foreign policy with regards to the EU. No, the real problem appears to be the communists, or rather, the spirits of the communist past.

It is certainly true that the Czech Communist Party got their first real shot at power since the revolution and it was certainly based on a series of shady deals providing communist MPs with some of the most exquisite sinecures there are. PM Babiš’s populist government would not gain the confidence of the Parliament without members of the Czech Communist Party. The government also needs their support to be able to pass any laws. But the communists also gave the opposition the perfect opportunity to discredit itself and the so-called democratic parties fell for it.

Fifteen hours of hell

The Parliamentary session preceding the confidence vote took fifteen hours. And from an observer’s perspective, those were fifteen hours of pure hell, providing the stage for some of the stupidest speeches in the recent history of the Czech Republic.

Almost two hours of Babiš’s barely coherent Czech would tax many an MP; combined with the fact the previous speaker was the malevolent entity that possesses the steadily decaying body of our beloved President, may he run out of his embalming fluids, the experience was roughly analogous perhaps only to having one’s left eye slowly and forcibly gouged out with a rusty spoon.

At the same time, protesters gathered in Prague and eventually moved to the front of the Parliament, chanting anti-communist slogans, waving banners and generally behaving in a rather unruly manner. The real pain, however, started when the opposition began their speeches —hours were wasted on debating the crimes of the former communist regime. Then, politicians unfurled Soviet flags in their benches and eventually, some nameless hero flung a plastic bottle at Babiš. Sadly, he missed, but let us face it: chances of braining a politician tend to be slim, even when one happens to hit the correct body part.

All these performances, however, showed one thing: that the opposition did appear to have a leg to stand on when it came to legitimate objections against the Babiš‘ government. The opposition played its anti-communist hand and found out that, to their shock, no one cared.

Suicide by anti-communism

This move is mind-boggling. Results of the latest elections and recent polls show that communists in the Czech Republic are more popular than ever. Putting aside the question of why for a moment, this information was easily available to everyone involved in the protests, be it inside or outside the Parliament building. What is worse, there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to oppose the current government, plenty of threats and issues that the country has to deal with now. Pointing out that one communist MP’s father made a nice cozy living torturing political prisoners may give one the comforting feeling of warm fuzzy righteousness for a while but is hardly likely to sway the opinion of his fellow MPs – generally dictated by ideals stronger than ethics, i.e. cash.

To our surprise, the protesters acted as if communists holding positions of power were a new and unprecedented threat in the country. However, they were part of the Parliament since the 1990s. In reality, most of the currently ruling elite has some kind of communist past. Babiš himself was an informer for the secret police couple decades back.

The hypocrisy becomes even more obvious when we consider that the communist party was never an actual political outcast when decisions were made and policies negotiated. A lot of the currently outraged properly democratic parties righteously spewing their anti-communist views were perfectly willing to co-operate with the red menace when they needed its political support.

Beating a dead ideology

Playing the anti-communism card was a gamble which backfired spectacularly; not only did it achieve nothing apart from a couple thousand bleeding ears of the television viewers, but it also gave the communists a potential weapon. By trying to use the crimes of the past as a tool in the present, it gave them leeway to do likewise in the future. The most recent (and as such much more intensely felt by the public) crimes of post-revolution governments can now be justified by the simple act of pointing out to, say, twenty years of real estate fraud connected to the Social Democrats and declarations such as “but at least we did not do this”.

To sum it up: I do not want to give the impression that the manifold crimes of the communist regime should be forgotten. However, using them instead of pointing out to the real issues and threats that the country has to deal with right now has proved to be both hypocritical and utterly pointless. If the opposition cannot whip up actual resistance based on what is happening right now, it only goes to show that it is either utterly incompetent or does not want to draw attention to its own sins. It is all-too-easy to attack your political opponents for a past that is almost universally agreed to be criminal. This past just also happens to be completely irrelevant to the current state of affairs. And, shock and awe again, the public seems to have caught up on that for once. Go public!

Not everything is lost, though. After all, this country has contended with communists in the parliament before and their votes could prove beneficial in some affairs (although if they really do manage to pass the same-sex marriage bill using communists’ votes, I will eat my metaphorical hat and write a 100% positive, happy article). But recent events have proven that “anti-communism” is nothing but a dead-end. If we want to build an effective opposition to this government, the opposition leaders need to stop wasting their time beating a dead ideology.

Oh, and last but not least – while last month’s scandals regarding plagiarized theses are happily going on; two more ministers’ plagiarisms were exposed. One resigned straight-up, the other one appealed to the university’s verdict stating he did not consciously plagiarize, meaning that he copied those eight pages while sleep-writing. A useful skill to have in politics, no doubt.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.