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Are the Communists becoming a threat?

Recent opinion polls indicate that the popularity of the Communist Party of Bohemia (KSCM) and Moravia is rising. Since the elections in June 1998, the KSCM has also become an unofficial ally of the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD). Although the CSSD is refusing suggestions that it may form a coalition with the Communists, it often depends on the KSCM for support in passing important laws.

Clearly, the position of the KSCM has changed in recent months, despite the fact the party has not transformed itself. It remains an unreformed neo-Stalinist group, whose leaders show little enthusiasm for internal reforms or changing the party's name. Although signs of internal tension have recently been visible in the party, in particular in connection with the KSCM's attitudes to NATO, the KSCM remains the most coherent parliamentary political party.

The growing importance of the Communists is a worrying development. The KSCM is not a democratic party. It is opposed to most foreign policy and security initiatives that other parliamentary parties advocates. It is still oriented more to the East than to the West. Its attitudes toward Germany, in particular, are xenophobic.

When President Havel recently called for a meeting of parliamentary parties, he excluded the Communists, despite the fact that leaders of some other parliamentary parties has urged him to invite KSCM representatives. Havel argues that the KSCM has not changed enough. It has never apologized to the Czech nation for the crimes committed by the Communists before 1989. Although the party is occasionally able to make compromises in the parliament, for example in supporting CSSD proposals, the KSCM's meetings in various Czech towns frequently show that the party has not given up its "revolutionary" rhetoric.

The fact the popularity of the KSCM is rising can be contributed mainly to the growing economic crisis in the country. The Communists, as always, offer simple solutions to difficult problems. The KSCM is the only parliamentary party that has not been represented in any post-1989 government. As a result, a growing number of people see it as a clean, uncorrupted political group. Almost ten years after the collapse of Communism, many young Czechs no longer remember what the communist regime was like.

Other parliamentary parties' behavior has also contributed to the rise of the KSCM. The Czech political system has been paralyzed for more than two years now. A minority government of Vaclav Klaus was formed in 1996 in an attempt to solve the deadlock produced by the elections. The Klaus government collapsed in December 1997, only to be replaced by a minority government of Josef Tosovsky, whose main objective was to lead to the country to early elections.

However, the elections in June 1998 did not break the deadlock. The existence of the current CSSD government was made possible in July 1998 only under the so-called opposition agreement with the right-of-center Civic Democratic Party (ODS). This agreement epitomizes the ills of Czech politics. Owing to the agreement, the Czech Republic has a government. But the government is weak and under constant pressure from other parties. Had it not been for the support of the KSCM, the state budget proposed by the government would not have passed.

Opinion polls show that an increasing number of people would like the democratic parliamentary parties to seek consensus over basic issues. However, democratic parties have been unable to formulate and agree on even the most basic national interests, perhaps with the exception of jointly supporting the country's membership in NATO and the EU. But while NATO membership is only a few weeks away, the political paralysis is making it difficult for the Czech Republic to meet EU membership criteria.

The KSCM is becoming an alternative for some people simply because other parties have been immersed for too long in their various power struggles, showing little concern for the country's fate. While the KSCM has been able to avoid financial scandals, virtually all other parliamentary parties have been accused of dubious financia dealings. Clearly, unless the democratic parliamentary parties do not manage to overcome quickly the current state of political paralysis, the KSCM may attract more supporters and become, again, a real threat to democracy.

Reuters - 16. 2. 1999