Detente with Czech Communists?

I’m mighty flattered that I’ve been promoted to “guest blogger extraordinaire” even though I’ve been silent the whole of this year so far (due mainly to illness). Sorry about that!

Well, here goes.

Take a look at this Czech press review from today, in which Prague daily Lidove Noviny reports that Miroslav Grebenicek, the Communist Party for over a decade, narrowly missed getting ousted from his position. (He was apparently told he could run for European Parliament if he stepped down.) This might sound like small beans to outsiders, and truth be told, viewed by itself, it is. But it’s one small piece of a much largers story…

The Community Party of Bohemia and Moravia is the only party of its kind east of the former Iron Curtain that is “unreconstructed,” which is basically a code word for saying that it’s never completely renounced its totalitarian past, as every other party in the region has. This is the main reason former president Vaclav Havel, who was intermittantly jailed under the pre-1989 Communist regime, refused ever to speak with the Communists when he was president, and it’s the reason no other party will enter into any sort of agreement with them on the Parliamentary level. To this day they are political pariahs, despite the fact that today they are the second-most popular party, with poll numbers exceeding those of the ruling Social Democrats (fraught with infighting but holding onto power), second only to the Civic Democrats (ODS), the party of vocally anti-EU Czech president Vaclav Klaus. (As the Communists’ program is pretty ill defined, this is generally interpreted mainly as a protest vote.)

All this could change if Grebenicek steps down. Deputy leader Jiri Dolejs “is keen to modernise the party” and says Grebenicek is one of the reasons no other party will deal with them.

There’s been a lot of talk in Czech political circles about whether it’s not time to start dealing with the Communists as though it’s a normal political party, and emotions run pretty high on this topic, understandably.

Oddly enough, the Communists and Klaus’s ODS — ostensibly at opposite ends of the political spectrum — come together on at least one big issue — their anti-Brussels position. Indeed, this is precisely why the Communists supported Klaus for president, effectively providing the swing vote that sent him to the Castle last March.

So the rehabilitation of the Communists would not simply shake up the Czech political scene, it would completely change the country’s official position vis a vis the EU. New elections are not planned until 2006, however, and the Social Democrats are thought likely to hold onto power until then.

Further down, note this interesting new item: “A march by around 50 monarchists through the centre of Prague on Tuesday is featured in several dailies. Many of the marchers carried yellow and black flags featuring images of Emperor Franz Josef I.”