The Czech party system is the only system in the post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe that enabled institutional and ideological continuance of the former ruling Communist party (KSCM) up to this day.1 Although the Velvet Revolution might have created such an impression that the Czech society definitely split up with the ideology of communism, it is not this way and this article will make it clear why. What´s more, the successful existence of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) within the Czech party system is one of the most credible reasons for the symptomatic weakness of Czech governments.
What Attracts Czech Voters in KSCM
The revolutionary upheaval in November 1989 gave Czechoslovakia a unique chance to erase the Communists from the political map. There were tens of thousands protesters in the streets, The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC) was disintegrated and without leaders and the future it found itself in the hands of public society that demonstrated against the party in many different ways and at several occasions. Nevertheless, it was decided that the voters would have the chance to vote for KSC in the first free election after the Velvet Revolution. Almost 14% of voters took advantage of this privilege. Nowadays, the portion of voters is leveled-up, although some political commentators in the 1990s used to say that the party the voters of which are mainly the elderly pensioners with poor education is destined to extinction.
Although the structure of voters seems to make the statement above credible, the party somehow happened to retain its election gains. One of the reasons for that is the stable place that Communists have in Czech politics. The communist idea has been ever-present throughout the autonomous Czech(oslovak) political history and Communists were by every important political momentum until 1990: in the turbulent era before WWII Communists supported E. Benes in the presidential election which helped to stabilize the political environment, they were very active rebels throughout WWII, the so-called third republic (1945-48) was made according to Russian pro-communist plans and for the next 40 years KSC was the only ruling party. Even under the newly democratic rule they contributed to the election of Havel and Klaus (the first and second Czech president).
Until 1990 it were the Communists who shaped the politics in Czechoslovakia at most. The majority of Czech population in 1990 never gave the vote to another party than KSC. For many of them it is not that easy to break the habit under which ruled they lives for such a long time and that aspect co-formed their worldview.
Another reason can be found in the psychological motivation of the voters. The anti-regime nature of the party attracts voters who want to express their dissatisfaction with political development, corruption, weak institutions and economic failures – KSCM effectively refuses any responsibility for the political development after 1989. That´s why the party serves as a platform for the so-called protest votes.2 Hence their greatest election success in 2002 when they gained almost one fifth of the votes3 and the second highest election gain was marked in the last election which significantly changed the political map and was a pure reflection of the chaotic situation on the political scene. The fact that voters used to show their dissatisfaction by giving their vote to the most orthodox party is of the dangerous consequences that are described below.
The fact that in the past 20 years the party was not that visible should not be considered as a proof of some decline of their support. Their member basis has been stabilized at the level of about 50 thousands (bear in mind that every 200th Czech citizen is a member of KSC) and hence has the biggest and most faithful member basis among all political parties. About two thirds of their voters in 2010 have never voted for any other party (Kunstat 2013: 221).
Furthermore, KSCM has an orthodox backup in the allied youth organizations. The most important one is the Communist Union of the Youth (Komunisticky Svaz Mladeze, KSM) which has several hundred members and pushes an upward pressure on the Communist representatives to stay orthodox. KSM was dissolved in 2006 but won in court and was allowed to restart its activity in 2010.
The Proofs for Lack of Transformation of KSCM
KSCM has no intention to transform itself into a modern leftist party. Its stance, supported by the extraordinary orthodox program, is close to pure Marxism and their proponents repeatedly tend to doubt the post-revolution development, deny the communist crimes and to praise the socialist era as something what should be followed – just remember that in Czechoslovakia there was one of the strictest socialist orders ever created in Europe without any private property and with no political opponent.
One of the most visible and orthodox Communist MPs is Marta Semelova, who repeatedly considered the pure political process with M. Horakova in 1950 as a legitimate death penalty based on sincere confessions. Moreover, she advocates labelling the occupation from 1968 as an international help.4 The Communist party president, Vojtech Filip, shortly after Kim Jong-il´s death sent a letter of condolence where he stated that “…Kim Jong-il dedicated his life to Korean people. (He) Did his best to increase Korean´s welfare, to keep DPRK safe and to reach the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.”5 In February 2015, the Communists hosted an exhibition that displayed items and artwork related to Kim´s life and glorified his political successes.
The Future of Communists in the Czech Party System
Although KSCM is government-active on the lower levels of political governance, on the parliament level there exists a consent throughout the whole parties’ spectrum that KSCM is excluded from the government. That reduces the effective number of MPs on which support the party relies to form the government – bear in mind that from approximately 170 Mps in general, 101 MPs is the minimum that new government needs to be confirmed. What´s more, the structure of the Czech party system makes the right-left rotation almost unfeasible because there exists no other relevant partner on the left for the largest leftist party, Social Democrats (CSSD). But some marks of change can be observed in the past ten years.
The original strict refusal to cooperate on any political issue was markedly violated in the period of 2005-2006 when the CSSD´s PM J. Paroubek sought support for his minority government by Communists. Since then, CSSD reduced significantly former strong negative comments towards Communists and co-worked with them quite actively when being in opposition.
The key problem that Communists would face if they wanted to be a part of any possible post-socialist government is the fact that such a step would mean an implicit identification with the present system – the refusal of which has been the very core of their political program. Accepting the rules of the game would most probably mean a political death of the party. Many communist voters voted for the party as the only non-corrupted, pure party which stands in strict opposition against the “dirty” party system. Cooperation with Social Democrats would mean a significant loss of support.6 One thing is clear, true inclusion of KSCM into the party system would bring no positive points for the party and would make its political future very insecure.
One can not imagine how the Czech party system would perform without Communists because it has never been without them. Their ideology has its well-established position in the Czech politics and other parties have to somehow deal with this fact – although the parliamentary presence of KSCM (in the way it performs) is nothing that would positively influence political conditions in the Czech Republic. The possibility of their transformation is highly improbable as it would (as well as the resignation on their anti-regime stance) damage the received support and reputation among voters. Because there has never been an explicit great coalition government formed from Social Democrats and some rightist party, the Czech party system is challenged by the possibility of CSSD winning the election and having no ideologically close partner with whom it could form the government.
With respect to characteristics of the Czech electoral system, the party system is destined to create coalition governments.7 As voters do not want the two traditional parties (ODS and CSSD) to cooperate, both parties have to seek for another strong partner. This issue has been further complicated through the development of the past few years when the policy began to vanish and the populist one-man party ANO governed by one of the wealthiest Czech citizens and an owner of several medias, Andrej Babis, gained high support and became a party that no other party can ignore when seeking a coalition partner. This has moved the Czech party system closer to the Italian model and it should definitely not be a role model for the Czech Republic.
The traditional parties should restore people´s faith in politics if they want to reduce the support for both ANO and KSCM. When this succeeds, then there is plenty of space to make a coalition government with rightist parties, which are in a much more desirable position than CSSD.8 Such a development would smooth KDU-CSL and TOP09 (both of them being a relevant partners for both CSSD and ODS) to play a strategic role in the government formation even as a minority partner. However, if this would not succeed, Czech politics would be ruled by populist and protest parties with no clear or feasible vision on how to handle the future of the Czech Republic.
An article by Pavel Farkač
1 Communists were rebranded as the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (Komunisticka strana Cech a Moravy, KSCM) to be differentiated from the former Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunisticka strana Ceskoslovenska, KSC). The ideology remained the same, only the territorial impact has been limited.
2 It is remarkable that 29% of KSCM voters stated that the events after 1989 (and not before the Revolution) influenced their political stance the most (Kunstat 2013: 143).
3 Election in 2002 was the first election after the so-called Opoziční smlouva – the treaty between the then strongest right-wing (ODS) and left-wing (CSSD) parties (long-standing rivals) that decided to stabilize the political milieu through explicit parliamentary cooperation.
4 Hyde Park CT24, February 13, 2014. (http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ivysilani/10252839638-hyde-park-ct24/214411058080213-hyde-park).
5 Lidovky, December 23, 2011. (http://www.lidovky.cz/kscm-kim-cong-il-se-obetoval-za-blaho-korejcu-fmp-/zpravy-svet.aspx?c=A111223_153634_ln-video_jv).
6 This assumption is complicated by the fact that 45% of Czechs would not be bothered if KSCM would become a part of the government (Kunstat 2013: 251).
7 It is not the aim of this article to discuss possible modification of the electoral system.
8 Author admits that the political reality is much more difficult and that sometimes the political struggle goes beyond pure logic as the strong attacks within the right part of the political field prove.