The Spirit Divide: Past and Present of Communism in the Czech Republic

From a Soviet Puppet to Velvet Divorce

With the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989, the communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, considered by many as ‘Soviet puppets’, emerged as newly liberal societies, leaving communism and Soviet times  behind.  And while communism was on its way out the back door, the former Soviet satellites moved into two seemingly different directions: the Central European nations, as well as three Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) emerged as liberal democracies, while the countries of the Western Balkans together with Romania and Bulgaria were initially tentative and illiberal. No country was more praised for its straightforward embrace of Western democratic liberalism and individualism as Czechoslovakia (at present,  the Czech Republic and Slovakia are two independent states which separated peacefully in 1993), a nation-state in Central Europe in which this story begins.

Although it might seem that the downfall of communism in Central Europe occurred unexpectedly, the clear signs of crumbling authoritarian regimes across the region appeared a few years before. In Czechoslovakia, which in 1989 still existed under this name, actions against anti-communist dissidents were still in place, but prison sentences became shorter, punishments lighter, and police action against rioters weakened, as the society became increasingly aware that a new political order was about the replace the old authoritarian regime. And indeed, by the end of the 1980s, it became clear that communism was losing its battle against other political systems, namely democracy. With the entrance of foreign (Western) media into the political life of Czechoslovakia, the numbers of radical demonstrators against the old regime grew steeply.

Not only did civil society start to bloom, but behind the closed doors, notably between 1988 and 1989, a group of Czechoslovakian lawyers, began drafting a new constitution – the one to be applied after the fall of communism. This constitutional project failed to acknowledge the real political pressures of a democratic regime, and thus failed; nevertheless, it illustrated the every-day struggle against communism that occurred not only among common people, but also among the country’s intellectuals. However, the events that occurred in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe – namely the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the establishment of a Christian-democratic government under Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland and the “Fall of the Iron Curtain” were central to ending communism in Czechoslovakia. The end of communism in Czechoslovakia was silent, just as the “Velvet Divorce” that occurred in 1993, when the Czech Republic split from Slovakia, and two new democratic countries were born.

Extreme Anti-Communism and the Banning

Today, years after the beginning of the  decay of Communism in the Czech Republic, spirits are still divided, as the country is caught up in the ideological debate over the survival of the current communist party in the Czech Republic, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM),  one of the most prominent in the European political circles.. The way that most Czechs view communism is peculiar in so many ways – from moderate liberal views, to indifference and extreme anti-communism – this spiritual divide certainly does not refrain from influencing the behavior of present-day Czech government. The latter have went as far as trying to marginalize the followers of the old regime, an act which is most visible in the assail of state government on the Communist Union of Youth and the KSCM.

The attempts to rid the country of the representatives of the old regime began in 2005, only to continue into recent past. After the abolishment of the Communist Youth Union (the KSCM’s youth section) in October 2006, five years later, in July 2011, the government gave a task to the Czech Minister of Interior, Jan Kubice, to gather intelligence which would serve as a basis for the suspension of KSCM’s work. As a result of this appointment, the KSCM and its members have been thoroughly analyzed, watched and followed. Nevertheless, the government has confirmed that no “illegal” documentation or any evidence of underground work of the KSCM have been found, thus spurring a wave of debate among those divided on the issue.

Nevertheless, the government’s allegations against KSCM do not end here. In November of last year, the investigation was relaunched by the Czech Vice-Premier, Alexandr Vondra, who called once again on the government to  abolish the KSCM, calling it an ultimate upholder of the communist regime and ideas. Thus, the issue of KSCM banning remains on Czech Republic’s political agenda, dividing the politicians  and the society. Thus, the issue of “purifying” the society of individuals who ideologically associate with the communist manifesto and understanding the past behavior of communist ideologists proves to be a never-ending challenge, the one that certainly lies ahead in Czech Republic, but possibly also other states of Central and Eastern Europe which underwent regime changes in the early 1990s.

Nothing but an Old Ghost Hunt

It is rather interesting to observe this socio-political phenomenon in Czech Republic, where a modern political system tries to establish itself on the denial of its predecessors through latently aggressive means. The danger of the situation could certainly be in the way history, notably modern history is interpreted and recounted. The changes that occurred in former Czechoslovakia and the attribute “velvet” that appeared to be holding for both the democratic revolution and a later dissolution of the country certainly do not apply today, due to the incessant anti-communist rhetoric by the present government.

This only proves that Czech society is still haunted by the ghost of communism, and leads one to a conclusion that the struggle to interpret the present-day fears of communist evil do not come from the outside, as it once was, but from the inside where the obedience to current political power seems to be holding just as strong as it was under the authoritarian communist regime.

Nobody is to blame, for this socio-political phenomenon, as it will take a long time during which Czech politicians and the society will have to start differentiating between the “old” and the “new”, and start believing in a multi-party system where a communist party can rightfully have its place in a democratic state, just as it does in major European Union member states where the ideological debate assumes less aggressive forms.

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