April 8, 2006

Czech Communists shrug off Marx, look to future

By Alan Crosby

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A statue of Karl Marx still greets
visitors to the headquarters of the Czech Communist Party but
the party's message ahead of June elections is clear -- the
"dictatorship of the proletariat" will not come back.

Currently lying third in opinion polls with support of
about 12 percent, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
(KSCM), is as close to power as it has been since the overthrow
of its Soviet-style predecessor in November 1989.

Once considered a pariah for any party to cooperate with,
the Communists are slowly moving toward the mainstream of
politics, ruling out nationalizing property while talking about
more liberal economic policies that ensure personal freedoms as
well as a strong social welfare network.

"We support a pluralistic democracy," party leader Vojtech
Filip told Reuters in an interview.

"We don't care who is an owner as long as the rights of all
owners have the same protection."

Even views on foreign policy -- traditionally one of the
biggest differences with mainstream parties -- have softened.

The Communists are still against Czech membership of their
Cold War foe NATO, but no longer mind European Union
membership, and say they can accept adoption of the euro
currency in 2010 so long as the economy is ready.

The party has changed its logo to red cherries and a white
star from the brooding hammer and sickle and red star of
one-party rule under communism.


The move to emulate many policies of leftist European
parties is paying dividends.

The Communists stand a good chance of supporting a minority
government led by the leftist Social Democrats of Prime
Minister Jiri Paroubek, especially if Filip captures the
aimed-for 20 percent of the vote -- slightly more than the
party won in 2002.

Paroubek has spoken of such a deal, noting the Communists
would not be allowed into government posts, an arrangement
Filip said he would accept to help stave off a rightist

"Our key word is tax justice. Not raising taxes, not
lowering them. We need a just tax system," he said.

Though its core electorate remains older Czechs who have
fallen behind economically in the transition to a free market
economy, the Communists have attracted some young voters and
pushed forward younger members to show its new face.

Analysts said the changes might be splitting the party and
the strong position of the far left members remains an

A move too far to the center may leave little distance
between the Communists and parties such as the Social

"The hardliners doom the party to a position where it will
be waiting a long time for an opportunity because they deprive
it of coalition potential," said political analyst Jiri Pehe.

"It (the party) can blackmail other parties, it can
sometimes dictate a little bit, but it will only be an
influential back-seat driver in the political game.

"Will anyone be interested in making compromises with the
Communists if it will suffice to wait for it (the party) to
fade away?" Pehe added.

Not all voters are impressed by the kindler, gentler
rhetoric now espoused by the party either.

Many still bristle at the thought of Communists holding any
power in the public administration.

At a recent exhibition on Communist crimes in Prague,
dozens of former political prisoners and their families
gathered amid a display of documents and photographs depicting
the brutality and loss suffered during the hardline Communist

Nadezda Kavalirova was one of those who suffered under
Communist rule -- spending three years in prison -- and is
aghast that the party garners such large support.

She said she is wary of the party's rehabilitation.

"We, the political prisoners, perceive this (continued
popularity of the party) as creeping communism," she said.

(Additional reporting by Jan Korselt)