The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of communist rule in Eastern Europe brought drastic political changes to the region. Many of the communist parties switched to social democracy and changed their political programs and even their names. Some of them ended up endorsing neoliberalism and the European Union. The communist groups that did not follow this trend were often persecuted which led to some serious setbacks.
The communist movement in the current Czech Republic is a successor to some of the communist parties which weathered some of these attacks. Peoples Dispatch talks to Lubos Petricek, chairman of the Prague Young Communist(MK) Commission of Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), regarding their role in contemporary Czech politics.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): What’s your take on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Czech Republic? What has been the government’s response?
Lubos Petricek (LP): We had the first confirmed cases on March 1, and 15 days later, our republic was quarantined and a state of emergency was declared, except for the necessary essential services, including health and food supply. The government’s actions were not bad but communicated in mostly confused and chaotic ways. Some regulations changed three times in a single week. There is already a plan for the gradual relaxing of measures by the end of June, which will be updated according to the situation
PD: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the Czech working class? What are the proposals by KSCM and MK towards tackling the COVID-19 crisis?
LP: Workers in hotels, the hospitality sector and other services were hit hard. Unemployment has risen to 3.5 percent so far [as of May 16] but is expected to rise further. A major obstacle is that schools and kindergartens are closed and working family members have to stay at home, thus significantly reducing the family budget. KSCM presented ten points with which it wants to solve the crisis, and you have already reported on the Peoples Dispatch website.
PD: What’s Mladi Komuniste/KSCM’s take on the policies of the government led by Andrej Babis? Especially toward youth, students, women, and the working class?
LP: Our party in parliament has set seven priority issues for the government of Andrej Babiš. All these points are important but in relation to the working class, the increase in the minimum wage, the protection of natural resources (especially water), the prevention of a rise in housing prices and the maintenance of quality free health care, are probably the most important. As young communists from Prague, we focus on high housing prices, unfair practices of property developers and the rewriting of history in public spaces in our capital.
PD: How did KSCM manage to survive in the country as a communist party in the post-Soviet Period? What are the major initiatives and campaigns by the party and its mass organizations that helped itself to influence the masses? Why is the movement named the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and not as the Communist Party of the Czech Republic?
LP: I’ll start with the last question. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia was founded in 1990 at a time when Slovakia and Czechia were still forming a federation. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was thus divided into two groups – Slovakia and Czech. These were the times when drastic changes were taking place within our political party. For example, we entered the 1992 elections as part of the Left Bloc together with the Democratic Left (communists who omitted “communist” from the name). The failure of the marginal communist parties only convinced the remaining members of the KSČM not to change their name anymore and worked to build the trust of citizens in the communist movement under the KSČM brand.
What specifically helped to maintain political influence is difficult to determine. It was certainly the protest character of the party. We strongly rejected the criminal privatization of the state´s industry, health care and almost everything that socialism built. We reject the NATO pact and other anti-social programs of right-wing governments. However, the average age of our members is 75 years and the number of party members is declining, I estimate that we currently have around 30,000 members. There cannot be mass events under these conditions.
Currently, the strongest party in the country (ANO) and other political entities profile themselves as anti-systemists, and skillful political marketing has taken away a lot of protest voters from us. In the last election, we had only 7.76% of the vote, but for the first time since the party’s inception thirty years ago, we have influence over the government. We are realizing that this behavior broke the French communist movement when they started to cooperate with the government but the future will show whether it was a good decision. We had only two options, tolerate the Babis government or let right-wing parties create an anti-social coalition government.
PD: You might be aware of the anti-communist resolution passed by the European Parliament recently and decommunization laws in place in Poland and several other countries? Does KSCM or its mass fronts have any experience of political persecution by the state? What is the controversy regarding the statue of General Ivan Konev and what are your plans and campaigns to tackle the racist, neo-fascist forces in the region?
LP: We are extremely dismayed and irritated by the resolution. Our communist MEP was the only Czech who voted against this resolution. The result of this resolution can already be seen. These include the removal of the statue of Marshal Konev, the removal of the memorial plaque of liberation by the Red Army in Prague, and the vandalizing of other memorial sites of the Red Army. In one of the districts of Prague districts, early in May, they built a memorial plaque to Nazi collaborators.
In our campaign against the indirect supporters of fascism, we turn to historians to help us explain the horrors of World War II and clarify the crimes against the civilian population that those collaborators with Nazis did.
Many efforts have been made to dissolve our party. These efforts have however not been successful. The latest attempt took place in February.
PD: As a youth organization in the country, what’s your take on the political aspiration of the youth in the country?
LP: To clarify our position, the Youth Commission in which we operate is not a classic youth organization. We are by internal statute only an advisory body to the KSČM in matters of youth. Our republic is divided into 14 regions, and in each of them, we have internally elected bodies. The youth commission acts as an advisory committee for these regional bodies. From each region, the young chairman is then delegated to act in a nationwide commission, which thus creates an advisory body to our top party leadership.
So we try to work inside the party and bring fresh thoughts, ideas, and procedures. At the same time, we speak to the public and our goal is to open the eyes of our peers so that they are not confused by the mass media and political marketing, and can critically evaluate the 30 years of capitalism in which they grew up.