“Czech government merely relies on EU and does not pursue independent policies”

Interview with Kateřina Konečná, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Czech Republic and leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM)

April 17, 2023 by Muhammed Shabeer
2-04 Interview - Czech Communists
Kateřina Konečná addressing a protest gathering at Wenceslas Square in Prague. (Photo: via KSČM)

Working class households and other low-income families across Europe have been facing an acute cost of living crisis marked by soaring energy and food prices. The energy crisis brought on by the ongoing Russia-NATO war in Ukraine and profiteering by multinational energy distributors has left millions in distress. At the same time, trade unions and progressive political parties are waging militant struggles demanding governments to enact concrete policies to tackle the crisis. Protests are also continuing in the Czech Republic against the insensitivity of the right-wing coalition government led by Petr Fiala in tackling the crisis.

Peoples Dispatch spoke to Kateřina Konečná, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from the Czech Republic and leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), regarding the policies of the Czech government and the protests in the country, along with the political interventions made by the KSČM.

People Dispatch (PD): The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) is an active participant in the ongoing protests against the government’s failure to tackle the cost of living crisis. What have been the policies of the government in this regard and why have they failed?

Kateřina Konečná (KK): The government of Petr Fiala, which came to power after the 2021 election, continues to carry out what previous right-wing governments had started following the so-called Velvet Revolution in November 1989. The neoliberal model was established, a model which the social democratic governments attempted to make more humane, but which they did not seek to change. Nevertheless, even some of the right-wing governments in Europe started implementing proactive measures to tackle the ongoing cost of living crisis. But, Petr Fiala’s government still relies solely on the European Union (EU) and does not take proactive measures in the time of crisis.

PD: How has the cost of living crisis impacted the Czech Republic and what is the response of the working class? What are the proposals of the KSČM, as a workers’ party, to tackle the crisis?

KK: The Czech Republic has currently one of the highest inflation rates in the EU. At one point, the inflation rate reached 18%, a record high in the last 30 years. Therefore, it can be said that the impact on the Czech Republic is even higher than other states. In addition, almost all EU states have adopted various measures to help their citizens. The Czech government did nothing for a long time, and just recently, it announced a cap on energy prices. The problem is that it set the cap at three times of what was the standard, so it is effectively putting millions of people in existential problems. In this regard, the KSČM has certain short-term goals—for example, price caps at a lower level, 0% VAT on necessities, free public transport, and taxation on energy giants. In the longer term, we demand the takeover of energy and strategic infrastructure into public hands and the development of enterprises in the state and public sphere, including in the sector of housing.

PD: What is your take on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the approach of the Czech government towards it? Has the war sharpened the existing political divisions in the countries of Eastern Europe, especially in the Czech Republic? 

KK: KSČM is in principle a peaceful party. That is why we stand on the side of peace. Be it in the case of Ukraine, or in the past case of Yugoslavia, or in the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the world.

PD: As the leader of the KSČM and a Member of the European Parliament, how do you evaluate the EU’s responses to the war? Do you think that the pro-Atlanticist sections within the EU’s political leadership are undermining its institutional capacity to make decisions and set agendas using the backdrop of the war?

KK:  I regret that the EU does not act and does only what the “big brother” USA tells it to do. I think the EU should push all parties of the conflict to sit together at the negotiating table. The longer it takes, the worse it will be.

PD: How do you think the Czech Republic has progressed as a nation since the bifurcation of Czechoslovakia and the Velvet Revolution, especially with regard to the social aspects of Czechoslovakia under communist rule? How relevant and influential is the KSČM in Czech society today?

KK: We are trying to revive the KSČM brand and popularize radical left ideas in society. Unfortunately, no one has done this for many years, so there is still a lot of work ahead of us. Regarding progress in the social aspects, over the last year the situation has mostly got worse. After a year of the right-wing government, the number of people living in poverty doubled and up to 40% of households are at risk of poverty.

PD: The popularity of far-right groups has surged in many parts of Europe and even the European Parliament has prompted decommunization across Eastern Europe. In this situation, as a communist political party in Eastern Europe and as a member of The Left in European Parliament (GUE-NGL), what is your plan to safeguard working class interests and resist neo-fascists in the region? 

KK: This situation is of course developing even in the Czech Republic. Anti-Communism is omnipresent, and the efforts to ban the Communist Party are becoming more intense. We, however, do not give up the fight to promote the ideals of humanity and social equality.

PD: The Russia-Ukraine war has also led to increasing militarization of Europe with back-to-back military exercises, opening up of new military bases, and burgeoning military budgets. What is the future of Europe when we see such rampant militarization?

KK: As I mentioned, KSČM is in principle a peaceful party, and therefore we cannot agree with extreme armaments or with the existence of NATO. Security in Europe should not be guaranteed by a pact that has been involved in the majority of military conflicts of the recent decades.