Analysts mull Grebenicek announcement to step down as Communist leader

13-09-2005

The long-standing leader of the Communist Party, Miroslav Grebenicek, announced his intention to resign on Monday, citing policy differences in the Communist Party leadership. Mr Grebenicek is seen very much as a hardliner, so is his potential departure a sign of change within the party?

Miroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTKMiroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTK The Communists are a powerful force in Czech politics, occupying a fifth of the seats in the lower house and scoring high in the opinion polls. The man who's taken them there, 58-year-old Miroslav Grebenicek, has led the party for more than 12 years, making him the longest standing leader in modern Czech politics. His uncompromising tone and hardline views have won him many supporters among the losers in the Czech Republic's post-revolutionary transformation - pensioners, the unemployed and people on low incomes. Now he says he's standing down.

But analysts are divided as to the significance of his announcement, and some say Mr Grebenicek has no intention of actually giving up the post at all. The announcement is more the sign of a bitter power struggle inside the Communist Party leadership, as hardliners gathered around Mr Grebenicek do battle with younger, reform-minded members of the party. They see Mr Grebenicek - with his tub-thumping style and old-school rhetoric - as unpalatable for the majority of voters. However critics on the right, like Civic Democrat MEP Jan Zahradil, say that replacing the man at the top is simply a cosmetic change.

Jan ZahradilJan Zahradil "If someone who considers himself a so-called reform Communist is elected party leader, then they can argue that Communist Party policy is changing. And it could eventually mean that the suggestion of more co-operation with the Communists, proposed by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and others, takes a more tangible form."

But is such closer cooperation really in the offing? Mr Paroubek said at the weekend that he'd prefer a minority Social Democrat government supported by the Communists to a coalition of Social and Civic Democrats. However he also said the Communists still had to come to terms with their totalitarian past and support Social Democrat foreign policy, such as continuing membership of NATO and the EU.

There's little indication that the man tipped to replace Mr Grebenicek, deputy leader Vojtech Filip, would be more willing or able to do either of those things. Mr Filip is cut very much from the same cloth as Mr Grebenicek. So real change inside the Communist Party, and therefore real change on the Czech political left, is still a long way off.

13-09-2005