The latest opinion polls in the Czech Republic suggest that support for the Communist Party is soaring, and that, after the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, they are the second most popular party, with the support of about a quarter of all voters. Alarmed by this development, the upper house of the Czech parliament, the Senate, held a public hearing this week to discuss whether the Communists could gain enough electoral support to become a decisive force in Czech political life, and whether the former communist elite still has influence.
For members of the Czech Confederation of Political Prisoners, the event brought mixed feelings. This was the first time in the over fifteen years since the fall of communism that the question of the communist threat was raised in parliament. Former political prisoners said they were grateful that the issue was attracting attention, but stressed that in their view the debate should have started fifteen years ago.
But delegates at the conference focused less on the influence of the Communist Party itself in today's society, than on the continued influence of members of the former communist elite of the old regime. One group of Senators says it is the former political prisoners as well as other dissidents who are partially to blame themselves. Had they organised themselves better and prevented communist functionaries from gaining lucrative positions, discussions such as this one would not have to be held today. Petr Vancura from the Association for Freedom and Democracy, ZVON, thinks that the threat they present is real:
"In this country, you see corporate interests based in the former Communist power with Russian influence behind them everywhere. The citizens don't really have a say in things."
Petr Pribik is a former Czech ambassador to Cuba and Radio Free Europe journalist when its headquarters were still based in Munich. Although he, like most other Czechs who were in exile during the Communist years, is somewhat disappointed to see former communists in influential posts, he believes that there is no threat of them gaining control over Czech society:
"People from the old regime are still in many key positions today. But they need money and they have more now than they had twenty years ago. So, what they have now is much better for them."
But Petr Vancura also stresses that Czechs are little aware that today's society still holds certain values that prevail from the forty years of communist rule:
"The key point here is that the Communist system destroyed the awareness and respect to social order in this society. In order to exist, the Communists had to suppress the natural and moral order of the society. They needed the society to behave according to their ways and after decades of this confusion in values, the society is confused and no longer has confidence in its own traditional values. And because people no longer act on something because it's right, they don't have this 'moral compass'. They will simply do it because it suits them and as long as they aren't caught, it becomes okay. That's the damage that was done to our society."
So, opinions on the role and influence of communists today vary. What is interesting is that even fifteen years after the Velvet Revolution, this remains a thorny issue that attracts a great deal of attention and can still arouse both fears and passions.
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