Grebenicek's re-election as Communist leader signals triumph over reform

17-05-2004

Over the weekend, the Communists had their annual party congress, but anyone who might have expected radical change will have been disappointed.

Miroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTKMiroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTK A rendition of "The Internationale", the traditional socialist anthem rallying workers of the world to unite, as sung by Czech Communists at this year's May Day celebrations in Prague.

The Czech Communist Party is largely unreconstructed; the May Day celebrations were dominated by the older generation, but opinion polls show that the party remains a force to be reckoned with, enjoying up to 20 percent support.

Over the weekend, the Communists had their annual party congress, but anyone who might have expected radical change will have been disappointed. Miroslav Grebenicek was re-elected party chairman on Saturday night.

Vojtech Filip and Miroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTKVojtech Filip and Miroslav Grebenicek, photo: CTK Mr Grebenicek devoted much of his opening speech at the weekend party congress to attacking what he called the "imperialist" and "aggressive" nature of capitalism and globalisation. He also accused the ruling centre-left Social Democrats of "deserting their election manifesto" by abandoning the welfare state.

He narrowly defeated Vojtech Filip, the deputy chairman of the lower house of Parliament in the second round.

Mr Filip, who is ideologically close to Mr Grebenicek and still viewed as his possible successor, says that as it was the first time he'd campaigned for the post of party chairman, he was pleased with the results and would not be discouraged.

The Communists are currently the second strongest party in opinion polls, and the third strongest in parliament, but have had no chance to enter government because no other parliamentary party has been willing to cooperate with them on that level.

Mr Grebenicek's main ideological rival, Miloslav Ransdorf, had campaigned for the chairmanship on a platform of radical transformation for the party which he said would enable it to "come of out isolation".

But Mr Ransdorf was knocked out of the contest in the first round. Disappointed by the poor showing, the reform candidate decided not to seek re-election as deputy chairman, although he will still head the party's list of candidates for election to the European Parliament.

Miroslav Mares of Masaryk University in Brno there, explaining that the results of the weekend's vote show that the Communist party isn't keen on change course. The average rank-and-file Communist is 68 years old. Mr Mares says the party is largely content with the ideological direction of the party under Mr Grebenicek's 11-year tenure.

Mr Grebenicek has headed the Communist party since 1993 and this marked the third time that he successfully defended his position as party leader.

His father, a former Communist-era secret police officer accused of torturing political prisoners in the 1950s, died last year without ever facing trial.

17-05-2004

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