Petiton drive launched to ban Communist name and symbols

09-02-2005

A group of senators and like-minded journalists, artists and other public figures is petitioning for a change in the penal code that would outlaw the promotion of Communism and Nazism as criminal ideologies. The group also wants to make it illegal for political groupings to include the word 'Communist' in their names.

"To have a Communist Party - calling itself Communist — as a quote, unquote 'normal' part of the democratic political spectrum is not 'normal' at all."

Jan Urban, a communist-era dissident and experienced commentator is a committee member of the zrusmekomunisty or "let's ban the Communists" petition launched on Tuesday on the grounds of the Czech senate.

Behind zrusmekomunisty is a diverse group of people, united in the belief that Communism is no less dangerous an ideology than fascism, the propagation of which is illegal under Czech law. Other petition founders include the iconoclast artist David Cerny, and noted politicians like former Interior Minister Jan Ruml and Velvet Revolution-era student leader Martin Mejstrik, who is now a Senator. Among the signatories are the writer Ivan Klima and the former Czech ambassador to Washington, Alexandr Vondra.

The youngest member of the petition committee is student leader Jakub Jares.

"I think the Communist Party is dangerous for the system, while they say that the capitalism in the Czech Republic — and today's democracy — is worse than the regime of the Communist Party before [1989] and I think that this initiative is... We must say 'no, this is a lie' and we don't want liars in this country. We want to change something. I think there is hope."

The petitioners believe that legal precedence exists for outlawing the propagation of 'Communism', drawing on an amendment to a decades-old law banning Nazism, fascism and "similar" extreme movements. The petitioners do not want to criminalise the largely unreconstructed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia or its members but push it to become a modern left-wing party.

Journalist Jan Urban again:

"People of several generations and definitely many differing opinions came together and we have discussed and developed a campaign that involves many different initiatives, bound together through a petition that we hope will be a nationwide petition, asking for change in the criminal law that would ban the propaganda of Communism, and equally to already existing penal code section banning the propaganda of Nazism and Fascism."

RP: So this is the 1961 law that bans Nazism, Fascism and 'similar movements'.

"Yes."

RP: So the argument is that Communism is a 'similar movement'?

"Yes, that Communism would be included."

Senators Jaromir Stetina and Martin Mejstrik, photo: CTKSenators Jaromir Stetina and Martin Mejstrik, photo: CTK RP: One thing that I didn't hear discussed today was recent action in the European Parliament to ban Nazi symbols and there was a group of parliamentarians, notably members of the Czech delegation, the Polish delegation, from other countries that experienced Communism that want to extend that ban to Communist symbols. Is this petition in any way related to that? Or has there been any coordination with Brussels?

"In jest we say we are glad they follow — that the European Parliamentarians follow our initiative. But I think it is a clear illustration of the anxiety and importance that many people in formerly Communist bloc countries pay to this issue."

The European Commission later in the day on Tuesday rejected a call led by a former Lithuanian President and a Hungarian MEP for a proposed Europe-wide ban on Nazi symbols to be extended to also cover Communist Party symbols. EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said it would not be appropriate to include the hammer and sickle, and the Communist red star, in a draft EU law on racism that bans the Swastika.

But individual EU countries could still enact such a law and EU justice commissioner Frattini has called for a wider debate on the use of totalitarian symbols.

Green party senator and zrusmekomunisty petition organizer Jaromir Stetina:

"I am happy that we are not alone here in Prague. This is really to pressure politicians. 'Extreme parties' are not admitted in our [country's Parliament]; but we want to have Communism plus Nazism explicitly in our law — that explicitly Communism and Nazism is not allowed here."

Petition organisers want to close the first round of collecting signatures on February 25, the anniversary of the Communist take-over in 1948, at which time they plan to stage a rally at Prague's Old Town Square.

For more information on the petition drive, please see www.zrusmekomunisty.cz

09-02-2005