Communists see red over pig parody

05-06-2005

A major debate has broken out in the last few days about what language is appropriate in the Czech public service media. In a weekly Czech Radio satirical program, which parodies the well-known format of the political interview, one of the show's protagonists the actress, Ester Kocickova, compared communists to pigs.

Although they were clearly intended as a parody, Kocickova's words upset members of the Czech Communist Party, who complained to the board that oversees Czech Radio and demanded an apology.

The first person to react was the station's editor in-chief Jan Pokorny. He apologized on behalf of the station. However, he did not address his apology to the communists but to listeners, saying that such language should not be used on public radio.

Ester Kocickova herself seemed to hesitate at first over how to react, but later she also decided to make an apology. Yet her apology was addressed neither to the communists, nor to the listeners, but to the pigs themselves, saying that she regretted offending such a useful animal.

This has infuriated the communists even more and started a huge row. While the communists' defenders said Kocickova's statement was inappropriate and offensive, other people defended her, saying that to criticise parody does nothing more than deepen the parody itself.

And the show went on. Not on the radio but in the Czech press, where the debate continued - with some pointing to the crimes committed by the communists in the past, and a growing discussion about what constitutes an insult to an innocent animal.

The topic of communism and communists is still a very sensitive issue in Czech society. The communist regime was responsible for many cases of grave injustice. Particularly in the 1950's many Czechs were imprisoned and executed, families were ruined and the communist regime in general marked the nation with a great social, economic and moral devastation.

Many people are discontent with the fact that that the communist past has not been better reflected in new legislation, that the Communist Party has not been made illegal, and that the influence of their members on society is still great.

On the other hand, many others do no seem to share this view. Due to a sense of disillusionment with democracy, the market economy and the current political scene, opinion polls suggest the popularity of the Communist Party is rising.

But even though their passive support is growing, the current Communist Party does not have an easy position given this deep social divide. Even though they claim they are reformed and they distance themselves from the old regime, many people do not trust them. Their name itself is a symbol which people associate with times of censorship and lack of freedom.

Given this experience, for many people any attempt by the communists to control political satire is like a red rag - or should I say red flag - to a bull.

05-06-2005