Twilight of the Communist Party in the Czech Republic?

February 1948, Prague |  Photo: Czech TV

The Communist Party has been a permanent political force in Czech politics for almost exactly a century. Founded in 1921, it was a very visible but rather marginal political party before World War II. With the defeat of German Nazism and the fact that Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Soviet army, it seized power in a bloodless coup in 1948. It then ruled the country for more. of four decades, officially on behalf of the working class and the ideologically conscious intelligentsia. But the general feeling of corruption and growing economic backwardness made a bad joke that the country was a haven of progress and social peace.

When the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms called Perestroika in the late 1980s, it became clear that the power of the Soviet Empire was waning. While other Soviet satellites like Poland and Hungary were already on their way to democracy in the summer of 1989, the Czech Communists still seemed to have a firm grip on power. Until November of the same year, a radical change also took place in Czechoslovakia. The Velvet Revolution led to a virtual collapse of communist power. But the party itself has not completely collapsed. In the first free elections, he received more than 13 percent of the vote and he maintained a constant and significant presence in Parliament throughout the 1990s. Then, in 2002, he obtained nearly a fifth of the votes and celebrated a kind of comeback. But then support for the Communists started to stagnate.

Petr Just |  Photo: Elena Horálková, Czech Radio

While in 2003 there were still around 100,000 party members, they literally started to disappear and now the membership is just over 26,000. The party leadership must have realized that something was not right at all. But they did not and the result is that in the general elections in October this year, the Communist Party did not win any seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech Parliament.

The reaction was swift. The Party has elected a new leader: Kateřina Konečná is 40 years old, she is an MEP and promises to modernize the Communist Party and unite the left under her wing. Can she succeed? Political scientist Petr Just from Metropolitan University of Prague is skeptical:

“I think the odds are very marginal. At the same time, she says that she wants to lock the party into its tough positions. And that’s certainly not a good place to start if she’s serious about her intention to unite the left.

So, should we consider the 2021 elections as a kind of “coup de grace”, the coup de grace to Czech communism?

Kateřina Konečná |  Photo: Khalil Baalbaki, Czech Radio

“It is difficult to say since we have been talking for a short time that Kateřina Konečná has become the leader of the Party. We know some of her ideas, but we don’t know enough details about how she intends to go about making them come true. We also don’t know how party members will react to his declared campaign for real change. “

“In my opinion, the party’s potential to bounce back and gain more electoral support is rather low. So I would side with those who predict that the days of the Communist Party at the highest levels of real political power are over.

This does not mean that the socialist ideals that the Communist Party so conspicuously represented for most of the last century are dead. It just seems that a party of this name is very unlikely to lead the Czech radical left anytime soon.

Berta D. Wells