Cablegate: 16 Years After the End of Communist Rule, Czechs


DE RUEHPG #1699/01 3421534
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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) SUMMARY. A recent unsuccessful initiative to ban the
Czech Communist Party (KSCM), together with November's
anniversary of the student protests that led to the eventual
end of communist rule, and the general elections scheduled
for next June, have focused public debate on the role of the
largely unreformed Communist Party. Some leading politicians
and analysts, including several former dissidents, now argue
that the world has changed significantly since 1989 and that
the Communist Party, even if it has not changed
significantly, now represents little or no threat to
democracy. The increasing official tolerance of the Communist
Party, and the openness with which parliamentary cooperation
is acknowledged by the governing coalition's senior partner,
the Social Democrats (CSSD), is changing the dynamics of
national politics, resulting in a diminished role for the
current opposition, and more, though still limited, space for
the Prime Minister and his party. END SUMMARY

2. (U) Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek (CSSD) signed a petition
drive to ban the Communists in the early 1990s. He now calls
it "the stupidest thing I ever did," arguing that the effect
was counterproductive and led to renewed unity within KSCM.
Paroubek repeatedly makes the point that KSCM has 20% of the
seats in parliament and that it is destabilizing to keep
those votes outside the system. He argues that it would be
better for the country to give those parliamentarians a
chance to participate in normal political life.

3.(U) In a speech November 17, commemorating the 16th
anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, Paroubek
dismissed concerns about a communist comeback, saying, "There
is no USSR. There is no red Army. There is no Comintern. KSCM
is no threat to democracy." Paroubek has recently relied on
the Communists for support on several pieces of legislation
affecting labor unions, student employees, and church-run
charities. Statistics show the Communists supported the
Social Democrats on 14 of 16 recent bills. The Prime
Minsster's coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, have,
unsuccessfully, tried to oppose him on some of these
measures. It is not clear whether Paroubek felt sufficiently
emboldened by this successful cooperation with the
Communists, or perhaps instead felt an obligation to do
something in exchange, but in late November, Paroubek floated
a trial balloon, announcing that if he were a
parliamentarian, he would support the cancellation of the
lustration law that prevents former top officials and secret
police agents from the Communist era from holding high
office. The move provoked such a strong reaction that
Paroubek backed down two days later, saying he was putting
aside his personal views for the moment, in order to not
destabilize the ruling coalition. While some observers
believe that Paroubek may have finally found a limit to how
far he can go in working with KSCM; others interpret this as
more of a tactical retreat.

4.(U)) Paroubek is not alone in arguing that it is time to
bring the Communist Party and its supporters out of the
political wilderness. A number of important and influential
political figures no longer support the ostracizing of the
Communist Party. Former President Vaclav Havel has been
blamed by some for not banning the Communists when he was
president in the early 90's. Havel argued last month that
there was little call for such a move in the early 90's.
Havel instead feels that the opportunists within the old
communist structures left the party in the early 90's, got
fabulously wealthy, and are today exerting a far more
dangerous and corrosive influence on Czech democracy than the
ideological diehards who stayed behind. Havel says it was
the malfeasance of other parties, a shot at President Klaus's
Civic Democrats (ODS), that made it possible for the KSCM to
stay alive.

5.(U) Senate President Petr Pithart (KDU-CSL, Christian
Democrats), who is the son of a Communist-era Ambassador to
France and former Communist himself, argues that the
Communists should be allowed to participate in political
life. "It is much better to beat them at the polls," he
argues, though it is very unlikely his own party will come
out ahead of KSCM.

6. (SBU) Political analyst Jiri Pehe, who also advises
Paroubek, argues that what made the communists so evil wasn't
their desire to have free universal health care, free
tuition, regulated rents, and strong labor unions. Instead,
in Pehe's view, it was the communist control over the media,

the judiciary and the educational curricula, limited freedom
of movement, and so on. Pehe argues that the pre-1989
Communist party was able to do all this because they were
backed up by Moscow. Pehe points out that the situation is
dramatically different today. The Czech media is today in the
hands of Swiss and German press barons who exert commercial
rather than political pressure. Regarding the liberty to
travel, Pehe points out that most Czechs feel the greatest
impediment is U.S. visa law. In a November 30 editorial in
the national daily Mlada Fronta, Pehe writes, "Communism has
ended and it will never return. The sooner all those who
fight against it realize this, the sooner standard democracy
will prevail in the Czech Republic."

6. (U) Finance Minister and CSSD Chair Bohuslav Sobotka,
considered the standard bearer for the moderate faction
within the party, mentioned cooperation with the Communists
this month, saying he would rely on their support, if
necessary, to pass dozens of key bills before the election
next June. Just this spring, during the political uncertainty
surrounding then Prime Minister Gross, Sobotka had said that
he would resign if Gross were to set up a minority government
supported by the Communists.

7. (U) President Klaus, who has said he would not attend a
KSCM party congress because of the party's past, nevertheless
disagrees with any attempt to ban communism now. Klaus
reasons that communism was defeated in November of 1989. He
says communism as a political movement doesn't exist anymore.

8. (SBU) Vladimir Mlynar, former dissident, former journalist
for the liberal weekly RESPEKT, former minister without
portfolio and Minister of Informatics and member of the
liberal party, the Freedom Union, is generally regarded as a
life-long anti-Communist. Mlynar told the Embassy in November
that he doesn't regard the Communist party as a threat and
feels that, although he dislikes the party, it is a part of
the political spectrum today and should be treated as such.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: The American polling firm, PSB, hired by
CSSD for the 2006 election campaign, released the results of
a survey November 30 showing that 55% of Czechs feel that
KSCM should be treated like any other standard political
party. Two thirds of those responding said the Communist
Party should not be banned. Ironically, some of the most
vocal opposition to the Communists is coming from young
activists who would have only experienced communism in their
infancy. On the other hand, some of the traditionally
pro-U.S. voices in the country are saying that it no longer
makes sense to outlaw, or even ostracize, the Communists.
This is reducing the leverage of the opposition Civic
Democrats, as well as CSSD's junior coalition partners, since
the opposition Communists have already said they will support
several key government bills. It is also undercutting one of
the main election themes of the Civic Democrats, namely that
support for CSSD will lead to a reemergence of the
Communists. Current opinion polls give left-of-center CSSD
and KSCM combined a slight lead over right-of-center ODS and
KDU-CSL. It's still too early to say for certain that this
lead will be borne out in the voting next June. But whatever
the outcome of the 2006 vote, it seems only a matter of time
before the Communist party is treated like all other
political parties in the Czech Republic - mistrusted and
disdained. And that could be the toughest test KSCM has
faced since 1989. END COMMENT


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