Resurrection of the Marxist old guard

For the first time since 1989, on 13 October, Czech communists have won elections in two regions, and their party is now hoping to extend its influence in general elections slated for 2014. However, reporting from the Karlovy Vary region, the weekly Respekt remarks that the communists have barely changed since the heyday of the single party.

Published on 2 November 2012 at 13:32
 | Local Communist Party leader Josef Murčo in his office in Karlovy Vary.

The initial impression of a good-natured teacher proves accurate – Jaroslav Borka began his career in elementary school. However, he left teaching — probably for good— because of politics. As leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which won the regional elections, he wants to gain a majority in the county council and prepare the ground for a further victories in the region. He gives off a feeling of energy. “We are now facing a new era of responsibility and influence,” he says.

Were it not for the communist election poster and plaster plaques featuring Moscow’s Red Square, one wouldn’t even notice that the office of the financial affairs deputy of the Karlovy Vary Region has been occupied for four years by the party with the red cherries in its emblem. “I built my relationship with Moscow and Russia in my youth, when both our countries shared the same political ideology, and it is still a very warm relationship today,” says Jaroslav Borka (60). “Some bonds just last a lifetime.”

A “historic victory”

**He became an active member of the Communist Party as a teenager in the 1970s and he has never doubted his decision since. According to Borka, the current communist party is the “modern left” that our economically uncertain time will increasingly prove right. “We will prevail by force of argument, not by force,” says Borka. “The scare stories about us being authoritarian strongmen are nonsense. I keep my eyes open and I listen to everyone. At the Council I talk to all the politicians. The main thing is that they be decent people,” he adds — a conviction that has played a key role in his political success.

Karlovy Vary dissident Jiří Kotek shakes his head. “The communists have been sitting on regional supervisory committees here for years, and they also have had their members on the county council. They were in on everything, but they’re real masters at persuading people that they’re not responsible for anything dodgy.” Kotek, who became famous for publishing a video that showed Karlovy Vary politicians cooperating in the clearly unfair selection of the winner of a contract worth billions of crowns, also ran in the elections. Having won ten percent of the vote with his Alternative movement, he called on all the elected parties to cease cooperation with the communists and to send them back to the isolation, where — he insists — they belong. (However, the other parties have yet to respond to his initiative.)**

The “historic election victory of the communists” in Karlovy Vary, he is convinced, should not be underestimated. The party won 16,500 votes, which is only about two thousand more than in 2008. What catapulted them to the top, however, was an especially low turnout (around 36%). While the last time around (four years ago), a similar level of support for the Communists, at 17%, won them eight seats in the regional council, this year it picked up 23% and 14 seats out of 45.

“Four decades of prosperity”

**In the office of the head of the Karlovy Vary organisation of the KSČM, Josef Murča, (60) a bronze bust of Karl Marx peers down on visitors from the shelves, while the calendar of the Chinese Communist Party hangs gleaming on the wall. A two-metre sculpture of Red Army soldiers with submachine guns dominates the meeting room. “I joined (the party) while I was in the army, in 1972,” says the former vocational school teacher.

As he says, no one can ever convince him of the dangers of nationalisation or of forced collectivisation. In the eyes of Mr. Murča, those were good ideas. “I’ve lived through those events. The farmers were growing old, and who would take over the farm after them? They thanked the JZD co-ops,” he argues.

For him, the pre-November regime was a “trouble-free era” that brought the country “four decades of prosperity”. And if there were any errors made, those certainly don’t threaten now. “Please, nobody here wants to outlaw other parties,” Chairman Murčo says, waving his hand at words like totalitarianism. “But purely philosophically,” he adds, “who says that today’s system is the only right one?”

It is clear that the “genial teacher” Borka bases his own activity on similar lines of thought. “Will you bring back the obligatory May Day parades and build a new barbed wire fence with Germany?” he was asked in an online interview with readers of the server. “No,” the candidate for district governor answered. “But honestly, a lot of people remember beautiful times in those parades. And porous borders can be welcome news to criminals, and they can cause a lot of problems.”

The question left open leaves another question hanging: just how much criticism of their plans will the new rulers of the region tolerate? “Criticism can certainly be good,” says Josef Murčo. “But it should be constructive. If it’s offered in bad faith, then one has to step in. That’s against freedom of speech? That hasn’t existed for a long time. Try to criticise in capitalist firms and they’ll throw you out.” Following up on this, the leader of the communist candidates, Borka, declared that the ideal solution to the problems of unemployment in the Karlovy Vary region would be to transfer some regional firms from private ownership to ownership by the region.**

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