Czech Lurch to the Left: Part One

As the new year dawned, Czech Communist Party (KSČM) leader Vojtěch Filip found himself in political hot water and potential legal trouble. His decision to offer the party’s formal condolences to North Korea for the loss of their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, had evoked public outrage. Czech papers teemed with speculation as to whether or not he’d violated a statute that bans public support for totalitarian regimes. Three months later, the Czech government abandoned its pursuit of legal avenues to outlaw KSČM. Yet, Filip’s Communist Party finds itself riding a wave of increased support.

Vojtěch Filip, Communist Party Leader

A new poll from Factum Inverio (note: link in Czech) shows that 16.1% of Czechs would vote Communist if elections were held today – an increase of more than 40% over their share of the votes in the last elections to the House of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech Parliament (2010).

For the past several months, the Communist Party has been locked in a back-and-forth battle with the Civic Democrats for a second place finish in the polls.

The rise in support for KSČM started to emerge in mid-2011. Initial skepticism of the staying power of such a spike is giving way to the realization that the trend is more than a blip.

The Communist Party’s relevance in the post-communist Czech political scene is nothing new. KSČM has won over 10% of the vote in each parliamentary election since it was removed from power in 1989. It’s a (typically) quadrennial reminder that while the former regime is scowled upon by most Czech citizens, there were beneficiaries and supporters remain. But heads turn in Prague when a party viewed as dying slowly sees a sudden uptick in support.

KSČM has operated on the fringe of Czech politics throughout the post-communist era. It’s the only former ruling party in the region to have kept “Communist” in its name*. Whereas deposed regimes in some of the other former Soviet satellite states re-branded themselves as “social democrats” and embraced a more pragmatic form of leftism (see: Hungary, Poland), the Czech communists have tended toward orthodox Marxism and away from public opinion.

Their extreme stances have little appeal to younger voters. Consequently, the party is old and getting older. In 2008,  surveys showed 70% of the party’s membership was at least 70-years-old. If voting were restricted to the under-50s, the party likely wouldn’t even break the 5% threshold.

So how is it that an aging, ideological dinosaur of a party finds itself projected to take more seats in the next election than ever before in the Czechs’ 22-year ex-communist history?

We’ll tackle that very question and more tomorrow in part two.
* The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia split into the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and the Communist Party of Slovakia upon the establishment of independent Czech and Slovak Republics.

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