New Czech PM's communist past creates a stir

11th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

This is the first time the Czech Republic has four former communist ministers – Prime Minister Jan Fischer and three others – in a new government.

PRAGUE – The communist past of four members of the new Czech cabinet sworn in Friday has sparked a debate in the country as it prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism here.

New Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and three of his ministers once possessed the little red ID books that the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC) handed out to its members.

The 58-year-old Fischer joined the KSC in 1980, when Leonid Brezhnev was in power in the Soviet Union, and quit during the so-called Velvet Revolution in late 1989, like many of his compatriots.

Foreign minister Jan Kohout, minister for European affairs Stefan Fule and finance minister Eduard Janota also used to be communist party members.

Fule and Kohout each studied at MGIMO, the Soviet State Institution of International Relations in Moscow.

The new Czech government thus has more former communist ministers than any other since the Czech Republic emerged as an independent state in 1993.

"My God, why do people speak about the government as a non-partisan body?" asked the Czech weekly Reflex.

"This is my biggest mistake and loss," Janota, a respected expert on the state budget, said about his communist past which started in 1978 when he was 26 years old and wanted to climb on the professional ladder.

Fischer shows less regret, saying the nine-year membership is "nothing I would be proud of," according to local press.

About two in three Czechs – 63 percent – think Fischer's communist past does not pose a problem, a recent poll has shown.

Among others, this group includes outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, toppled in a no-confidence vote in parliament at the end of March.

"Without any doubt, Jan Fischer was a member of the KSC because of his career. That is no excuse, but it should not prevent him from taking a high post," Topolanek said.

He added the debate about the new prime minister's past was "unnecessary" as Fischer had already "expiated" this "juvenile mistake".

The opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) has shown rare agreement.

"These 20 years (since the 1989 fall of communism) have diminished the risk of recurrence," said their deputy chairman and shadow finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

But the Confederation of Political Prisoners is convinced Fischer's appointment is "unprecedentedly shameful."

"For us, it's absolutely unacceptable," said its 88-year-old vice-president Miloslav Nerad, who spent several years in prison after the communist "coup de Prague" in 1948.

Four out of nine Czechoslovak and Czech prime ministers in the post-1989 era were former communists – Marian Calfa (1989-1992), Jan Strasky (1992), Josef Tosovsky (1997-1998), and Milos Zeman (1998-2002).

Of the other five, Stanislav Gross was only 20 in 1989 and Jiri Paroubek, the CSSD chairman, was a member of the Czechoslovak Socialist Party, which was a vehicle allowing the KSC to fake plurality.

Folk singer Jaroslav Hutka, forced by the communists to emigrate to the Netherlands in 1978, is equally embittered by Fischer's communist past.

"The current Czech politics have evolved into total arrogance towards the nation and its interests," the 62-year-old singer, one of the great personalities of the Velvet Revolution, told AFP.

And, only half-mockingly, he added: "I have this idea of asking the EU for an enlightened protectorate, because these politicians really are not self-contained and they don't care about the society."

AFP / Expatica

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