When the Czech Republic’s 200 newly-elected deputies gathered for the inaugural session of its new parliament on Monday, there wasn’t a single Communist party member there – for the first time in 76 years.
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), the direct successor of the totalitarian Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, has dropped out of the lower house of the Czech parliament after failing to gain any seats in last month’s election. The party lost its last seat in the upper house, the Senate, in 2018.
The final departure of the Communists from the top levels of Czech politics marks a hugely symbolic moment for many survivors of the totalitarian regime, especially after the outgoing government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis breached a long-standing taboo and relied on the votes of the Communists in the parliament to secure a majority in 2018, giving them indirect access to power.
While the party has attempted to re-brand itself as a modern and democratic leftist group in recent years, it never fully removed its association with the acts of its totalitarian predecessor.
Marek Benda – of the Civic Democratic Party and the country’s longest serving Member of Parliament – said he never expected the Communists to stay in parliament for so long after the revolution.
“We thought that they would still have some voters, but that these would gradually disappear … but they were doing quite well for much longer,” Benda said.
Jan Rovny, an associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris, said the decline of the party is down mostly to the “demographic replacement of its elder voters, nostalgic for communist regime certainties.”
But, writing in a policy blog, Rovny said the rise of populist parties like Babis’ ANO and the far-right SPD have also contributed to the Communists’ downfall.
“From its heyday at the helm of the authoritarian regime, the KSCM has been reduced to a radical left protest party in the post-1989 democracy,” he wrote. “The recent rise of cultural themes, centering on fears of migration advanced by the SPD and increasingly by ANO, has changed the substance of protest politics. The party’s core districts in the post-industrial northern regions have shifted allegiance.”
KSCM’s leadership resigned following the party’s election defeat. Jiri Dolejs, a member of the KSCM board, told CNN that the party’s demise reflects a wider downfall of the left in Europe, pointing to other groups that have suffered losses, such as Germany’s Die Linke.
“The left has been competing with populists, migration and health crises have pushed away the traditional competition between the left and the right,” he said.
Vojtech Filip, the outgoing former KSCM leader, told Halo Noviny, a Czech leftist newspaper closely tied to the party: “It is a great disappointment. The [election] debacle of the KSCM means that for the first time in modern history, the Communist Party will not be part of parliamentary democracy in the Czech Republic. The communists now face the task of doing everything in their power to regain prominence,”
The group’s newly-installed leader, Katerina Konecna, said her priority would be working to gain more support among younger people. According to the party’s official newspaper, the average age of KSCM members is now 75.
‘Very much stuck in the old ways’
Benda was one of the student leaders of the 1989 revolution and entered parliament shortly after the fall of the communist regime.
“When I first entered the parliament, there were 70 of us new deputies and 130 of the old guys,” he told CNN. “It was quite extreme, some of the old members were the real, old-school comrades. Of course the worst people were thrown out, but those that remained were still very much stuck in the old ways.”
He said that as a 21-year-old, he was addressed in an informal way by many of the old-school Communists, something he said he “just couldn’t get used to.”
Benda said he sees the final exit of KSCM from the Czech parliament as a “huge success.”
“Especially because it happened in a democratic way, they fizzled out on their own,” he added.
The MP said there was no appetite for the party to be banned after the revolution: “The atmosphere was not one of revenge and the West was also not supportive of the idea of making the party illegal.”
While it took 32 years for KSCM to drop out of parliament, the group’s final exit is more symbolic coming in 2021, a century after the original Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was formed.