Czech rightists stage their largest demonstration

Wednesday, May 1, 1991

By Adam Novak

PRAGUE — The far-right Republican Party held a 4000-strong march through Prague on Saturday, April 13, the culmination of a national week of action. Their supporters — skinheads, workers facing redundancy, political prisoners from the 1950s and students — chanted slogans and applauded Miroslav Sladek, their charismatic leader and an employee of the censorship office until November 1989.

Sladek's constant megaphone diatribe illustrated the confused, populist base of his movement. He claimed "all those in power are communists and STB (secret police) people", "We're becoming foreigners in our own land", "They won't make us speak Slovak, foreigners out of our land", "Three governments [Federal, Czech and Slovak] — I'd need seven ministers".

All the Czech Republic's problems are blamed on a mysterious mafia of communists, ex-communists, Charter 77 police informers, Jewish intellectuals, ungrateful Slovaks and foreign monopolies. Except for his racism, Sladek responds to many of the realities of the Czech economy. The communist bureaucracy was not swept from power; indeed the present elite represents a compromise between them and an intelligentsia elite of Charter 77 activists (almost none of whom are Jewish), many of whom were highly placed in the Stalinist system until 1968.

There is undeniably a strong Chartist "jobs for the boys" phenomenon in state and economic appointments. Mafia groupings in the bureaucracy are making deals with foreign companies to rip off state property in speculative or short-term projects that will not strengthen the economy.

The government seems paralysed. Parliament is cut off from the people and bogged down in a series of 40 economic reform laws which nobody understands. The standard of living of workers has fallen 30% over the last year, and the economy is weaker than before. Inflation and unemployment are rising.

The Republican Party's strategy for dealing with all this is a series of conflicting slogans. Decisive purges and expulsion of all ex-Communist Party members from leading positions would free over half a million jobs. Firm government would allegedly stop corruption and ensure a fair deal from foreign investors. To this the Republicans have attached the slogans of self-management and worker-share ownership, stolen from the left.

Impressions from a number of left friends support my own impression that the Republicans have not grown since their last major demonstration on the occasion of George Bush's visit last November. Their support is constantly turning over, and Sladek has not yet built an organisational structure, a respectable facade or a milieu of skinhead thugs to do the party's dirty work. This week of action has, however, certainly advanced all three aims a little further. Their populist, racist and anti-bureaucratic rhetoric has not been shown up as hollow by the left. Two days after the demonstration, Trotskyist deputy Petr Uhl again stressed his support for finance minister Vaclav Klaus' reforms, expressing opposition only to Klaus' authoritarian tendencies in politics. Most of the left is content to dismiss the Republicans as demagogues without analysing their twisted support for "self-management". There is no attempt to counter their demonstrations, or even to argue with their peripheral supporters, many of whom could be won by the left.

The organised far right is less a feature of politics in Slovakia than it is in the Czech Republic though virulent racist and nationalist sentiments are a common part of political life there. Anticommunism is not so strong, in part because the Stalinists industrialised Slovakia within 30 years and brought its standard of living up to Czech levels, and in part because the "normalisation" after 1968 was not as severe in Slovakia.

While several extreme nationalist groupings celebrate the pro-Nazi Slovak state of 1939-45, and its various unsavoury leaders, the centre parties have monopolised the nationalist mantle with their chauvinist language law (discriminating against the 10% Hungarian minority) and their anti-Prague rhetoric.

The left is the only current with an anti-bureaucratic propaganda. Unfortunately, the left largely shares the anti-Hungarian, anti-Rom (Gypsy) agenda of the centre left Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar and his main opponent.

We have not heard the last of the far right in Czechoslovakia, nor is there yet much sign of a force that can squash them before they grow.

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