Soviet coup puts new pressure on Czechoslovak CP

Wednesday, September 18, 1991

By Peter Annear

PRAGUE — The Czech-based Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) has come under extreme pressure as a result of the attempted Soviet coup. Divisions within the party, and within the 24-member federal council it forms with the Party of the Democratic Left of Slovakia (SDL), have widened.

The coup encouraged finance minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and other right-wing parties to escalate their campaign to restrict or completely ban the KSCM and other former Communists.

Before the coup, the KSCM had 430,000 members and the support of more than 10% of the population of the Czech republic in the polls, making it the second strongest party after the monetarist ODS.

The rightist parties called for the immediate publication of the names of all members and collaborators of the former STB secret police (the process of "vetting"), the replacement of former Communists now holding leading posts, the replacement of the directors of national radio and television and the Czechoslovak News Agency, and other measures.

The independent Slovakian Narodna Obroda (National Revival) said the political right was using the coup to improve its position before the scheduled June 1992 parliamentary elections. It said the rightists had unleashed a "campaign of debolshevisation" and claimed the methods were not original: in the past the Communists intimidated their critics in a similar way, labelling them agents of the CIA or other "imperialist intelligence services".

The rightists have also escalated their campaign for the removal of Alexander Dubcek as parliamentary chair. In Slovakia, parliamentary deputy chair Milan Sutovec (from the pro-ODS Public Against Violence — VPN) criticised Dubcek on television for not calling the parliamentary presidium into session to consider events in the Soviet Union until the day after the coup had collapsed. Sutovec is known to have ambitions to take the chair himself.

Social Democratic Party (CSD) leader Jiri Horak on August 27 again called on the Communist Party and all its offshoots and successor organisations to dissolve. The CSD hopes to gain members and electoral following from the former ruling party.

But Horak did not call for outlawing the party, which he said would run counter to the principles of democracy.

Left faction

Federal parliamentary deputy Miroslav Jansta, a member of the opposition Democratic Left faction of the KSCM, told the government news service CTK that unless the leaders of the party's parliamentary group (the largest single bloc, with 47 out of the 300 federal seats) react resolutely to the present policy of the KSCM, he would leave the group and be an independent deputy.

Jansta was the party's only representative on the parliamentary commission investigating the November 17, 1989, events in Prague, which is also involved in vetting deputies.

The Democratic Left faction has charged the KSCM leadership with adopting a wait-and-see attitude towards the coup, saying it was not until August 21, the day the coup ended, that party president Jiri Svoboda publicly urged coup leader Gennady Yanayev and the Emergency Committee to reinstate Gorbachev.

The faction, which claims an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 supporters within the KSCM, or 10-14% of the total membership, has publicly raised a series of demands, including:

  • the resignation of Jiri Svoboda and the party's entire executive committee;

  • an end to publication of the party newspaper Halo Noviny (Hello News), which is aligned to the leadership;

  • the immediate convening of Czech and federal party congresses, claiming failure to do so would most likely result in the creation of a new party;

  • a name change for the Czech and federal parties and an affirmation of their "non-communist character".

Svoboda

According to Vratislav Votova, a left-wing journalist working on Halo Noviny, Svoboda was out of Prague when the coup broke. Votova told Green Left that when Svoboda returned, he wrote three letters — to Gorbachev, Yanayev and (then ambassador to Czechoslovakia, now Soviet foreign minister) Boris Pankin — condemning the coup as unconstitutional and undemocratic.

The letters were published in Halo Noviny on August 24. On the same day, the KSCM publicly welcomed the reinstatement of Gorbachev. It said the inactivity of the Soviet CP's supreme bodies during the coup discredited the party leadership in the eyes of all democratically minded people.

In the following days, Svoboda said it was logical that Gorbachev had stepped down as Communist Party general secretary. "A series of compromises by Gorbachev and his inability to make decisions led the Soviet Union to the brink of the state coup."

Svoboda described Gorbachev as a man dragged along by events, but he is against removing Gorbachev and opposes Yeltsin and the so-called democratic forces.

In the weeks before the coup, Svoboda visited Moscow for discussions with leaders of the Communist Party (including the president of the Russian CP) and of the Movement for Democratic Reforms founded by former aides to Gorbachev. On his return, he said the CPSU's new draft program indicated that the views of the Soviet and Czech parties were getting closer, particularly in their support for democracy and liberalisation.

The Slovak Party of the Democratic Left was a little quicker off the mark than the KSCM. SDL chair Peter Weiss told an August 20 press conference in Bratislava, "The way Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was toppled from power ... cannot leave anyone indifferent". He said it is impossible to halt the democratic changes started by Gorbachev.

Later he said the failed coup had accelerated "revolutionary changes" in the Soviet Union. He said the Soviet coup leaders who had attempted to repeat the August 21, 1968, Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia instead had called forth another November 17, 1989, (Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution) in Moscow and Leningrad — a common theme now in Czechoslovakia.

Three currents

There are three major currents inside the KSCM. The "Self-Management" current is the majority of the party leadership and includes Svoboda, who was one of the founders of Civic Forum in 1989. The "Democratic Left" is an opposition current with Social Democratic leanings and includes Vasil Mohorita, a reformer who rose from leadership of the Union of Young Communists to head the Communist Party immediately after November 1989. The third current is the "Marxist-Leninist Platform", which retains most of the party's Stalinist heritage.

Unofficially, the Democratic Left faction is politically aligned with the 40,000-strong Slovakian SDL, which was founded in February out of the former Slovakian Communist Party (KSS — the Slovakian wing on the old Czechoslovakian CP). The SDL is a part of the official Slovakian parliamentary opposition.

New Slovak organisations aligned to conservatives inside the KSCM have been formed by former members of the KSS and are seeking entry to the federal KSCM-SDL council. But

SDL leader Weiss opposes their membership. It is now possible that new federations will emerge: one comprising the KSCM and the refounded Slovakian communist groups; the other comprising the SDL and the Czech Democratic Left faction.

On August 28, federal council chair Pavol Kanis (from the SDL) told a press conference the conservative policies of the leadership of the KSCM might cause the disintegration of the national party, known as the "Communist Party of Czechoslovakia — KSCM and SDL Federation".

That evening, Svoboda confirmed that the federal party had decided to change its name to "Federation of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and of the Democratic Left Party", according to CTK. Svoboda was one of two members of the federal council who abstained on the vote. The KSCM has also announced it will hold a party referendum on a name change.

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