A group of Czech senators is looking to ban the Communist Party. Officially called the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, it last received 13% of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2006, placing it third among all parties. Czech law states that a party can be legally banned only by initiative from the government or the president, and so the senators are pinning their hopes on Prime Minister Jan Fischer. For their own part, the Communists deny a connection to the pre-1989 years of the party, but remain unrepentant:
“Vojtech Filip, the Communist Party’s leader, was adamant in an interview that the party did not support undemocratic regime change. But he fell short of condemning the Marxist principle of revolution and called Marx “the greatest thinker of the millennium.”
This story raises a few very interesting questions. First, it is obvious that the legacy of Communism in Eastern Europe has not been overcome and historical reconciliation has not been accomplished a generation later. For the elderly, communist rule has become a nostalgic ideal.
Second, it raises one of the crucial questions of democratic politics: Where can the borders of legitimacy and legality be drawn with regard to ‘undemocratic’ movements? Although communist parties in many post-socialist nations have become absorbed into the parliamentary system, they continue to invoke fear and distrust in people due to their association with Marxism and Leninism. As the argument goes, the Party should be suspended “until they give up the title of ‘communist’ and denounce Marx and Lenin, who regarded violence as a legitimate means of gaining power.”
I do not mean to question the historical experience of Communist repression. Yet it should be asked whether a genuinely democratic politics can revolve around a fear of disruption caused by a particular group? I am not convinced this is the case, particularly if the party in question does not pose a genuinely existential threat to the system in place. In effect, the Communists have become anathema based on their historical legacy, not on any danger in the present.
It is also this policy that can hinder further efforts at reconciliation with the past of Communist rule. Reconciliation is accomplished on the social level, in the experience of cohabiting in a political space and by means of it, sharing a single future with one another. When this task is transferred to courts and state policies, what results is a deferral of responsibility and the suppression of conflicts and moments of political contestation that may actually be beneficial for society.