Ladislav Jača, General Secretary of the Slovak Communist Party, foresees a return of communism.
photo: Ján Svrček
"You'll live to see this, Communism spreading to Slovakia from the West."
KSS party boss Ladislav Jača
"Slovakia experienced neither socialism nor Communism," he told The Slovak Spectator February 16. "Such grand ideologies cannot be built in 40 years. We had a promising beginning, but we had to keep up the illusion that it was a pure form of Communism, or people would have been disappointed."
For Jača, Communism was not a 'totalitarian' ideology - that description, he feels, suits the Catholic Church far better. Nor was it a harsh regime - Jača alleges that Slovakia's dissidents were far better treated in jail than they were when at liberty.
The General Secretary is, in fact, convinced that the future of central and eastern Europe is tied to a return of Communism - this time from the West. "You'll live to see this, Communism spreading from the West," he said with a rich chuckle.
The Slovak Communist Party (KSS) may yet not be in a position to mediate a return of Communism, but its fortunes have recently improved. According to a January poll by the Focus Agency, 4.5% of respondents said they supported the Communists, up almost two percentage points from the KSS 1998 election result of 2.72%. The rise is significant in that 5% voter support is the minimum necessary for a party to secure seats in parliament.
Political professionals say that one poll result is not sufficient evidence to predict a long-term increase in popularity for the KSS. "I wouldn't read too much into this - this may not be a trend that lasts," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, President of the Bratislava IVO think tank. "In past polls as well, the Communists have had higher support, and then fared very poorly in elections."
Ľuboš Kubín, a political scientist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, felt the Focus poll to be inaccurate, something he said sometimes happened when respondents were not chosen correctly. He nevertheless confirmed that "KSS support recently has begn to increase."
Ironically, the same cannot be said for those parties which led the anti-Communist 1989 revolution in Slovakia; the Christian Democrats, founded by jailed dissident and current Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, recorded 4.3% in the January Focus poll, while the Democratic Party took only 1.8%.
"It gives me a really bad feeling. It seems that people in Slovakia still have not understood the essence of the communist regime, and feel some kind of sympathy for the Communists. It makes me very sad - the KSS has never distanced itself from the crimes committed under Communism," said František Šebej, a senior member of the Democratic Party.
Mesežnikov and Kubín, however, do not see the KSS rise as a sign that people still sympathise with the Communists, but as a result of the fact that the main socialist party in the country - the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) - "has absolutely failed".
"The party which represents the left at the moment has not managed to address the needs of the leftist electorate sufficiently," said Kubín. "SDĽ voters have also been alienated by the conflict within the party, where two wings are currently struggling for power [the pro-reform wing of vice-chairman Peter Weiss and the anti-reform faction of chairman Jozef Migaš - ed. note]. The party has also been marked by clientelism and corruption. Voters are disappointed, and thus are leaving and joining other parties, such as the Communists".
The SDĽ, which garnered 14.7% voter support in the 1998 national elections, has seen its support dwindle to just 6.2% today, according to the January Focus poll.
The SDĽ's Peter Weiss agreed that his party's failures had aided the Communists' cause, estimating that the KSS's 2% rise consisted entirely of SDĽ protest votes. He blamed not only SDĽ mistakes, but also the country's social and economic hardships.
"In tough economic times, especially in eastern Slovakia, older citizens especially look back at Communism with a certain nostalgia, for the certainties that that regime offered. The KSS is building on this nostalgia," Weiss said.
It was in fact Peter Weiss who, at a 1992 Communist Party congress, pushed for the creation of the independent SDĽ. Weiss was at the time chairman of the Communist Party.
"I understood that the old Communist Party had simply messed up and was no longer able to compete [politically]," he said. "I refused to continue in its footsteps, and chose the path of transformation into a modern social democratic party."
Most KSS members at the time agreed with Weiss and followed him into the SDĽ, which immediately 'stole' the KSS voter base. The remaining KSS members, refusing the change, continued as faithful Communists.
Weiss is convinced that the rise of the SDĽ weakened the Communists, and prevented them from occupying as strong a position in Slovak politics as the Czech Communist Party does in Prague, where it is the Czech Republic's third strongest party. Public opinion polls regularly give the Czech Communists (KSČM) over 10%; in the most recent national elections in 1998, the KSČM took almost 11.5 %.
Czech political scientist Jana Dvořáková says the reason the KSČM is so much stronger than its Slovak counterpart is to do with history. "The Czech Communist Party always attracted a lot of intellectuals during totalitarianism," she said. "Apart from that, the Communists also drew about 13% support during the first Czech Republic [during World War II, from 1939 to 1945], when they had about 13%, far more than in Slovakia." Dvořáková added that Slovakia had always been more religious than the Czech Republic, which had been a further barrier to the popularity of the Communists.
Mesežnikov and Kubín predict that the long-term future of the Slovak Communists remains weak. Former KSS voters, they said, were split in 1992 between the SDĽ and Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS party, and have never come back to the Communists. The KSS voter base is also composed almost entirely of older people, and is year after year only diminishing, they said.
Nevertheless, the Communists' political opponents remain wary. "It would be very bad if the KSS had some future in Slovakia. I don't think in their current form they will be a serious player on the political scene, but they might contaminate it in a very unpleasant way," said Šebej.
Weiss, for his part, is resolved to do anything necessary to keep the KSS out of parliament. "They would just complicate everything," he said. "They don't offer any real solutions for the situation the country is now in. The KSS is simply a party of nostalgia and memories."
26. Feb 2001 at 0:00 | Lucia Nicholsonová