The 11th of January is not only the day that I will arrive in Prague to do my field work, it is also the day of the first round of the Czech presidential elections.For the first time, Czechs will directly elect their president. Havel and Klaus have both been elected to their terms by the assembled houses of parliament, but the law has been changed in order for the president to be directly elected.
I’ve been following the campaign avidly and one of the interesting issues that’s caught my attention has been the persisting attention that has been paid to communist past of some of the candidates, in particular Fischer (who does well in the polls). Fischer was a member of the KSČ during the ‘normalization period’ up to 1989. He has apologized for his membership and has called it a mistake. Today, Fischer is an independent candidate who is not particularly left-wing – indeed, he has announced that he will refuse to appoint a government that includes the communist party KSČM. Remarkably, however, the issue continues to be brought up, for instance when Roithová, one of the other candidates, critiqued Fischer and other candidates for their past in the KSČ, and this week when a billboard appeared in Prague with a photo of Fischer and the Prague Castle in the background, and the words ‘the most capable were in the KSČ’.
Indeed, the volební kalkulačka (the vote calculator, a Czech voter assistance website) asks its users whether they agree that someone with a past in the KSČ should not be president.
Clearly, and (to me) interestingly, the communist past continues to play a role in modern Czech politics, and the involvement of politicians with the communist regime does seem to play a role in the vote choice of at least some voters (although I don’t have hard evidence for that – I’m just going on the fact that issue is discussed so much). To be fair, while a president that was once a party member would be a first, the Czech Republic has had its share of prime ministers and other political leaders that were once in the KSČ, including Jan Fischer but also Miloš Zeman. This previous experience with reformed communists does not seem to alleviate some of the worries, though.