March 22, 2007 / 11:42 AM / 13 years ago

Communism still appeals to some young Czechs

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A generation of Czechs has grown up since the 1989 fall of communism, yet the Marxist ideology is still attracting new blood among those with little experience on how former rulers tried to put it in practice.

“The communist thinking, and the party, certainly attracts me for its positive and humane vision of the future,” Zdenek Stefek, the secretary of the Central Council of the Communist Youth Union (KSM), told Reuters.

The bloodless “Velvet Revolution” that overthrew the Soviet-backed Communists and installed dissident playwright Vaclav Havel as president was led by students yearning for a better life and more freedom.

Analysts expected support for the Communist Party to dwindle as their main pillar of support — seniors hit hard by the change to a free-market economy — was pushed aside by a younger generation weaned on democracy.

But the Communists remain the third-biggest force in the Czech parliament, as a blend of younger followers such as Stefek breathe new life into party.

The KSM claims about 600 followers, and is one of the most radical of a range of far-left groups professing socialism. Its revolutionary visions prompted a decision by the interior ministry to disband the group, which KSM has appealed.

Sitting in the headquarters of the former ruling Communist Party, where plaques commemorating communism founders Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels adorn the walls in the corridors, Stefek does not look the typical revolutionary.

His short-cropped hair is far from the flowing locks of leftists such as Che Guevara — or even Engels or Marx — and the 32-year old has lived more than half of his life in a free- market country that has joined NATO and the European Union.

While other computer engineers like Stefek are chasing their first million in the world of high-tech, he works at the party headquarters maintaining the computer network.

NO MONOPOLY

“We are of course critical of the past. We do not see it as something to return to, but we try see it objectively, trying to say what was positive and what was negative,” Stefek said.

“What we do not want to follow upon is the monopoly of one party anchored in the constitution instead of it being the result of a natural authority. The second thing (not to replicate) is limiting certain civic rights.”

Stefek acknowledged freedom of speech was limited under the communist rule, but saw similar problems now.

“Speaking about media propaganda today, we have to say that communists were total losers compared with that,” he said.

“I know many people who ... have to keep their opinions secret, they cannot say at work they are communists.”

Stefek said his aim is for people to have more say in decision-making through referenda and common ownership.

“The revolution, or systemic change, cannot be decreed or announced — it will mostly come about through work with people and by the people,” he said.

“We believe that community ownership will be more effective than private ownership. So, if there is free competition, community ownership will win and private ownership of production means will become useless and obsolete.”

It was KSM’s radical approach to property that prompted the interior ministry — led by both left and right-wing ministers in recent months — to ban it, saying its goals were unconstitutional. The appeal is awaiting a court hearing.

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