The Rapidly Evolving Czech Politics

Read The Part I Here

Yesterday, in part one of our look at the Czech political landscape, we introduced the puzzling rise in Communist support in the Czech Republic. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), widely loathed for its repressive rule prior to the Velvet Revolution*, finds itself projected to place second in the next legislative elections.

Today we’ll take a look at who still votes red in the ex-Communist Czech Republic.

Who Votes Communist These Days?

People who tend to be older, less educated and not from Prague.

1) Communist supporters are older.

As I noted yesterday more than 70% of KSČM members are at least 70-years-old. Member loyalty has been a driving force behind the continued Communist presence in the Czech legislature. Most party members have spent the majority of their adult lives under Communism. Two-thirds have been faithful to the party for more than 40-years. These older loyalists tend to be leerier of the political institutions and economic development that have replaced the decades-long Communist lead stagnation. Younger and less nostalgic left-leaning voters have gravitated to the more pragmatic Social Democrats.

2) Communist supporters are less educated.

More specifically Communist supporters are less likely to have attained secondary and tertiary degrees. They do, however, have the highest rate of vocational education among major parties and consequently are more likely to have worked as laborers. Unsurprisingly, given their educational tendencies and proclivity to work blue-collar jobs, Communist party members have a lower standard of living than voters loyal to other parties.

3) Communists are more popular outside the Czech Republic’s only major city.

Communism plays far better in rural Moravia than it does in Prague. Prague is the only major metropolis in the Czech Republic. To give some perspective, the country’s second largest city, Brno, is affectionately referred to as “The Big Village”.

Prague’s political bent is decidedly to the right of the rest of the country. In the 2010 legislative elections both major center-right parties (ODS and TOP 09) fared better in Prague than any other voting region. Fittingly, the left-of-center Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Communists posted their poorest numbers in the capital. The Communists managed just 6.53% of the vote in Prague. Away from the city lights, in the country’s 13 other voting regions, they netted just under 12%.

While the strength of a country’s conservative movement resting in its urban center may seem counter-intuitive from an American political perspective, the capital’s experience with Communism was particularly tumultuous. The repression of the Communist regime struck sharply in the intellectual and cultural heart of then-Czechoslovakia.

When former party secretary Alexander Dubček’s efforts to introduce “socialism with a human face” were crushed in 1968, the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled through Prague. Reform-minded party members were purged during the ensuing “normalization” process, contributing to the fundamentalist nature of the party that has lasted into the ex-Communist time frame. Throughout an era marked by repressive tactics, Prague had a front row seat.

Social policy also fuels the unpopularity of Communists in the Czech capital. Prague proper is home to nearly 12% of the country’s population and a disproportionately high share of the wealth. Every region outside the capital is below the 75% EU average wealth ceiling and consequently continues to qualify for EU funding. Any effort to fund the rent-control, free health care, or 35-hour work week reforms the Communists envision would start with its hand in Prague’s pocket.

I initially found the extent of Communist support in the Czech Republic shocking. The majority of my experience in this country has been within the confines of Prague, where the system of old is recalled with scathing tones.

But the Czech Republic is not Prague. It’s hard to dispute the heinousness of the regime that ruled prior to the Velvet Revolution. Yet, there are those who perceive themselves as having benefited from the system. They are certainly not concentrated in Prague. They’re retired farmers and laborers. With a tinge of nostalgia, they yearn for simpler times and turn to Communism. The notion there may have been beneficiaries of such an odious political system tends to be brushed aside within the Prague city limits.

So to recap: old, less educated, not from Prague. In part III we’ll take a look at what’s driving the recent surge in Communist support.