>Shock horror – Czech Social Democrat leader once a Socialist, then a moderate

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I have been sent convincing proof that Czech Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek was in 1989 a functionary of the satellite Czechoslovak Socialist Party (ČSS) (above right) and gave an interview to the ČSS newspaper saying nice things about Victorious February, the Communist takeover of 28 February 1948, which saw the secular liberal-nationalist National Socialists – a stalwart of the progressive intelligenstsia in interwar Czechoslovakia and close to President Beneš broken and transformed into feeble, fellowing travelling appedage of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (some historians argue that this was the Nationalist Socialist own fault for misreading the political situation and indulging in nationalism and populism, rather than sticking to their own more liberal traditions, but that’s another story).

Should we be shocked? Answer no – I am, alas, as you know, not the Perez Hilton of CEE political bloggers, and this is, frankly underwhelming news. Allthough omitted from his official online CV, Paroubek’s membership of ČSS has been known for years and he can (if he can bothered) argue that he did not join Communist Party and sought through ČSS to promote some kind of political change. He joined in 1970. ČSS did have some contacts with left-wing Chartists (in Brno – not Prague where Paroubek was based) and, in fairness, the party did quickly jumpeship from the regime during the Velvet Revolution – its newspaper Svobodné slovo was one of the first to open report events. Havel’s famous speech in Wenceslas Square was delivered from the balcony of the Socialist Party’s publishing house, Melantrich. That might in many ways be a feeble argument – satellite parties were a powerless moribund facade organizations, but then Paroubek did leave in 1986, so he probably worked that out and correctly saw that satellite were not likely to be major vehicles for change in Gorbachev-era CEE. He had a middle management role in catering enterprise and later deputy director a footwear company – not quite ‘top managment’ mentioned in his official CV, but it made him small enough fry for the secret police to dismiss him as a potential informer.

In 1990 Paroubek showed a certain amount of foresight – and ambition – in joining the newly revived Social Democrat Party (ČSSD), re-founded by ageing exiles. Despite it wealth and a certain pedigree, the Socialist Party was obviously going nowhere politically after 1989, as historic brand of nationalism and liberalism was too sui generis to recreate in contemporary Czechoslovakia and the party basically stood for nothing. (Other Socialist Party functionaries joined the Moravian regionalists.) As he was relatively young. capable and not an exile Paroubek quickly rose to become the Social Democrats’ General Secretary – reading through the party’s history in the early years after 1989 as a PhD student I remember he was a constant presence – however, ČSSD’s notalgic harping back to the 1940s, hostility to former communists and refusal to criticize market reforms (backed by Paroubek who truly was Mr Moderation at this time) made the party a flop. Only with the recruitment of reform communists and a more confrontational policy of speaking up for transition losers in blunt and populist terms did the party get anyway, finally making an electoral breakthorough in 1996 under Miloš Zeman (who joined in 1992 and bear Paroubek to the leadership in 1993). I

If anyone is scouring old newsppers, they should dig out some of Paroubek’s anti-Zeman quotes, because of course, after more than a decade out of national politics doggedly establishing himself faute de mieux as a figure in Prague politics – including a stint in a Grand Coalition with the right in the nation’s capital- Paroubek returns: first as Minister of Local Development, then as hard-talking populist saviour of the Social Democrats when the party went into electoral and political after being routed in the 2004 Euro-elections. These, as we all know, days Paroubek out-Zemans Zeman (now also returned to politics with his own mini-grouping the Party of Citizens Rights) for being a high profile populist bulldozer, who understands that sound bites in defence of welfare and public spending are the way to win a Czech election

I doubt any of Paroubek’s potential voters will care about a bit of ideological waffle from 1980s – or, indeed all that dead-end moderation of the early 1990s.

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