Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Why I'll vote communist"

For background on this article, see here.

I thought this piece was of interest because it struck me as representative--not in the sense that this is necessarily the "average" voter of the communist party in the Czech Republic, but because, along the way, he touches on many of the reasons that different people might make that choice.

As usual, my explanatory comments are in italics, surrounded by square brackets.

Why I’m going to vote for the communists, or, Why this is no country for old people
by Radek Tůma

I’m now unemployed for the second time, and only because it’s possible here to tunnel without being punished. [“Tunneling” is Czech slang for extracting the value from a company for yourself, and leaving behind a worthless shell.] I’ve had five different jobs: the first two were in the state sector, the others in the private sector. Two of the three private firms fell victim to tunneling out—so symptomatic for our times. I and many others lost our jobs so that some bastards could buy more cars, villas, and yachts. They buy up the shares of a firm, eat the meat, spit out the bones, and move on to the next house on the street. Once again I’m going through this degrading merry-go-round of looking for work—when you get an answer at all, it’s something along the lines of, “We’ll call you” (meaning: stop bothering us) or, “We truly value your experience quite highly, but we regret to inform you that we gave preference to other applicants (meaning: You’re old).

The logo of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia,

I’m 43 years old and I feel like a bothersome insect in the face of arrogant managerial and HR frikulíns (a beautiful Czech neologism from “free,” “cool,” and “in”), and what’s more, I don’t speak English, even though pretty soon it’s going to be a requirement even for a forklift driver. I have always worked in Czech companies alongside Czechs; what was I supposed to do—pay 10,000 every year for an English course so that it was always “fresh”? [10,000 Czech crowns is about $500.]

Demographically, the Czech nation is aging, but we’ve got a cult of youth here. If you want to be successful, you have to be (or have): a goal-oriented team player, someone who takes the initiative, active, assertive, dynamic, flexible, creative, precise, resistant to stress, customer oriented and proactive, optimistic, willing to travel, healthy ambition, you have to be fluent in written and spoken English [The original phrase here about English is in “Czenglish”: ‘english musíte mít fluent psanou i mluvenou’; the writer comments, “Yes, some frikulíns are capable of linguistic horrors such as these.”], communicative, friendly, have a personality that fits in and the ability to set priorities, have the ability to get enthusiastic and live for a given product, welcome the possibility of traveling all over the Czech Republic and Europe, gladly accept new challenges, happily transmit to others your excitement for flexible development ... And so on, in the spirit of the imbecilic phrases of modern managerial newspeak.

I feel bad when I consider that I’m facing another 22 years of struggling to support myself in this wolf-like system. And—if current trends don’t change—it’s going to be harder all the time. When you lose your job five years before retirement, who’s going to hire you? A manual worker is no longer so handy, a non-manual worker no longer has such a flexible brain. That leaves nothing but early retirement, which means a smaller pension and so you’re punished … for being old. If you don’t live to retirement, under the constantly rising retirement age, you save the state even more.

In fifth grade, at the end of the 70s, my classroom teacher reproached me and a couple of other fine fellows for not appreciating that we had food to eat and that our parents had jobs, that we couldn’t imagine how things used to be. We told ourselves, Why should we always be interested in the dead past? Socialism had triumphed in our country, and eventually it would triumph all over the world—that’s what they taught us, and that’s what we believed. And look what started a single decade later, to the Siren song about freedom and democracy—Mr. Teacher, accept my apology, whether or not you’re still among us. An acquaintance said of political education in those days: They lied to us about socialism, but not about capitalism.

Shortly after the Velvet Revolution it was Petr Cibulka, if memory serves, who came out with the thesis that the revolution had been a putsch of privatization, and he was dismissed as an embittered man whose reason was blinded by hatred. Because after all, uh, love and truth triumphed, right? [Václav Havel frequently said, “Love and truth must triumph over hatred and lies,” a phrase derived from the 15th-century religious reformer Jan Hus; Havel was also prone to lots of “um” and “uh”.] Except that what triumphed most of all was the invisible, really invisible (and immune from prosecution) hand of the market. Who today, after 22 years of theft, corruption, and strangling of the middle class, thinks Cibulka’s words were inadequate?

A friend of mine who had been a long-time ODS voter told me that he was going to vote for the communists. [ODS is one of the parties that emerged from the Civic Forum, a group that emerged during the Velvet Revolution to negotiate the end of communist party rule; officially, ODS advocates private enterprise and limited government; by reputation, it’s strongly associated with corruption.] Why the communists? Because they don’t steal. He’s no longer interested in party platforms, which in any case are irrelevant in politicians’ efforts to line their pockets. That’s how our ideals have shriveled these days—voting for those who we think won’t torment this country. When even someone like John Bok, whom none can suspect of sympathy with the communists, has a similarly embittered tone in an article, what else has happened but that our post-November aristocracy has thoroughly discredited democracy, or rather, has installed what today is popularly known as “demokratura”? [Under communism, an important stratum was the nomenklatura, essentially the system’s political bureaucracy.]

Why do we hear ever more frequently the words, “golden communists”?

After all, the communists also stole, many people say. Yes, they stole, but within limits and not as if they were provide for the next five generations. Compared to the palaces of today’s top folks, the villas of the communists in those days were poor little huts of humble nature lovers.

“But the communists murdered Horáková, Slánský, and others,” many people say. [Milada Horáková was a lawyer and democratic politician who was tried, convicted, and executed, essentially for saying publically that the communists were not acting democratically. Rudolf Slánský was a communist leader who was executed in a Stalinist purge; he was about as guilty as the people who had him killed.] How many lives are on the consciences of bankruptcy executors, lawyers, tunnelers, and other hyenas? Can they wash their hands like Pilate? In my regionI know the case of a man just past 50 who was fired. He didn’t find a new job in these times obsessed with the cult of youth and vigor, and he committed suicide. He had a wife and a child, he was a good person, his only fault was that he didn’t survive in the raw Darwinism of today’s capitalism.

“But the communists scorned people,” many people say. Maybe, but they didn’t make it so obvious and they weren’t so brazen as to call people riffraff.

“But under the communists you had to keep your mouth shut and toe the line,” many people say. And not today? Especially today people let themselves be bullied because they fear for their jobs. We used to have an ideological muzzle, today an economic one.

“But under the communists there was a double morality,” many people say. Yes, and some people’s reaction to that shortcoming was that, just to be on the safe side, they now have no morality at all—is that better? The phenomenon of speaking one way at home and another way in public still holds true today—these days, try saying a bad word about some of today’s sacred cows, like multiculturalism or so-called discriminated people; sure, you won’t go to jail, but you’ll be defamed, or at best ignored.

“But it was the communists most of all who got their hands on property after the Velvet Revolution, thanks to their prior connections,” many people say. I’d guess that this was mostly those who were “with the communists,” that is, those who are believers today, atheists tomorrow, communists the day after tomorrow, capitalists the day after that, and then perhaps feudalists—according to who’s filling the trough for them.

“But the communists and their 40 years of planned economy are responsible for today’s economic stagnation,” many people say. Yet it’s interesting how many hundreds of billions were there to be stolen after their bad economic management! And of course thanks to the speed and continuity of the stealing, you can go another 200 years blaming things on 40 years of socialism—right, politicians?

“But under the communists there was no freedom,” many people say. But I can’t eat freedom, and besides, what we have here today is the freedom to steal on one side, and the freedom to be stolen from on the other. When I watched the movie Alone in the time of normalcy, a story from the normalization period, an era—as is now popular to say—of timelessness and gray, when fear even snuck into people’s dreams, I felt no anxiety; quite the opposite, I said to myself, I’d gladly exchange those worries for today’s. I couldn’t stand the herd-like May Day and other demonstrations, lines, and ideological phrases (as far as stupidity, today’s managers have exceeded them many times over, as I’ve written above), but that was it. At home sometimes we’d bitch about politics, but all in all we believed the politicians and the direction in which they were leading us. In contrast to today’s pure disillusion, when starting a debate about politics is a reliable recipe for spoiling your mood.

“But under communism you couldn’t travel freely,” many people say. I can’t do that today either, because I don’t have the money. Of course in the border region that freedom to travel is more necessary than ever before: so that with our lower purchasing power we can go buy for less in countries with greater purchasing power. Presidential candidate P. Sobotka considers this a good thing, which shows that he’s either cynical or stupid. “And those lines during communism,” many people say. Well sure, today people don’t stand in line for bananas, today they stand in line at the employment office. You know, I’d rather stand in line for bananas.

I ask myself what’s become of this country when a bankruptcy executor can take an unpaid public transit fine and crank it up into the tens of thousands, when cell phone providers, banks, and state bureaucrats can brashly rob citizens, door-to-door electricity salesman lie to people about discounts in order to get them to agree to a disadvantageous contract, that retirees at marketing events suffer hunger and thirst and are threatened with not being driven home and other loathsome practices, so that they’ll be forced to buy shamelessly overpriced unneeded items? When you’re always on guard against someone lying to you, robbing you, attacking you? People are always the same and there’s probably about the same percentage of these monsters in every age—it’s just that the new regime allowed them to crawl out of their holes.

I’ll never again vote for a democratic party. During these 22 years, democratic gentlemen, you’ve shown what you’re capable of—you plunder the country worse than foreign occupiers. Thieves! Revolutions have begun from powerlessness and rage, and you’re doing what you can to make enemies even out of the indifferent. I won’t vote for the old faces with a new logo who keep surfacing, supposedly to fix everything but then, if they get into power, nothing changes. I won’t vote for extremists, even if some of their methods might be the only thing that would work on some of our democratic bigwigs. I’ll vote based on my experience—half my life I lived under socialism, and it wasn’t a bad life; it was much more dignified than today. How little we needed in order to be happy—a job, security for our family, not to fear the future, not to be afraid to have children and not to have the powerful call us riffraff and view us that way. I hate this regime which has taken two good jobs from me. I’m going to vote for the communists.

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