Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When is a Stalinist not a Stalinist?

Last Saturday a serious kerfuffle blew up in the Czech press. It seemed there was a Facebook post from a young fellow named Jaromír Petelík, an assistant to an important Communist Party representative and himself a newly elected representative of Prague's 8th district. And it wasn't a nice Facebook post, either, something along the lines of, "Look at the email my cat just sent your dog."

The Facebook post talked about "hanging all right-wingers," and forcibly nationalizing property.

The Czechs just had local elections, and the Communists did relatively well. The country has a right-wing government that's been in place since elections in May, 2010. People are heartily fed up with the government's corruption, and it has an approval rating in the teens. Part of that may be that, as the governing party, it has more opportunity to be corrupt, so the Communists and Social Democrats are only clean by comparison, and even that may be only by virtue of not being in power. Still, the conservative ODS and TOP 09 parties are in power, and they're a coming off as a pretty nasty bunch of operators, and one of the reactions is for people to vote for the leftist parties.

So the Communists did well in the recent local elections, triggering a national freakout.

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is, of course, the heir to the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which in turn is the party that ran a dictatorship for 40 years, welcomed a Soviet invasion to squelch a reform movement, put people in jail or out of work for their political affiliations, sent political opponents to work in uranium mines under conditions that were both difficult and dangerous, engaged in judicial murders, ran concentration camps, and established a militarized zone along the borders with Austria and West Germany to keep Czechoslovak citizens from getting out.

On the other hand the current Communist Party declares its allegiance to democratic principles. It wants different things than does the current conservative government (for instance, it's not in favor of privatizing the pension system), but it says it'll fight for those goals through the democratic process.

Obviously not everyone believes those claims: the leopard doesn't change its spots. But how to know?

Well, Jaromír Petelík says that property should be violently nationalized and that right-wingers should be hanged, so there you have it.

Except that he never said that. The Facebook post was a prank and the Czech press fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Why didn't they call him to see if he'd said it? Well, he was away in Spain. And then when he got back and denied it, as Jindřich Šídlo writes for the on-line version of Hospodářské noviny, "the change in the optics was barely perceptible: now he's brazenly denying it!"

As Šídlo explains, "most likely, what happened is that three preconditions came together perfectly: absolute trust in social networks, a contest [among journalists] for every second and every reader who might click on our web article, and of course our relationship to communist politicians."

Notably, while Šídlo castigated the press (including himself), he didn't actually apologize to Petelík, a fact pointed out by some of the commenters to his column. Meanwhile, other commenters were saying that all the communists should be thrown in the uranium mines, or thrown down wells.

Perhaps those posts were hoaxes, too.

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