Sunday, 24 June 2018

HN: Czech democrats should unite for fears, lies not to prevail

ČTK |
26 February 2018

Prague, Feb 23 (CTK) - The willingness of many Czechs to trust disinformation campaigns largely contributed to the Communist coup in 1948 and still poses a serious risk, which is why democrats should unite in support of democracy, historian Jaroslav Sebek wrote in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) out on Friday.

The Communists used to explain the change in the political regime in 1948 as a legal adoption of power, and many of them still explain it this way, Sebek writes.

A review of the 1948 events shows that the Czech society is still not immune against certain methods that helped the Communists prevail over democracy 70 years ago, Sebek writes.

True, the then non-communist parties failed to unite and prepare themselves for a decisive clash. They even failed to correctly assess the balance of political forces, which is why resignation was not handed in by a majority of ministers on February 20, 1948, Sebek writes.

This left then Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes with only a very narrow manoeuvring space and without a broad support from the society. He can hardly be blamed for having enabled the birth of a reconstructed cabinet of [Communist leader Klement] Gottwald and thus confirming the regime's change as definitive, Sebek writes.

Gottwald eventually admitted that he had prayed for the democrat ministers insisting on their "silly" resignation as a step facilitating a communist coup. The coup may have seemed to be in harmony with the constitution, but in fact the Communists took a number of undemocratic steps, including the armament of the People Militia paramilitary units, Sebek writes.

The Communists' path to power was also paved by their strong influence on various mass organisations such as the trade unions or the youth union. In the first three post-war years, the Communists also succeeded in controlling the security corps as well as the military, Sebek writes.

In addition, Communist Gustav Husak organised a campaign to weaken the democratic forces in Slovakia as early as the autumn of 1947. Falsely accusing the Democratic Party, which was stronger than the Communists in Slovakia, of supporting a fascist conspiracy, he managed to take control of the situation. The Czech democratic politicians did almost nothing to support their Slovak counterparts at the time, Sebek writes.

The communist propagandists also successfully manipulated public opinion in the cases of the one-off taxation of the richest people, the rejection of the Marshall Plan by Prague and the investigation of an attempted murder of three non-communist ministers, Sebek writes.

The non-communists relied on the democratic instincts of a major part of the society and its adherence to the legacy of Czechoslovakia's founding-father and first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937). The red propaganda prevailed however, also leaning on the post-war increase in the prestige of the Soviet Union, to which the western countries failed to react adequately, Sebek writes.

Why, however, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the squares of Prague and other Czech towns within a short time to support the Communist policy? he asks.

The reasons are evident. Already the general election in May 1946 showed the political "professionalism" of the Communists, who used targeted campaigns - which would be called modern political marketing now - to address broad groups of the population.

They smartly used people's post-war fear that social uncertainties might repeat, and they focused not only on manual workers as their traditional fans but also on the middle class. For example, they successfully worked with gender aspects and promised a bigger emancipation to women. Only after the communist-prepared trap closed and the Communists resumed their class approach and launched hate campaigns against all types of opponents, many people started sobering up from their enthusiastic support for "the red tomorrows," Sebek writes.

Evidently, the willingness of many people to trust disinformation campaigns (fake news), like before the February 1948 coup, is one of the biggest risks. Democratic parties should learn a lesson from their predecessors' mistake. They should refrain from particular interests and they should unite to pull together as a team, Sebek writes.

The first such test to show whether the democrats are capable of this, will be the Senate and local elections this autumn. Even more important will be the parties' capability of reacting to real problems faced by people instead of dealing with affairs that interest no one but themselves, Sebek writes.

The difference in how social problems are viewed by politicians and people in the capital Prague and those in peripheral regions could be clearly seen in the recent direct presidential election, which was also affected by disinformation campaigns, Sebek writes.

The problem of different standards of living, which generates people faced with debts and distraints, can be solved neither the invisible hand of the free market nor globalisation. However, politicians' approach to it will definitely influence all elections to come, Sebek concludes.

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