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Petr Fischer: Communist-style apologies

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The Communists are prepared to repeat their 20-year-old apology to Czech citizens. But this reprise is not a sign of repentance or an admission of guilt or – at least to some small degree – an indication that such guilt even exists!

Behind the first and the planned second “apology” is the Communists’ typical pragmatism. An effort to gain something, not to think about their identity or those they have harmed. In everyday speech, this is called hypocrisy. For the sake of accuracy, Marxist philosophers would have called this an intentionally-created “false consciousness”. This was so they could say that subjective motives are less important in these situations than an objective historical process that has a deeper goal (a chance to take over power or transform existing reality).

Fear of patricide
With its first apology, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was reacting to a fear that, without this relatively friendly gesture, party members would be pushed out of top positions. But already during the first meetings of post-Velvet Revolution cabinets, it became clear that nothing like this would happen. There was a lack of will here, and the influence of former Communists was too strong.

The Communist “apology” was accepted out of fear. Everyone was afraid of violence, a revolution that had the potential to become bloody. No one wanted to admit that every beginning, every new social order, inevitably has traces of violence. Otherwise, it cannot be a true beginning. But people didn’t want to kill their own fathers.

Maybe this was the root of the problems that contemporary Czech society has with the political influence of Communists. These problems will persist because we lacked courage at the start.

Back in 1989 it was not a heartfelt apology but an effort to manufacture an excuse that would enable the Communists to continue existing in relative safety. The symbol in the gesture had no power because it did not bring anyone closer together or overcome anything; it only ensured security.

The second “apology” is very similar. Communist head Vojtěch Filip is prepared to repeat the apology so that his party can once again be part of the cabinet. Not to mention that this gesture doesn’t cost the party anything. As before, there is nothing symbolic about the apology. It would simply be pragmatic step that could pave the way for a political alliance between the Communists and the Social Democrats (ČSSD). Any mention of regret over crimes committed in the past – and here the crimes are understood in a legal sense, not in a moral sense, something the Communists distance themselves from – neglects to mention the victims of these crimes. The victims simply become part of a political bargain.

The devaluation of words also devalues the apology, the lives of those killed by the regime and the destroyed opportunities. Politicians use many things for bargaining purposes. But to use the dead, the tortured and the humiliated requires an especially strong stomach. Doesn’t this at-first-glance-inconspicuous faux pas constitute precisely the sort of “cooperation between the ČSSD and extremist political parties” that the ČSSD rejects in one of its resolutions?

Morality as a political instrument
An apology (if it really is an apology) contains hope for something as metaphysically rare as forgiveness. That’s why an apology cannot be calculated. If it is, it loses the logic of morality and becomes meaningless.

Apologies keep multiplying, forming an endless chain. People apologise for apartheid and for slavery. The Vatican apologises for the Inquisition. People in the US apologise for killing Native Americans. In this flood, it becomes difficult to tell what really is an apology and what’s simply a politically-motivated gesture. When it comes to Czech Communists, the answer is easy. Apologizing is something foreign for them. They make that clear. Without sugar-coating their intentions in romantic sentimentality.

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