Only 10 months after the Velvet Revolution ousted the Communists and swept Civic Forum to power, the movement founded by President Vaclav Havel is in crisis over the speed of reform.
Cracks began to appear in the broad political movement earlier this month when Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus, a radical free-market reformer, was elected Civic Forum chairman over Martin Palous.Palous was backed by the organization's Prague leadership and by Havel, who favors slower, gentler reform that will be less of a shock to the population.
Klaus' victory Oct. 13 was seen as a dramatic shift to the right and it triggered an identity crisis in Civic Forum, founded on a civic rights platform and popularly associated with Havel's liberal, humanistic philosophy.
On Thursday, Obroda, a group of left-wing intellectuals and Marxist reformers, quit Civic Forum to protest the forum executive council's decision to expel another group of non-communist leftists, the Left Alternative.
The changes are reminiscent of the splintering of Poland's Solidarity, which was unified in its opposition to communist rule but since gaining power has divided into factions led by Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and the more conservative Lech Walesa.
In a recent interview with the leading Lidove Noviny newspaper, Klaus suggested that Civic Forum's splintering might be inevitable.
He said the idea of citizens' groups forming the basis for politics "is as impracticable to me as the idea of a centrally planned economy."
Obroda and Left Alternative, headed by former dissident Petr Uhl, issued a joint statement that called the expulsion "illegitimate, undemocratic . . . and an outrage."
"It's over, there is no way to go on like this," one of the executive council's 15 members said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When people excommunicate their political rivals without hearing the other side . . . there is very little to talk about."
More conservative forum members say the rightward shift is a natural political development as Czechoslovakia starts grappling with social and economic woes left by communism.