Presidents are Important

In Russia, President Putin, through systematic suppression of the free press and opposition, engineered a rigged election to guarantee the continuation of his autocratic rule and the oligarchic structure that goes with it.

In France, the recent presidential elections produced a different result. At stake was the battle between proponents of the status-quo with its bloated laissez-faire socialist state and reformers pointing to declining economic production and rising racial and societal disharmony. Unlike the election in Russia, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy is an attempt to break with the past.

With less than one year to go, the election in America is unprecedented- no clear front-runners have emerged in either party. But even in a very diverse field, the candidates can still be divided into two groups – those who represent true change, such as Barack Obama, and those who represent a continuation of the status quo, such as most of the Republicans along with Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton. For America, this election will define the future of the nation and of the world.

In the Czech Republic’s upcoming presidential elections, for the first time, incumbent president Václav Klaus has a real challenger in the way of Czech-American eco­nomics professor Jan Švejnar, who was active as president Havel’s advisor and who remains active as Chairman of the Czech Republic’s most prestigious economics institute as well as of the Supervisory Board of one of the country’s largest banks. Švejnar is running on a platform of EU integration, economic reform, and open dialogue. Klaus is not running on a platform based on anything, but instead claims that we should all be “familiar with his positions” based on his “previous statements and actions.” Those statements consist of a mélange of vague populist jargon, such as “protecting our national interests” (without once stating what they are) and strengthening Czech xenophobia by labeling the EU a “threat.” Klaus appeals to the base instincts of many Czechs, who like most Russians, prefer a “strong leader.” Klaus refuses to debate any intellectual opponent, including Švejnar, stating that “it is not in my best interests,” thus turning his back on the words of Czechoslovakia’s founding president T.G.Masaryk, who stated that “democracy is dialogue.“ The fact that his position is even tolerated speaks much for the lack of maturity of Czech society.

Will the country be willing to – albeit warily – embrace a new president who is willing to lay out the true specifics, pitfalls and rewards of a path culminating in the emergence of a national identity, something that the Czechs were never granted in their history? As former president Havel once told me, “every twenty years or so, we Czechs build up enough courage to aspire to do something politically good.” If my math is correct, that time may be now.

Martin Jan Stránský


The New Presencewinter 2008

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