The President and Our Future
In fledgling democracies, leaders often achieve greatness by skillfully capturing both the mood of the nation and the requirements of the times. For the Czech people, the former dissident-turned-president Václav Havel became just such a person. Upon his departure from office in February 2003, even many of Havel’s critics were forced to agree that his tenure had been both historic and highly symbolic. Several weeks later, one of Havel’s greatest opponents, the former Prime Minister Václav Klaus was elected by parliament as the country’s new president.
Klaus was clearly a controversial choice. Unlike Havel, he was a strongly political figure, having been a leading figure in the right-of-center Civic Democratic party since its inception. To his supporters, Klaus was a man who would “protect” the Czech nation; to his critics, Klaus was little more than a misguided populist and an increasingly narcissistic technocrat. The noted Czech psychologist Slavomír Hubálek once observed that “In selecting their leaders, immature societies favor extreme types, extreme in their level of narcissism and egocentrism. They become a sort of totem pole [for the rest].”
Appealing to the most primitive national fears, Klaus soon transformed himself from “apolitical” head-of-state to self-proclaimed “defender of the state.” The only problem was that the state that Klaus was defending was not the same one that Havel and others had been advocating. Klaus was an ultra-conservative in a post-communist country – the traits that he was so passionately conserving included apathy, xenophobia, bigotry, suspicion and ignorance – the kind that 40 years of communist rule had nurtured among much of the populace. Unwittingly, Klaus simply switched the Soviet Union for the US, the US for the EU, communism for free-marketism and Soviet-style globalism for fierce nationalism. As with his communist predecessors, Klaus’s comments soon became increasingly absurd and detached from any kind of reality – yet polls continued to suggest that the president was a highly popular figure, one who was “defending” the nation against a whole list of external enemies (primarily the EU).
But behind Klaus’s supposed “love of nation” lay the kind of radical self-righteous subjectivism that allowed him to label intellectuals, dissidents, students, citizen‘s groups and journalists – in short, all of his critics – as “clearly leftist, disdainful of standard democratic mechanisms, full of kitschy moralizing, unable to learn from reality, impractical and non-pragmatic.”
Klaus has never once engaged in a real debate, preferring stage-managed speeches and photo-opportunities to any sort of “free-exchange” of ideas and opinions. Should he ever be caught off-guard, the result is always the same – a denial of the facts, or a labeling of the opposing viewpoint as “dangerous”.
One year from now, a new president will be elected by parliament. Hopefully, it will not be Klaus, but rather someone who understands the true “requirements of the times” and reflects and appeals to the very best that this country has to offer.
Martin Jan Stránský
|The New Presence||spring 2007|
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