Václav Klaus is our president!

The election of Václav Klaus as the tenth president of our nation remains the subject of debate. Though it remains focused on two points – the actual validity of Mr. Klaus’s election as president and whether, as president, Mr. Klaus will continue in his “old hard ways ” – the debate actually masks a much deeper and more important issue.
In considering the first point there is no doubt that, as far as democratic machinery is concerned, Mr. Klaus deserved to win. Mr. Klaus led in all the polls during virtually every phase of the elections, including polls that evaluated his standing in the event of public elections. It can be stated without much cynicism, that Parliament and the Senate ultimately voted with the people. The people’s choice won. 

As to the second point, the answers lie in a recent poll by the SCC agency taken just before the elections, as well as in the actions and statements of Mr. Klaus himself. In the poll, Czechs rated various attributes of Mr. Klaus, such as political capability, intelligence, honesty and moral credibility. Most Czechs viewed Mr. Klaus as a president with high political capabilities, but had doubts concerning his honesty and moral integrity. These opinions are formulated in spite of (or because of) the fact that after ten years in politics, at least some of Mr. Klaus’s political deeds are known to virtually all Czechs. As a critic of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, Mr. Klaus earned poor marks from our American allies, an impression that lingers today. Mr. Klaus was responsible for expelling George Soros’s Central European University from Prague. Mr. Klaus has stated that he does not see the need for foundations, in that he would rather give money directly to those affected. He has scoffed at civic sector initiatives such as Impuls 99, claiming that if a citizen wants to change something, they should go into politics. Perhaps the most significant event in Mr. Klaus’s political career was the usurpation of the voter mandate of his ODS party, wherein he joined forces with the leading opposition party to achieve majority legislative votes, so as to change the Czech constitution in line with his political strategy. Were it not for the direct intervention of former president Václav Havel to the Czech Constitutional Court on behalf of the people, the measure would have succeeded. 

In the first 24 hours after his election, Mr. Klaus appeared in a one-hour, unabashedly pro-Klaus TV NOVA (his TV ally) program, where he stated that he would like to see “different minds” in the Constitutional Court – meaning a replacement of those judges who defended constitutional (therefore our) interests. Mr. Klaus has literally stated that he considers the Charter of Laws and Freedoms to be the “refuse” of our Constitution. 

The debate around our new president is significant because in reality, the issue is not what Mr. Klaus is like, but what we are like. Thirteen years after the revolution, the majority of us have not changed much. Though the average Czech is quite capable of going into the streets for a stint of key-chain rattling on Wenceslas square or shouting “thank you, now leave” at our politicians, things end there. We don’t mind amoral behavior, even to the point of criminal acts, as confirmed by Vladimír Železný being voted into the Senate, despite the fact that he was (and still is) facing multiple criminal suits. Our alibism mingles with frank cowardice, which limits us to asking how Mr. Klaus will behave instead of ensuring that he will be the kind of president we want him to be. That’s because Czechs respect authority more than moral credibility. And that’s why Mr. Klaus won. 

Mr. Klaus secured his electoral victory through his conservative ODS members teaming up with the Communist party to achieve the necessary vote count. This is a huge signal – the disappearance of real, organized political opposition (a necessary factor for true democracies) in the Czech Republic. Instead, today’s political scene has been reduced to machinations for power, in which party and politician prostitute their voter’s mandate to take the side that furthers their own interest. The Communists now have a bill owed them, and Mr. Klaus knows it. The election of Mr. Klaus as president represents a very real threat to democratic progress in this country. 

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Despite the fact that the Czech Republic has achieved membership in significant multinational organizations such as NATO (with the EU hopefully soon to come), as far as the basic thinking process and character traits are concerned, citizen and nation have not progressed very much. Czechoslovakia’s founding president T.G. Masaryk said that it takes 50 years for true democracy to take root. We are but 13 years along the way.


The New Presencesummer 2003

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