Deconstructing a president

Citizens regard Klaus’ image as more vital than his political views

By Dr. Martin Jan Stransky 
The Prague Post
(March 18, 2004)The institution of president today remains defined by personality. What should our president be like? In this regard, an analysis of President Vaclav Klaus, one year after assuming the office, is very telling.

Why is Vaclav Klaus popular? Klaus is “one of us.” Unlike Vaclav Havel, Klaus was part of the “silent majority.” Klaus also satisfies our current psychological needs. In a recent poll, Czechs gave Klaus high marks as a representative, able and intelligent politician but rated him far lower in the categories of moral behavior and honesty. Why? The Czech historical experience is one of constantly changing authorities and rules. As a result, Czechs give credence more to authority figures and personal intuition than to systems or institutions. Klaus’ image is more important to the average citizen than are his political views. This begs the question, however, does Klaus serve us, or do we serve him?

A little psychology

The answer lies in the president’s narcissitic profile. To compensate for feelings of inadequacy, the narcissist rebounds in the opposite direction, working hard to gain acceptance, surrounding himself with admirers while exuding arresting self-confidence. For a narcissist, the means always justify the end.

Any attack, however trivial, can result ininapropriate behavior (such as Klaus’ smashing of a reporter’s ringing mobile telephone while he was being interviewed by another reporter). All people are divided into those for or against him. Criticism brings counterattack: for example, Klaus’ labeling of dissidents, students, political analysts, journalists, citizen’s initiatives and other critics as “clearly leftist, nonliberal, disdainful of standard democratic mechanisms, trivially moralizing, unable to learn from reality, nonpractical and nonpragmatic.

“To remain popular, Klaus relies on populist jargon or simple denial. He claims to be the protector of “our Czech rights” without once stating just what “Czech” rights are and how they differ from the rights of other Europeans. In a recent BBC interview broadcast to 200 countries, Klaus responded to a question about Amnesty International’s claim about discrimination in the Czech Republic by labelling the human rights organization as untrustworthy.

Regarding issues in which the outcome isn’t clear, Klaus will always opt for avoiding any course that risks loss of popularity. This is why he refuses to tell us how he voted in the referendum for European Union entry, the most important post-1989 issue facing the nation.

Does Klaus understand democracy? Here, Klaus emphasizes “free action” and urges us to conduct ourselves “as individuals.” For him, freedom in and of itself is the “guarantor as well as the mechanism of the emergence of proper individual conduct.” The existence of certain fundamental human rights is viewed by Klaus as a social construct that impinges on individual freedom.


Regarding politics, Klaus firmly believes that if a citizen has anything to say, he or she should enter politics. Other mechanisms, such as citizen’s initiatives, “usurp power that belongs to the politicians,” while alternative political procedures, “based on communitarianism, NGO-ism, and corporativism, push politicians out of the picture.

“As chief architect of the opposition agreement that united his Civic Democrats and the oppositon party into a single ruling coalition, the then-Prime Minister Klaus violated the principle of the voter mandate. This melded government and opposition and led to the infiltration of profit sharing and financial corruption into politics. In return, politicians closed the circle and elected Klaus president.

Klaus therefore views democracy as a largely procedural entity for guaranteeing the continuation of the status quo of the current political elite. His yearning for popularity will not allow him to support democratic mechanisms such as debate and compromise nor to present any specific vision for the growth of democracy in the CzechRepublic.

The communist past

How should the president deal with the communist past? Klaus gives us his answer in the book Gen: “Settling with the past and possible issues of guilt is something that I view as a matter for the individual. To speak aloud regarding the morality of others … has always appeared to me as something a bit inappropriate.” Klaus’ experiences and view of the communist past are a direct contradiction to those of Vaclav Havel, who as a dissident spent years in jail for his beliefs.

Though he was forced for political reasons in 1970 to leave his research career at the Czech Academy of Sciences, Klaus has stated that the view that “many of those who lost their jobs after [the 1968] Prague Spring ended up worse … isn’t entirely correct. Many chose a job in which they could remain untouched. Jobs such as watchman, furnace stoker and the like offer certain irregularity, perhaps time to read Heidegger.

“According to Klaus, the period also presented another advantage: “I would say that at the individual level, our own confrontation with the pressure of the system and lack of freedom, with a clear boundary between good and evil, in many respects presented an advantage regarding moral orientation, which those living in an enduring free society did not have.

“Klaus recently introduced his principle of the “not-communist.” According to Klaus, it was the “not-communist” citizens who, by virtue of their massive but purely passive nonparticipation in the system, instigated its demise. This blatantly populist demagoguery ignores the fact that the communists actually preferred the silent citizen and that the system could not have existed without active support and participation from within. Czechoslovakia had the highest (and rising) percentage of Communist Party members of any communist-bloc nation in 1987. During that time, Klaus, as a passive “not-communist,” refused to sign the petition for the release of the dissident Vaclav Havel.

Klaus’ position toward the communists and the past actually legitimizes both and encourages their perpetuation. Issues of national guilt and morality are viewed as superfluous. Regarding the Communist Party, our president will deal with it on practical grounds as pertaining to his popularity.

Europe and the future

In a few short months, we will be full EU members. What does Klaus know of the EU and what is his vision for us in it?

With EU membership diluting his standing, Klaus’ reaction is that of counterattack: “A unique coalition of European political elites, Brusselsbureaucrats and certain cosmopolitan intellectual groups … are accelerating the European integration train without regard for the true interests of the European citizen.” Just whom is he speaking about?

Regarding this country’s role in the EU, Klaus emphasizes the need for “our Czech position” to be respected in an organization that can “swallow us up.” Instead of information, the president presents scare tactics, viewing EU entry as a “trap from which we will not be able to escape.” With domestic corruption at a level higher than in any existing EU state, why should entry into the organization threaten us?

Though Czechs voted for the EU, they still have no idea of how it will impact on their lives. Klaus’ warning that traps and dangers lie ahead only serves to create a schizophrenic mindset.

What a president shouldn’t do

A president must never divide segments of society against each other. It’s unthinkable that he should assault citizens’ groups solely for voicing their opinions! The president should keep his word. Klaus has repeatedly violated his promise to not interfere in routine political issues.

The president must not lie. When Klaus published his aforementioned “not-communist” article and then invited the communists to meet with him at the presidential residence in Lany, the head of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, Stanislav Stransky (no relation to this writer), sent Klaus a letter expressing surprise at Klaus’ statement about communists. The president replied: “You are only concerned with attacking me personally. … I have never had any meetings with any communists.” A blatant lie.

The outcome

The tragedy of Klaus is that, as a highly intelligent and talented person, he has everything it takes to help society open up while offering the country vision and inspiration as it enters into the new European order. This would tremendously strengthen Czech self-confidence and Czech national identity. If Klaus were to do this, he would truly become a great statesman. His psychological personality, however, will not allow him to do so.

Klaus’ attacks on dissidents, intellectuals, citizen’s groups and political prisoners stifle the values necessary for a bright future. Klaus’ comfortable misinterpretation of the communist past means that all “uncomfortable” issues, from the postwar expulsion of the SudetenCzechs to Roma discrimination, shall continue to be swept under the rug. His emphasis on populism rather than fact means that we shall remain guided by emotion rather than by constructive debate, thus supporting the existing post-communist status quo.

If our society and post-communist state changes for the better, it will be because of mechanisms that President Klaus has no part in or those that he actually opposes.

— The writer is a physician and the publisher of The New Presencemagazine. This piece was written for The Prague PosPrague Post.


The Prague Post18.3.2004

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