In the balance

Klaus maneuverings hold the key to Czech politics in 2002

For the Czech Republic, the year 2002 will be a deciding one. Either the forces of democratization will win out or the existing post-communist structures will tip the scales, further hampering the country’s progress, perhaps even fatally.I’m not being abstract. The Czech political roadside is littered with concrete evidence: financial wrecks, usurpation of political mandates and centralization of power. Brussels has singled out the country for its poor progress against corruption and for its lack of transparency in privatization and business.A key player in this process is Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus. Klaus and his party continue to consolidate their hold on power by maneuvers such as control of public and private media (via the parliamentary media council chaired by Klaus’ deputy Ivan Langer).

Meanwhile, Klaus remains aloof to any criticism. He stands alone as the only politician who has not abandoned Vladimir Zelezny and his TV Nova, despite Zelezny’s shortchanging of his U.S. partners, the CME group, having been declared illegal by an international arbitration panel. Could the reason for Klaus’ action be, as many claim, that Zelezny has incriminating evidence on Klaus and his party?Like most politicians in the Czech Republic, Klaus sadly ignores the fact that he represents not just his ODS voters but all of us. By his continued criticisms of the EU integration process, by his stranglehold on his party and the machinations therein, and by his overextended presence on the political scene, Klaus has become one of the chief obstacles to continuing the process of furthering democratization in the Czech Republic. However, Klaus certainly isn’t the only politician who doesn’t respect the boundaries of political correctness. Like many Czech politicians, he knows that borders at home can be bent and even crossed with impunity, given the right circumstances.

The ultimate outcome for Klaus and his bedfellows will be, to a large extent, determined by events following the upcoming appeals court verdict from Stockholm concerning the Nova-CME case. With a negative decision expected, the Czech Republic – and therefore its citizens – will owe the U.S. investor group up to $450 million (16 billion Kc). Mr. Klaus’ friendships with people such as Zelezny will then come back and slap him in the face. Though the United States is trying, via Ambassador Craig Stapleton, to urge the Czech Republic to compromise, the current government’s steadfast refusal only reflects its lack of political responsibility in dumping the issue onto the next government. Therefore, the upcoming elections in the summer of 2002, in which ODS is a front-runner, won’t be decided by the ODS party platform but by negative issues around Klaus himself. The second significant factor that will affect the future of the Czech Republic is events that will (or won’t) take place concerning the presidency. So far, President Vaclav Havel has done little to prepare the nation for a successor in 2003, nor has he launched a discussion regarding the future of the office itself.

This, coupled with the fact that no politician has risen above the muck of Czech politics as a potential statesman, has created a void into which the ODS and their opposition agreement” partners (the Social Democrats) have moved into as political squatters. We can be sure that these two parties are working through every possible election outcome so as to be able to place their man” into this space. This is happening despite voter demands that the president be elected directly by the people instead of by Parliament and the Senate. The above two points, along with the upcoming summer election results, will determine the path the Czech Republic will take.Should the political parties fail again to respect the mandate of their voters (as was the case after the last elections, in which the opposition Social Democrats joined ODS conservatives to control the parliamentary vote), we can then be sure that the opposition agreement will be renewed, ensuring a continuation of the current post-communist status-quo well into the future. 

– The writer is a physician and the publisher of The New Presence and Pritomnost magazines.


The Prague Post28.12.2001

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