President & Future

By Martin Jan Stránský

April 11, 2007

Leaders have a greater potential to determine the future of the nation, its identity, and the outlook of its citizenry in young democracies as opposed to democracies that are more securely established. Conversely, those leaders can also create a great deal of harm, especially if they brake the process of fostering a democratic mind-set. Such braking can be intentional, or it can simply come about as an act of omission. Either way, the result is the same. Simply put, leaders become great because they identify and fulfill the “requirements of the moment” that are the most important in moving the country forward.

It follows that for the Czech people, the person who is best poised to make such a difference is their president. As opposed to Václav Havel, who in many ways fell into the job and never fully embraced it from a political point of view, the current president, Václav Klaus, could not be more different. For the Czech people, the results have been devastating.

In analyzing Klaus and Czech society, the noted Czech psychologist Slavomír Hubálek concluded that “in selecting its leaders, the immature society favors extreme types, extreme in their level of narcissism and egocentrism. They become a sort of totem pole [for the rest].”

For the narcissist, popularity rules. Those who threaten it are subject to immediate and severe counter-attack. That is why Klaus has labeled intellectuals, dissidents, students, citizens’ 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.”

As regards dialogue, Klaus as president has never once engaged in true debate, instead staging “debates” in which opponent and event are tightly choreographed. Should Klaus be caught unawares, the result is always the same — a pathetic and absurd denial of facts as the only defense. For example, when asked to comment on Britain’s criticism of Czech discrimination against the Roma on the BBC, Klaus replied “that’s so stupid, and such a farce, that I won’t even react to it.” When, in a recent interview in the daily Hospodařské noviny, Klaus was asked if he did not believe that man was endangering the planet through his own actions, the president replied, “I’ll pretend that I never heard the question.”

As far as actual politics are concerned, Klaus firmly believes that if a citizen has anything to say, he should do so via formally entering politics. According to Klaus, citizen’s initiatives “usurp the power which belongs to the politicians.” The greatest threat to democracy lies in “alternative political procedures that are founded on communitarism, NGO-ism and corporativism, all of which serve to push politicians out” of their spheres of influence.

Like many politicians everywhere, in order to increase his popularity, Klaus relies on vague populist statements and on the creation of false external threats to increase his own stature. Since Czech EU membership per-se dilutes his role as the main “local” politician, Klaus has embarked on a campaign to protect “our Czech” interests vs. those of the EU, which “hurt” us, yet without once managing to state what exactly Czech interests are or how they differ from those of the EU.

All of this scores well with the general Czech populace who, as a result of a history that has fostered subservience, now prefer “strong” and “active” leaders as opposed to deliberative statesmen. To them, it does not matter that Klaus is decidedly partisan regarding his old party, the Civic Democrats, or that he is dedicated to only one cause — to that of being re-elected at any cost, as demonstrated by his attempts to create a post-election cabinet that would ensure his eventual re-election.

Yet it is precisely such behavior which is the single biggest brake on positive development for the Czech people, their children’s future, and for the nation as a whole. In a nation trying to form its identity, Klaus’ statements and actions systematically undermine this crucial task, since at their core, they divide instead of serving to unite.
History has shown that national character can only be formed through debate and eventual consensus between citizens their representatives. As American president Theodore Roosevelt once said, when things go wrong, it is the patriotic duty of every citizen to stand up and to confront their representatives should they start to err. In post-communist countries, the notion that people need to control their politicians (and not the other way around) is still in its infancy. But the notion is coming into the subconscious of more and more Czechs.

The day that Czechs act on this impulse will be the day they shed their negative history and create for themselves a future and a national identity and consciousness. At the same time, this is the strongest argument for giving Czechs a voice though a president who is elected by the popular vote instead of one who is picked from the current cadre of corrupt politicians to serve their political aims. The president must belong to the people and not to the politicians, and the people must know that they have a true representative.

One year from now, a new president shall be elected. As opposed to Klaus, it will hopefully be someone who understands the true “requirement of the day” — the creation of a nation, its future, its moral values, and its national consciousness.

– The author is a physician and publisher of The New Presence.


The Prague Post11.4.2007

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