Václav Klaus: Which Way Will He Vote?

The countdown is on for the referendum in the Czech Republic on EU accession, to take place over next Friday and Saturday (13 and 14 June). As most of the other candidate countries have done, Czech authorities are also making use of the tactic of opening the voting centers over two days to encourage as large a turn-out as possible (although referenda in the Czech Republic do not have any legally-mandated level of participation, below which they become invalid). And the Prague authorities enjoy a further advantage: their referendum is towards the end in the series of candidate country referenda (only a couple of the Baltic countries remain), and the script has gone according to plan – all of the other countries voting before have voted “Yes” (if in some cases with distressingly-low levels of voter turn-out), so that puts further pressure on Czech voters not to show themselves to be the odd man out.

The example from just last weekend from Poland, not only the biggest by far of the candidate countries but also one particularly close to the Czech Republic, culturally and politically, should exert a powerful influence. That was the solid conclusion across a broad swathe of Czech politicians, as reported in Právo. Czech premier Vladimir Spidla: “I congratulate the Polish people on their decision, since it arises out of our [common] Central European experiences. It’s completely clear that the Poles understand the EU as an opportunity for their future, which they intend to take advantage of.” Then again, Euro-spoil-sport (and declared “No” voter) Ivan Langer, deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, pointed out that, with 75% of the 59% of eligible Poles who voted voting “Yes,” that means that less-than-a-majority of Polish voters actually voted for EU accession. Nonetheless, his boss, ODS Party leader Mirek Topolánek, welcomed the Polish vote and assumed that the Czech vote would be the same – if possibly with lesser turn-out. There’s a similar split of opinion over in the ranks of the KSCM, the (unreformed) Czech Communist Party. The party as a whole advocates a “No” vote – saying the Czech Republic is not yet ready for EU membership – while its deputy chairman, Miloslav Ransdorf will vote “Yes.” Ransdorf in fact called the Polish vote “no doubt a challenge” to the Czech Republic, even though he also pointed out that Poland has let itself in for a lot of problems with EU membership, such as with agriculture and infrastructure.

Opinion also seems to be split – we can’t quite be sure – at the highest, most-prominent political level, which is to say that of the Czech president. From the old president, Václav Havel, things are crystal clear: He’ll vote “Yes,” as he repeated to a crowd assembled in Wenceslas Square to hear a pro-Europe pop concert, as reported in Hospodárské noviny. In fact, Havel’s take on the EU was that voting “Yes” to it meant sending a strong message against economic fraud – and the politicians who have covered it up – that plagued his term in office, as the EU will require greater standards of openness and accountability.

But as for the current president, Václav Klaus, the one thing we know for sure is that he wants Czech voters to go out to the polls on Friday or Saturday. We know that because he issued a public statement to that effect on Monday (as reported in MF Dnes): “All those who feel for this country and to whom its destiny is not a thing of indifference should go express their opinion on Friday or Saturday,” it read in part. But how should they vote, Mr. President? “I’m confident that our citizens are gifted with common sense and so are capable of evaluating these extraordinarily serious subjects.” As MF Dnes pointed out, this was considerably less than the ringing endorsement for “Yes” issued by top political figures everywhere else. Indeed, in Poland not only had President Aleksander Kwasniewski urged a “Yes” along with the current prime minister, Leszek Miller, but so had former president (and Kwasniewski’s bitter political rival) Lech Walesa, not to mention former Communist military dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Well, how do you intend to vote yourself, Mr. President? He basically doesn’t want to say; when asked that question point-blank in a radio interview on Monday, he replied “I’m not here to say how I would vote, but rather to give arguments, to shake up citizens so that they think about these things.” (Source: MF Dnes)

Naturally, this is a big disappointment to that large cohort of Czech politicians who were hoping for a presidential boost to the “Yes” campaign. As that article goes on to report, Foreign minister Cyril Svoboda (not of Klaus’ ODS party, but rather from the Christian Democrats – KDU-CSL – and with whom Klaus does not get along well) responded with: Hey, membership of the EU was a plank in the ODS election platform, so Klaus also has to vote “Yes.” And the chairman of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, Lubomir Zaorálek (of the CSSD or Socialists, the majority governing party) recalled for reporters how insistent Klaus had been to travel to Athens in April along with the premier and foreign minister, to ensure that the Czech president’s signature, his signature, would be on top as the Czech Republic signed the treaty for accession to the EU. In view of that, you’d think he could make a recommendation as to how the vote should go, and you’d think you could predict what it would be. But perhaps everyone is just being too hard on Václav Klaus; in that same radio interview (with the BBC’s Czech service, reported here) he complained that his life as Czech President left him so busy, from six in the morning until late at night, that he doesn’t even have the time to call up Mom and make sure she’s doing OK through the current heatwave.

That heatwave is predicted to subside by the end of the week, leaving showers and even storms for voters to endure on their way to the polls, according to the forecast. Finally, since we’re unable to bring you Václav Klaus’ recommendation as to how to vote in the EU accession referendum, how about tips from two top footballers instead, Tomás Galásek and Zdenek Grygera, reported in Právo? (By the way, Galásek is a top star for the club Ajax Amsterdam; from what I’ve seen of him, he’s one of the main reasons that they did so well this year against Europe’s top clubs in the Champion’s League competition, so maybe he deserves a listen.) OF COURSE they’ll both vote “Yes”! A Europe uniting East and West is an unreservedly good thing for young folks like these, with élite talents that can be marketed internationally. Anyway, it seems that it’s a real pain, when they travel with their non-Czech teams to other countries for a game, to have to separate from their teammates at the airport and head for the “non-EU” window to show their passports and visas.

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