Václav Sphinx

Indulge me just a little, as I leave the Czech referendum story with a bit of tidying-up: you know, the results, the reaction. Once again, Mlada Fronta Dnes splashes an over-sized headline on its front page: “ANO EU: 77,33%.” (That’s 77,33% “Yes” on a turn-out of 55,21%, so once again anti-EU spoil-sports can point out that an actual majority of eligible voters did not approve EU accession.) To which the headline adds: “Spidla rejoices; Klaus stays silent.”

“The waiting was the hard part, ” premier Vladimir Spidla revealed in an interview with MFDnes, “because it was awaiting fate – not mine, but of the entire republic.” Any thinking there would be a second chance if the Czech Republic were to have rejected the EU this time, Spidla maintained, was naïve. Meanwhile, for a long time after the referendum results were first made known on Saturday afternoon (14 June), there was nothing to be heard from President Václav Klaus. “He has a private program,” said his spokesman. But then he, too, later spoke to MFDnes. The results were to be expected, he opined, although the voter turn-out could have been higher. As for whether he was pleased with the the 77,33% percent vote for accession, Klaus replied: “Here it’s not a question of being glad or not being glad . . . for me it was no surprise, it was logical that things would turn out that way.”

Elsewhere, Klaus was quoted as saying, in response to the inevitable after-the-fact questions as to how he himself voted, “I would tell you one thing, that I voted correctly, and that is the decisive thing.” All of which seems to exasperate columnist Patricie Polanská, writing in Hospodárské noviny. What does he mean, “correct”? Correct for the Czech Republic, correct for the citizens, correct for Klaus himself? All that these citizens can be sure of is that the president has some sort of monopoly on deciding what is “correct.” And “improper”: that’s what Klaus thought actually giving a recommendation to voters would be prior to the referendum. But how “improper,” Polanská asks? “Improper” because it would be an instance of expressing an opinion? But Klaus has never shied away before from expressing opinions – even during the run-up to the referendum when, although he wouldn’t reveal how he would vote, he was quick to condemn, by name, several figures in Czech public life who advanced “Yes” arguments he thought were shallow and idiotic.

Václav Klaus is the president, and he probably also aspires to be remembered as a statesman, Polanská concludes. Yet in the period he himself designated as more important than any general election, his opinion and guidance went missing, and that is to be regretted.

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