Unfriendly Presidential Send-Off

Monday, March 4th, 2013

[Please note the correction added at the end of this blogpost.]

Now here’s a tweet you don’t see every day! It has to do with Václav Klaus, now the former President of the Czech Republic, but it’s not just about his departure from that office:

CN: Senát má rozhodnout, zda podá na Klause žalobu pro velezradu #klaus #senat #amnestie http://t.co/ebQLBOWPP8: http://t.co/yhHmp4QGPn

@Zpravy

Zpravy


Velezradu: “treason.” So that’s “Senate must decide whether to charge Klaus with treason.”

“What’s that all about!” you might ask. It is a pretty poor good-bye present, don’t you think? Why couldn’t the Senate just have handed the ex-President a nice necktie, or maybe a gold pen?

But OK, this is fairly easy to explain in an American context, for those out there with long-enough memories. You might recall that the dying days of the Clinton Administration, back in early 2001, were rather by the ridiculous pardons Bill Clinton started handing out, most especially to Marc Rich, the financier who had made sure he was out of the country when he was indicted by the IRS for tax evasion.

Well, Václav Klaus did much the same thing as the end of his presidential term started to come within sight.around last New Year’s Day. He issued a wide series of pardons which mainly went – in a similar manner to Marc Rich, funnily enough – to businessmen guilty of abusing the Czech Republic’s system of “coupon privatization” for disposing of State-owned properties back in the 1990s, by “tunneling” many of those companies, i.e. systematically stealing their assets, sucking them dry, then escaping to foreign lands with well-stocked Swiss bank accounts. It’s no coincidence that by far the major actor involved in getting coupon privatization going was then-Premier Václav Klaus.

(OK, the České noviny report that you get when you click through the link in the abovre tweet also says that the Senate has also charged him with further harming the Czech national interest by refusing to sign duly-ratified laws that he didn’t like – for example, the EU’s Lisbon Treaty – and by paralyzing the country’s court system by refusing to nominate any new justices for a whole year.)

Well, it’s the justices of the Czech Republic’s Supreme Court which now get to preside over an impeachment trial:

Senát schválil ústavní žalobu na Václava Klause. Z 68 přítomných senátorů pro žalobu hlasovalo 38, proti 30.

@iDNES_vyber

Zprávy iDNES.cz


Right, the vote among Senators was 38 in favor, 30 against. This probably isn’t about Klaus actually ever going to jail, though. Just as elsewhere, impeachment is mainly a matter of removing a sitting President who can be shown to have violated the law in a serious way. Conveniently, the Senate waited until Klaus had already left office – but he still stands to lose the payments he is still due from being President (e.g. his pension, though he has other pensions) if he is convicted.

BTW that same article has an instant mini-poll to the side showing 69% approving of the impeachment. Those numbers might change by the time you access that page later.

So Václav Klaus, second President of the Czech Republic, is not just going to fade away into the sunset; the Senate won’t let him. Things could get exciting!

P.S. Apologies that the IDNES tweet above announcing the result of the Senate impeachment vote did not have the usual link within it to allow you to go look at a Czech-language article. But let’s give IDNES (= the on-line paper of the Czech Republic’s biggest non-tabloid daily, Mladá fronta dnes) a bit of a break, they’ve had a hard time:

České zpravodajské servery čelí druhé vlně počítačových útoků. Weby iDNES.cz tak mohou být opět problematicky dostupné. Situaci řešíme.

@iDNES_vyber

Zprávy iDNES.cz


That’s right, they’ve been hacked! There’s a lot of that going around among news organizations these days. Should you desire to access their website, it might not be working quite yet.

CORRECTION: Klaus has not yet left the Czech Presidency, his last day is 7 March 2013. So the Senate’s action has caught him in the last days of his term. Naturally, there is hardly enough time to resolve the treason charges during his remaining time in office, so this impeachment cannot have the effect of removing him as president.

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Not So Isolated

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil … http://t.co/Qh043Qmm

@Zpravy

Zpravy


(more…)

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The Dark Side of the Lisbon Treaty

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Hooray! Today’s the day that the Lisbon Treaty finally comes into effect in the European Union! As a result, the Union’s operations will from now on supposdly be more transparent, more effective, and more democratic. Those, at least, are the three elements that made up the principal content of the Laeken Declaration issued by EU leaders at their summit in December, 2001, in which they noted how the actual operation and accomplishments of the Union had become disappointing to so many, and so called for the setting-up of a convention to consider what could be done about that.

Inevitably, there remain many within the boundaries of the EU who go beyond mere disappointment to an outright rejection of that process that began at Laeken (that’s in Belgium, by the way) and ended up, through many twists and turns that included a rejected EU Constitution, with the Lisbon Treaty. Most prominent in this regard are the Czechs, if only because Czech president Václav Klaus was the last obstacle to the ratification of that treaty, holding out until only one month ago. Klaus was finally forced to knuckle under, but Czech anti-Lisbon opinion will not let this day pass without at least one more loud cry of protest. Thus it is that we get this article in today’s on-line edition of the Czech daily Lidové noviny. (Those signs brandished in the photo up top read “We want a Europe of free nations” and “We don’t want EU vetoes/prohibitions”; and the Czech word “dost” that’s also there simply means “enough.”)

That this sort of piece should appear on lidovky.cz is no surprise, since that newspaper – otherwise quite a mainline Czech broadsheet worth recommending, by the way – has through the years consistently provided a platform for the writings of Václav Klaus, whether in or out of power. This time it’s not Klaus himself who wrote the article – he’s still president, after all, so that would truly be rather too awkward – but instead one Michal Petřík, an advisor to President Klaus. (more…)

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End of Czech EU Presidency: At Least They’re Very Euro-Friendly!

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Tomorrow, 30 June, marks the formal end to the six-month term of the Czech Republic as European Union president, as Sweden takes over the next day for the second half of 2009. In reality, though, the Czech presidency effectively came to an end a bit earlier than that, namely on March 24, as Kilian Kirchgeßner points out in his analysis of that presidency for the Frankfurter Rundschau (Well, it wasn’t a complete flop). For that was the day that the Czech Civic Democratic (ODS) government, headed by premier Mirek Topolánek, was booted out of office in a vote of no-confidence by the lower house of the Czech parliament.

Check out that article title again (with whose translation I promise I took only very slight liberties), though: could someone kindly e-mail to me the German expression for “damn with faint praise”? Kirchgeßner’s purpose here is clearly to bend over backwards to cast the Czech presidency in the best-possible light. His piece’s very first sentence (i.e. after the lede) is “Probably no country has encountered such hostility during its EU presidency as the Czech Republic,” going on to cite all the EU and other national officials (especially the French) who cast doubt on the Czechs’ very competence to handle the assignment, and who continued to cruelly snipe at them thereafter – mostly behind-the-scenes, of course. What is more, it turned out to be a tough time to take up the job, what with the world financial crisis, Israel’s attack into Gaza, new disputes about ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, etc. – oh, and also the latest installment of the perennial Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute, which actually gave the Czechs the opportunity to mediate effectively and so chalk up an early success to their credit. (more…)

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Why Sarkozy Found Paris More Delightful Than Prague in the Springtime

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

I already noted somewhat obliquely (admittedly in a very tangential manner: it’s the link down at the bottom of that post to the Poland in the EU weblog, under “UPDATE”) that the Czech EU presidency just organized and hosted in Prague a so-called Eastern Partnership summit – intended to improve EU relations with various ex-Soviet nations still under the shadow of the Russian Bear, including Ukraine and Belarus – and hardly anyone from the EU side showed up! As a “summit” it was supposed to be attended by all member-state heads of government. But I guess the EU is not yet that sort of organization where they send burly men to fetch dignitaries physically when their absence at an official event is noticed (nor is it likely ever to be), for only one head of government was there: Angela Merkel. (And of course a head of state – namely Václav Klaus, but note the distinction – acted as host; more on that below.) No Gordon Brown; no José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero; apparently no Donald Tusk, either, even though this Eastern Partnership is something originally proposed by Poland. No Austrian Chancellor, either (his name is Werner Faymann, BTW), and indeed nobody higher there for Austria than her EU ambassador, despite that country’s multiple interests (indeed, you could say its very location) in the East.

And no Nicolas Sarkozy. What vital functions did he have on his official schedule yesterday, when that Prague “summit” was wound up and the Eastern Partnership agreement signed without his participation? (more…)

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Chilly Prague Welcome Awaits for Lukashenko

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

A little while ago I covered here the alarming prospect for EU officials that, because of the fall of the current Czech government under prime minster Mirek Topolánek, that notorious Eurosceptic Václav Klaus, the Czech president, would in effect be in charge of much of the European Union’s important business for the remainder of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency (lasting until the end of June). Yesterday we got word from the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita (Klaus will not extend hand to Lukashenko) that Klaus is already putting his stamp upon the EU “Eastern Partnership” summit scheduled to take place in Prague the first week of May, where he is to host the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, the Ukraine, and Belarus. The president of that last country, Alexander Lukashenko, may very well come to Prague for the occasion (or, indeed, he may decide not to), but if he does, President Klaus will not shake his hand nor include him in the official reception to be held at Prague Castle.

Keep in mind that this “Eastern Partnership” summit actual takes place just before Mirek Topolánek’s government heads out the door and is replaced by a government of technocrats headed by current chief of the Czech Statistical Agency, Jan Fischer. Yet even if Topolánek had any objection to this treatment of the guest from Belarus – there’s no indication either way whether he does – his extreme “lame duck” status would provide him little standing to do anything about it. Besides, no matter who is in charge of the agenda of a summit occurring in Prague, it’s at least always up to the Czech president who he invites to come dine at the Castle.

Plus, it just so happens that this is the right thing to do. Lukashenko has long been known as “Europe’s last remaining dictator” for the ruthless way he manipulates the sham elections he is called upon to stage every so often and persecutes the native political opposition. One complaint against the EU from many who are not privileged to walk the governing halls in Brussels is the way, when some international actor does something nasty which should make him persona non grata, it seems that all that it takes is a certain period of lying low and avoiding any more nasty headlines to get back into the EU’s good graces again. Here Václav Klaus is demonstrating that, despite his somewhat advanced age, there is nothing wrong with his memory or political sense on this issue.

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EU Nightmare Coming True

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

That nightmare is having Václav Klaus, noted euroskeptic, functioning as president of the EU. His country, the Czech Republic, does indeed hold the six-month rotating EU presidency until the end of June, and with the fall of the Czech government of prime minister Mirek Topolánek in the last week of March through the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Czech parliament the props were kicked out from under the Czech politician who most people assumed was actually responsible for conducting that EU presidency. Now that Obama has left Prague so that inter-government discord need no longer be swept under the carpet, Klaus has announced a plan to do away entirely with Topolánek as head of the government by stating that he is in favor instead of having a caretaker government of non-political experts installed to run the country until early elections can be held next October. That is perfectly within his right – in fact, in these circumstances it is his very function – as Czech president, and the new prime minister he prefers is Jan Fischer, who currently is chairman of the Czech Statistical Agency. Tereza Nosálková and Petra Pospĕchová of Hospoářské noviny have an excellent analysis of what all this means, especially to the EU in their article Fear of Klaus transforms Europe’s timetable. (more…)

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To Prague, With Reluctance

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

hradcanskaIf this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here). (more…)

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Flagging Václav Klaus

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Let me start here with a quick apology to my €S readers: I know that the subject dominating the headlines these days is the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, so I am overdue in bringing up for discussion on this forum some apposite article in the non-English-language press that supplies a piquant perspective on the tragedy unfolding there. And “overdue” I will have to continue to be, as I have yet to find a piece that truly qualifies for that treatment, unless you are willing to count my indirect approach to the Mid-East in the form of my previous discussion of what is possibly – but probably not – a little-known source of EU leverage over Israel.

I’ve got another indirect take for you here: Questions of leverage apart, has the question crossed your mind as to why on earth there appear to be two EU delegations heading to Israel to try to influence things there, namely the one headed by the Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg and the one with French president Nicolas Sarkozy? Seems rather inefficient, no? Still, it all becomes perfectly logical in light of the fear and loathing felt across the EU at the accession – brought about simply by the requirements of the EU calendar – of the Czech Republic and Václav Klaus to the EU presidency for the next six months. To these observers, the contrast between what they fear from the Czechs and the admirable activism that marked France’s just-completed term at the presidency is so agonizing that they simply can’t let go – and thus you see, in effect, both “before” and “after” versions of EU diplomatic delegations in the MidEast.

This fear of what the Czechs may bring to the EU at what has turned out to be a crucial period, both for its internal affairs and its external relations, is real. Quite apart from the beginner’s mistakes you can expect from a small country undertaking the presidency for the first time, there is great worry over Klaus’ controversial stands on various EU issues and how they might serve to gum up the works still further. (A broad segment even of Czech opinion shares these concerns, by the way. I’ve got to see if I can find an article or two out of the Czech press about that to discuss.) But today there comes a most interesting opinion piece in the Financial Times Deutschland, by Nils Kreimeier (Witch-hunt in Prague), that bravely takes up the unconventional view that maybe Václav Klaus is not someone to worry much about but rather is the sort of personality that the EU should welcome. (more…)

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Association Agreement = EU Leverage Over Israel?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Christian or Jew, Moslim or Shinto, the whole world’s 2008 holiday spirit has taken a severe beaten ever since right after Christmas Day itself by the still-escalating violent tit-for-tat being played out in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. The whole affair seems to be a classic case of escalating rage on both sides spiralling to some ultimate calamity, with little room to try to talk sense to either side to draw them back from the brink. Prospects for any satisfactory resolution are considerably worsened by a political vacuum where the world’s eyes would ordinarily turn for the exercise of some sort of restraint on Israel, namely Washington: at only a little over twenty days to his departure, George W. Bush utterly lacks any more credibility generally, much less on Middle East matters (warning: link leads to rude language!), while President-Elect Obama is sticking with his “one president at a time” mantra.

Could this provide an opening for the EU to try to provide some helpful intervention of its own? Maybe one last hurrah for what has turned out to be an extraordinarily activist six-month EU presidency for France and her president, Nicolas Sarkozy? That is a tempting thought, except that Sarkozy, his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and various other family are currently on holiday in Brazil. (They had to fly there, where it’s warm at this time of year, for an official state visit, you see. It all amounts to little more than the sort of tacking-on-a-vacation-to-the-end-of-a-company-paid-business-trip in which I wager most of the readers of this weblog have indulged at least once.) Nonetheless, Thijs Bermand and Tineke Bennema of the Dutch daily Trouw offer the proposition that the EU does have a role that it can play by virtue of the Assocition Agreement with Israel that is still pending (EU can make a difference in MidEast conflict). (more…)

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Sarkozy Longer as EU President?

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

The leading Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad had an interesting item over the press conference given by Minister of Finance (and Cabinet chairmen in the absence of Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende, who is visiting China) Wouter Bos, which we can see in the article’s headline: Bos alludes to extension of French EU chairmanship.

From the very beginning of the European Union (i.e. from 1958; it was then known as the European Economic Community) the member-states have taken turns, at six-month intervals, at assuming the “EU presidency,” although the role is more-accurately described as the presidency/chairmanship of the Council of the European Union, which is the legislative forum for the member-states and usually the most-powerful of the EU’s component institutions. Naturally, the queue of countries waiting to serve their turn as president includes all EU member-states, and it was in the first half of this year that the first country from the great 10-country EU enlargement of May, 2004, had its turn as president, namely Slovenia.

The thing is, the second half of 2008 has proved to be far-from-normal times. First there was the diplomatic crisis over the conflict between Russia and Georgia, and now we have the international system of finance seriously in need of some restructuring. France is now EU President, and French president Nicolas Sarkozy has by all accounts done a credible job in responding to the worldwide financial panic. (His intervention in the Russian-Georgian conflict to secure the cease-fire was subject to rather more mixed reviews.) The comfort the EU has had with Sarkozy as point-man on that crisis may have much to do with the French president’s own personal qualities, but it also stems from France’s status as one of the EU’s major powers and its deep and capable governmental machinery. What if one or more of these grave problems had arisen during the Slovenian presidency: could President Danilo Turk and the Slovenian government have effectively handled the task of leading the EU response? (more…)

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The Klaus Anti-EU Constitution Pamphlet

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

As with most other weblogs, EuroSavant has had in the past certain topics to which it regularly returns. I’d like to keep that up, even though at least one of these, the “Poles In Iraq” series (last entry here, which deals appropriately enough with the prospect of withdrawal of Polish troops) has pretty much expired. But there remains the still-riveting tale of the EU Constitutional Treaty, now about to embark on the phase during which it is supposed to be ratified by all 25 EU member-states.

The key work to understanding what this “constitution” is all about, and so to make up my own mind whether I’m for it or not, is I think Peter Norman’s The Accidental Constitution: The Story of the European Convention, from EuroComment, which I previewed here. (Then I had long-running problems getting ahold of it, but those are finally solved.) I hope to report to you about this book shortly. In the meantime, though, the only EU head of state who has made it clear that he is against ratification – Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic, of course – recently turned up the volume on his anti-constitution agitation, as the French leading daily Le Monde reports (The Czech President, the Ultraliberal Václav Klaus, Campaigns for a “No”). (more…)

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Klaus the Mouth

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

One thing you can say about Czech president Václav Klaus, he’s never loath to let people know his opinions. Perhaps that’s good for a head-of-state, you might say – we don’t want any slippery focus-group-pandering politician in that top office, even if it’s mostly ceremonial! – but there’s a better case to be made that, in fact, it’s not so good. Consider this: heads-of-state generally carry the title “president,” but only in that major subset of the world’s countries which call themselves (in one form or the other) “republics,” having at some point in their histories discarded the king/queen/prince/duke representative of the hereditary, unelected system of rule that emerged in most places out of the mists of history. But a lot of other countries have still kept their king/queen/prince/duke around; so they’re not republics, although by now the sovereign generally has only a fraction of the political power he/she once wielded. (more…)

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Slovakia: The Past is Now

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

We recently covered the “Europa XL/Zelfportret Europa” portrait of the Czech Republic. Now it’s time to take up that country’s sister republic, Slovakia, which came into its own as an independent country only with the so-called “Velvet Divorce” of 1 January 1993. Did that “divorce” really ever need to come to pass? (more…)

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Countdown to the Brussels Summit III: Unborn EU Constitution Already Has First Prominent Rejector

Wednesday, December 10th, 2003

As we’re all painfully aware, the Constitution (or, properly, “Constitutional Treaty”) for the European Union is still only in draft form. It awaits final approval (in whichever mutually-agreed altered form) from the governments of twenty-five member-states (present, and the ten of the immediate future) which is supposed to come out of the summit of heads-of-government starting this Friday in Brussels – “supposed to.” There will then follow ratification processes in all those twenty-five states, lasting through the first half of 2004, and themselves by no means assured of resulting in approval in all cases.

There’s a long road yet to go for the Constitution, then. Nonetheless, one EU head-of-state has already come out against it – or perhaps “future EU head-of-state” would be more accurate, since that was Czech President Václav Klaus, who on Monday declared Byl bych radsí, kdyby zadná taková ústava nebyla prijata, or “I would rather that no constitution of this sort be accepted.” (Sorry, Czech purists: as usual, some diacritics have had to be omitted.) He uttered this after a meeting at which Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla briefed him on the negotiating mandate the Czech delegation (headed by Spidla) will take into this weekend’s EU summit.

On the subject of Czech press coverage of this, I would like to start off with where there isn’t any, namely in Lidové noviny, which skipped Klaus’ declaration entirely. (Could this have to do with the fact that LN is the paper closest to Klaus – he wrote a regular column for it in his pre-presidential days – and that this anti-Constitution declaration might be viewed by some as embarrassing?) (more…)

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“Good-Bye, Lenin” – Hello, Communism?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

Today we return after a long absence to the Czech press and, once again, the timing is propitious. For yesterday was the last day of a three-day weekend in the Czech Republic, since each year 17 November is celebrated as the day, in 1989, of the brutally-suppressed student demonstration against the Czechoslovak Communist regime that set off the “Velvet Revolution.” This would topple that regime in short order, and replace it with a new government, most of whose key functionaries (including foreign minister – Jiri Dienstbier, formerly your friendly neighborhood window-washer – but of course topped of by President Václav Havel) were plucked either from jail or demeaning manual occupations.

(Actually, 17 November was an important day of commemoration even before 1989. That was the day in 1939 when the Nazi occupiers moved against university student agitators by executing nine of them, sending a further 1,200 to concentration camps, and closing down all Czech universities. The students of 1989 therefore had for 17 November a ready-made, “50th anniversary” pretext to gain from the Communist authorities license to hold demonstrations – except that it soon turned out that they were against the then-government, and the riot police moved in.)

The thing is, this year 17 November has for many a sad and ironic tinge to it, and that is because that same Communist Party is now the second most-popular political party in national opinion polls, and is openly planning its path into government again by means of elections that have to occur by 2006. But is it really “that same Communist Party”? That’s the Kc 64,000 question. For now, let it suffice to say that the KSCM (Czech initials for the “Communist Party of the Czech Lands and Moravia”) has never renounced the policies or the behavior of its totalitarian predecessor, the KSC (“Communist Party of Czechoslovakia”), beyond some grudging admissions that “it’s true certain mistakes were made.” This sets it apart from almost all of what used to be its “fraternal socialist” ruling-party counterparts elsewhere in the East Bloc – with the exception, of course, of the Russian Communist Party. (There’s also a similarly-unreformed Communist Party of Slovakia.) On the other hand, the Communist parties in Poland and Hungary, to cite but two prominent examples, have gone down another path since 1989: they have transformed themselves into true social democratic parties and are in fact both currently the party of government in their respective countries! (Not that either is having a very easy time of it, but that’s another story . . .)

It’s no surprise, then, that although the growing political power of the KSCM should be something of note regardless of the time of year, the November 17 holiday, a holiday of liberation from Communism, naturally helps to focus public attention on the issue. (That should probably also have been true of a recent incident in which the new memorial to the victims of Communism in Prague – dedicated only last year – was vandalized, but I didn’t pick up any mention of this in the articles that follow.)

The leading Czech business newspaper Hospodarske noviny was on top of all this as early as last Friday with a series of articles on the Czech Communists. (more…)

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Polish-German Relations Dampened by Expellee Dispute

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Meetings, meetings, meetings! But maybe that’s a foretaste of the soon-to-be EU of twenty-five members. As we noted, Tony Blair met on Saturday (20 Sept.) with Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac in Berlin. Then on Sunday he met back at Chequers (the British Prime Minister’s country residence) with Spanish premier José Maria Aznar. (Those were surely discussions most suited to Blair’s day of rest, as he and Aznar see much more eye-to-eye on international issues these days than do his interlocutors in Berlin.) As for Gerhard Schröder, he met yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller – just before flying yesterday evening to New York, for that all-important opening of the UN General Assembly and tête-à-tête with President Bush.

The German papers hardly gave front-page coverage to this meeting between Schröder and Miller (which took place at the conference center attached to the Schalke stadium in Gelsenkirchen, in the Ruhr area – Schalke are a famous German first-division football team, by the way). By and large that treatment was devoted to the overwhelming victory in the Bavarian state elections over the weekend for Edmund Stoiber’s Christian Socialist Union party – something that, unfortunately, EuroSavant isn’t all that interested in, although it has given rise to speculation that Stoiber is now rarin’ to take on Gerhard Schröder again in an electoral fight for the Chancellorship, when the time for that comes ’round again, of course.

That lack of press coverage was unfortunate, because Schröder and Miller had a lot to talk about in Gelsenkirchen. For one, they seem to have some hard-to-bridge differences over the draft EU Constitution, and this just a little over a week before the big EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) opens on October 4. Interestingly, according to an article previewing the Schröder/Miller summit in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung entitled No Unbundling of the EU Constitution-Package, it looks like Germany is considering deploying its big financial guns to try to get its way here. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is quoted by the FAZ as saying as early as the beginning of September that, in his view, EU expansion, the adoption of the draft Constitution, and negotiations over EU finances – which have much to do with how much financial help of various kinds Poland gets upon entering the EU – all constitute an interrelated package. Subtext: If you want to get the money you expect, you better show some give on the Constitution. But let’s leave any further discussion of those negotiations to the near future. With the start of the IGC coming up soon, it’s guaranteed that we’ll get back to this subject soon, and in considerably more detail.

At their meeting, the German and Polish heads of government also devoted considerable time to a controversy that arose over the summer – but is still simmering – about a proposal to erect a memorial called the Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen or “Center Against Expulsions,” in Berlin. This has considerably strained relations with Germany’s neighbors to the east, not just Poland; and it’s a dispute that gives me the opportunity to display a neat picture on these pages – a magazine cover, sorta kinky! – for the first time. (But you’ll have to click on “More…” to see it – ha ha!) (more…)

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Václav Sphinx

Monday, June 16th, 2003

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.” (more…)

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Klaus Newspaper Interview

Wednesday, June 11th, 2003

Czech President Václav Klaus doesn’t want to reveal his voting preferences in the Czech EU accession referendum, to start on Friday – although he certainly promises to vote. (Indeed, he’ll be voting soon after polls open on Friday, as will premier Spidla and ex-president Havel and their wives.) Revealing his presidential preference is not his presidential function, he says; his pres. function is “rather to give arguments, to shake up citizens so that they think about these things.”

But you know this already, since you’ve read yesterday’s EuroSavant entry. Still, on Wednesday Klaus granted an in-depth interview to Lidové noviny, his favorite newspaper. (He used to write a regular column for it.) This interview deserves in-depth examination, since it lays out many of the Czech President’s shall-we-say unconventional and even abrasive views on the referendum and on Czech EU membership in general. Maybe we’ll finally get some “asking of the tough questions,” the absence of which I decried in my long entry about the Polish referendum of last weekend!

(Before we go to “More…”: Sick of Poland? Sick of Czech? Sorry about that. Remember, EuroSavant is also versatile enough to do France, Germany, the Benelux, who-knows-what-else. We’ll get back to other parts of Europe soon, but I did want to take a good look at these once-in-a-lifetime accession referenda. Anyway, if you don’t like this weblog’s direction – e-mail me! I might be so taken aback as to actually listen to what you say!) (more…)

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Václav Klaus: Which Way Will He Vote?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2003

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. (more…)

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Why Referenda Usually Just Don’t Cut It

Sunday, June 8th, 2003

Now the second and final day of Poland’s EU accession referendum is underway. Radio reports indicate that participation through Saturday ran rather short of the 25% one would hope for, at least on an accountant’s straight-line basis, to assure that final participation reaches at least 50% and therefore validity for the whole exercise. But after all, this is not some financial exercise . . . (more…)

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GI’s in Czech

Tuesday, May 6th, 2003

US military bases in the Czech Republic! There is now talk of that, and Czech politicians are now arranging themselves on either side of that issue.

The talk up to now has been not about the Czech Republic but rather about Romania and Bulgaria, which SACEUR chief General James Jones recently described as “extremely good candidates” for US military bases. Indeed, the Sarafovo airbase in eastern Bulgaria proved extremely handy during the recent war in Iraq as a location to base US refueling aircraft. But now it seems the Czech Republic is also in play – even though no official request or inquiry has yet been forthcoming from the American side. (more…)

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President Václav Klaus on Communism

Monday, April 28th, 2003

A slow day – the situation in Iraq is cooling down, while arguments over a new “constitution” for the European Union promise to heat up soon – so what caught my eye on a survey through today’s Czech papers was the article “Klaus on Communism”, written by Czech President (and former professor) Václav Klaus in today’s on-line Lidové noviny. (more…)

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