One of the most prominent politicians in the The Velvet Revolution period in Czechoslovakia and its successor state the Czech Republic. A man with a reputation for brilliance, arrogance, populism, and having fathered the Czech economic transformation. At the time of this writeup also the newly inaugurated second president of the Czech Republic.

Short Biography

with as little bias as I can bear

Vaclav Klaus was born in Prague's Vinohrady district on June 19th, 1941. He studied economy, including studies abroad in the pre/post Prague Spring period. He suffered what seems to be a very minor setback during the normalization chill period: demotion from research economist at CSAV to work in the State Bank of Czechoslovakia, and did not return to CSAV until 1987.

His political career began in 1989, when he became the Czechoslovak federal minister of finances. (After this point, his teaching/research career gradually dwindled.) In 1990, he became the chairman of the most powerful political party of the time, Obcansky forum (the Civic Forum). After its dissolution in 1991, he co-founded the rightist Obcanska demokraticka strana (the Civic Democratic Party and chaired it until December of 2002. ODS won the June, 1992 elections, making Klaus the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (still a division of Czechoslovakia at the time). In the 1996 elections to the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, the party won and he remained PM. After the breakup of the government coalition in November, 1997, he abdicated. Due to the "opposition contract" power-sharing agreement between ODS and Ceska strana socialne demokraticka (CSSD) after the 1998 elections, he became in 1998 chairman of the Chamber of Deputies for four years.

On February 28th, 2003 (ironically 55 years to the day since the "Vitezny unor" ("Victorious Febuary") Communist putsch), he became President of the Czech Republic. As fits the current Czech code of law, he was voted in by semi-secret ballot by parliamentarians (i.e. members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate). Party divisions of the vote are non-secret, and thus it is a known fact that Communist votes were the key factor in breaking the deadlock keeping him out. It's no surprise, as he had invested a great deal of effort in fairly adroitly coquetting with the Communists. (That is, Komunisticka strana cech a moravy.)

The Positive Side of Klaus

Academic:Klaus holds eight honorary degrees from a number of distinguished institutions on four continents. He is the author of several books, including Dismantling Socialism: A Road to Market Economy, Economic Theory and Economic Reform, and The Czech Way. His views on monetary and fiscal policies, comparative economic systems, and economic transformation have been published in journals in the Czech Republic as well as internationally in many languages. (all (2))

Political: Klaus led the longest-lived reform government in postcommunist Europe, presided over seven years of economic transformation in the Czech Republic, handled the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia, created the most successful neoliberal party in the region, promoted new forms of liberal thinking in his country, and implemented a wide range of structural reforms.(3) Historically, in the early years of transformation, Klaus's "coupon privatization" program was also hailed as an achievement, but as scandals connected with it cropped up one after the other in the late 1990's, and so that program is no longer seen this way. On the other hand, at the risk of repeating the author quotes above: the role he played in building up ODS is a true accomplishment. (However, this accomplishment outgrew them both, as people both inside and out have long seen ODS as "Klaus's party", and many see it as too much so. It is too early to tell if his move to the presidential function will finally end this situation.)

Moral/PersonalityKlaus was for many important years (roughly and subjectively: until 1997) a man with not only tremendous drive, but also tremendous drive. It is unsure whether the transition to a true free-market economy would have gone so quickly with a different leader - and leader he was, and a different and equal way than Vaclav Havel. One, I might say, former positive of Klaus is the ability to make difficult compromises with overall positive effects, such as the social/liberal compromise within the Civic Forum that has left a socialist fingerprint, distateful for Klaus, on the nation's governance to this day - but tremendously aided stability (and his ability to govern) in the early years. As states in (3), "One of his greatest political skills in the pre-abdication years was to talk like a Friedmanite or Thatcherite liberal and yet act like a social democrat when necessary."

Other: He apparently plays pretty dang good tennis.

The Negative Side of Klaus

Political: Klaus was a great experimenter in the early years, and he didn't always look before he leaped. (An alternative explanation that is also frequenly expressed is that he knew damn well what he was doing. My lips are sealed on this....) A tremendous number of scandals arose connected to coupon privatization, his elimination of the single-payer insurance system, the rise of "tunneling" overall and the Mack-truck-sized legal loopholes that made it possible, party finance, and more.

Party finance scandals deserve special mention for the entertainment factor alone. The scandals that broke in 1997 showed the CDP to be profiting from privatization kickbacks. In particular, the party received several large gifts from two fictitious donors (including a dead Hungarian) that actually proved to come from a businessman, Milan Srejber, who had won a successful bid to gain ownership of one of the major Moravian steelworks under the CDP government. When it further became known to members of the CDP Executive Committee that the party had a "black" account in Switzerland with millions of dollars in it from unnamed sources, party leaders began to resign. Executive Committee members were enraged to find that party finances were being run behind their backs by Klaus and a few corrupt operatives. Further revelations suggested that under Klaus’s supervision, the party ran two ledgers and had misled the public about its finances in annual reports.(whole paragraph (3)).

Moral/Personality: Klaus has been called the following: a (hyper-)nationalist, an opportunist, arrogant, and overtolerant of corruption.

Nationalism: In the early years, Klaus's nationalism was at least expressed in interesting and bold economic experiments, such as coupon privatization (intended to avoid foreign purchase of Czech firms). Roughly since his abdication, it has found expression more and more, and perhaps nearly exclusively, in a populistic form of Euroskepticism, in fanatical upholding of the Benes decrees, in bashing of all neighbor countries that oppose(d) the Temelin nuclear power plant, and the like. Overall, Klaus's nationalism could be interpreted as populistic, as it matches the political opinions you'll hear in Czech pubs, but it is open to question which is the chicken and which is the egg here.

Opportunism: Perhaps the most famous opportunist actions of Klaus to date are his entry into the opposition contract with CSSD and his bartering (on terms as yet unknown) with the Communists for the presidency. His populistic nationalism is also a form of opportunism, although a part of it is heartfelt. It has unquestionably led to opportunistic actions, however, like a push for a pro-Benes-decrees parliamentary resolution in tandem with the Communists. Another point often seen as opportunistic is the Velvet Divorce with Slovakia, often interpreted as the result of "this town is too small for the two of us" politics relative to Vladimir Meciar, PM for the Slovak federal unit before the breakup (and Slovak PM for long, hard years afterwards).

Arrogance: See

...Klaus has a reputation for arrogance. Those who left ODS to found the Freedom Union in the post-abdication period cited it. One Czech joke goes: "What is the difference between Klaus and God? God doesn't think he's Klaus." (4)

His arrogance is sometimes very slick and very extended to his view of "national interest" as he calls them. Take for example this quote, from the debate preceding the Benes-decrees vote: "This point of the program arose spontaneously among us all as an expression of how the Chamber is upset with certain circles {you have to imagine him raising his eyebrows as he says this} especially in foreign countries to re-open tragical expressions of {the flow of} history, to complicate through them current international relationships, and to upset our public." (Keep in mind here that these "tragical expressions" involve the expulsion of large quantities of people, in some cases fatal, the summary execution of some of them, and the confiscation of their property, on the basis of race, not individuals' actual actions.)

Corruption: Well, I don't think I have to explain this any further after the information in this vein higher in this write-up.

Other: (OK, these points are only negative for some.) Those who value grassroots democracy and grassroots environmentalism are frequently irked by his statements against them, and the antipathy towards within ODS that he has spurred. Most famous perhaps in environmental circles is the quote that received a "Green Pearl of the Year" anti-award for 1995: "Ecology is not a science. It has nothing to do with science. It is an ideology." Klaus's main clash with the non-governmental sector has been in a theme that revolved around much-chewed phrase from his rival Havel: "non-political politics", that is, working with political force outside of the electoral process. Klaus apparently considers it as a source of corruption and of "hidden, anti-democratic politicking"; those in the non-governmental sector on the contrary see it as one remedy for corruption and "hidding, anti-democratic clientelism."

Concluding Notes:

Klaus will be president of the Czech Republic until 2008. His function in this, most likely his last public function, will be to a large degree representational, but not without exception; for example, he will be appointing a large number of judges for the Czech Constitutional Court.