Václav Klaus

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Václav Klaus
Image:Klaus-harvard-2005-small.jpg

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Incumbent
Assumed office 
2003
Preceded by Václav Havel
Succeeded by Incumbent

Born June 19, 1941
Prague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Spouse Livia Klausová

Václav Klaus (IPA: [ˈva:ʦlaf ˈklau̯s]; born 19 June 1941, Prague) is the second President of the Czech Republic and a former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (1992-7). This right-wing economist is generally ranked among the most important Czech politicians since the fall of the communism.

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[edit] Personal life

Klaus grew up in the residential Vinohrady neighborhood of his native Prague and graduated from the University of Economics, Prague in 1963; he also spent some time at universities in Italy (1966) and the United States (1969). During the Prague Spring he published articles on economics in the pro-reform, non-communist magazine Tvář. He then pursued a postgraduate academic career at the (state) Institute of Economics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, which he left (he says, being forced for political reasons) for the Czechoslovak State Bank in 1970; Klaus then joined the perestroika-minded Prognostics Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1987. In 1995, as Prime Minister, he was awarded a degree of Professor of Finance from his alma mater and is thus often called "Mr Professor" by his admirers.

Václav Klaus is married to Livia Klausová, an economist born in Slovakia. They have two sons, Václav (a private secondary school headmaster) and Jan (economist), and five grandchildren. In summer 2002 he was photographed by a tabloid as having a "special relationship" with airline stewardess and economy student Klára Lohniská; this was treated by both the press and the public with remarkable sympathy.

In youth, Klaus used to play basketball; he still is an avid tennis player and skier.

Since 1990, Václav Klaus published over 20 books on various social, political, and economics subjects, generally collections of articles and speeches; the most recent of these are three yearbooks of his presidential activities. Václav Klaus is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society. He has published articles in the free market-oriented Cato Journal and elsewhere.

[edit] Rise to Prime Ministership, and fall

Václav Klaus entered politics soon after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. As a member (and since October 1990, chairman) of Civic Forum he became the federal Minister of Finance. In April 1991 Klaus co-founded Civic Democratic Party (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS), the strongest and most right-wing of the post-Civic Forum splinter parties. He remained its chairman until the autumn of 2002.

His vocal enthusiasm for the free market economy as exemplified by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and practised by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, together with his stated belief in the Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand", soon became well known (and also often criticised) and Klaus became a natural father of the Czechoslovak economic transformation. Others agreed with his free-market concepts, but pointed out that during his premiership he neglected the importance of law (in particular battling corruption), largely ignored the enforcement of property rights on stock market, and that his pet project, the voucher privatization, was poorly executed and didn't bring the economy responsible owners it needed.

In June 1992, ODS won the elections in the Czech Republic with a reform program; its counterpart in Slovakia was Vladimír Mečiar's nationalistic Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. It soon became apparent that Slovak demands for increased sovereignty were incompatible with the limited "viable federation" supported by the Czechs (most vehemently by then-president Vaclav Havel); both leaders assumed the premiership in their respective polities and quickly agreed, without consulting the electorate, on a smooth division of Czechoslovakia and its assets under a caretaker federal government.

Klaus continued as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic after the 1996 election, but ODS's win was much narrower and his government was plagued by instability, economic problems, and increasingly visible corruption. He had to resign in the autumn of 1997 after a government crisis caused by an ODS funding scandal, an event later called "Sarajevo Assassination" (sarajevský atentát) by his sympathisers, as it happened during his visit of Sarajevo at that time.

Czech President Václav Havel publicly referred to Klaus' economic policies as "gangster capitalism" in reference to the widespread corruption surrounding his policy of voucher privatization and his côterie of close allies such as the "entrepreneur" Miroslav Macek or StB honcho Václav Junek.

ODS lost the parliamentary election in 1998 and Miloš Zeman, chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), succeeded Klaus as prime minister. The two closed an "opposition agreement" (opoziční smlouva) and so Zeman's minority government was supported by ODS: Klaus became the chairman of the lower house of the Parliament, while Zeman's pre-electoral promise of "clean government" sailed into the sunset.

ODS was again defeated in the elections of June 2002; after long hesitations, Klaus, supposedly under pressure from his lieutenants, resigned as party chair in the autumn and was elected honorary chairman by a unanimous vote.

[edit] Presidency

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Having lost second General Election in a row, Klaus' hold on the ODS appeared to become weaker, and he announced his intention to resign from the leadership and run for president. This was taken by many to be a graceful way of retiring. He was elected President of the Czech Republic by secret ballot in a joint session of both chambers of parliament on February 28, 2003, thus succeeding Václav Havel, who had been one of his greatest political opponents since the division of Czechoslovakia. Klaus was elected after two failed rounds of voting earlier in the month, only in the third turn of the election when both chambers vote on two top candidates jointly, by 142 votes out of 281 with, notably, support of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia whose parliament club he visited before the election. He was aided in this by the governing coalition which, buffeted especially by feuds within ČSSD, was unable to agree on a common candidate to oppose him; apparently also a faction within ČSSD unsatisfied with the Prime Minister Vladimír Špidla and reportedly even a few right-leaning members of Christian and Democratic Union - Czechoslovak People's Party voted for Klaus. Klaus threatened to walk out of a press conference in France during 2003 when asked by a journalist to explain how he could reconcile asking for and receiving communist votes in the election for President with his previous (and subsequent) anti-communist positions. The price for these votes became clear when Klaus invited the Communists' leader to participate in meetings with the President for the first time since 1990. However, during 2005 and 2006 he stated that he would refuse to appoint a cabinet which depended on communist support either directly or indirectly.

Václav Klaus still has many opponents, and his percieved arrogance is among the most benign of their criticisms: They depict him as a narrow-minded pragmatist interested only in lecturing about the technology of power and textbook economic precepts while practicing policies and approaches that are entirely contradictory but materially convenient to his friends. Beside his governments' mistakes and pervasive corruption, one of the most contested issues is his relation to Communism, both in the past and as a strong modern-day political party: Klaus has published articles praising "the grey zone" of the majority of ordinary people who passively endured the regime, while dismissing the importance of the small minority of dissidents like Havel for their "haughtiness".

In another article he has declared himself a "non-communist" but not an anticommunist, which he says he rejects as cheap and superficial posturing (even though he ran two election campaigns against ČSSD using the traditional 'red scare'): Klaus' Eurosceptic pronouncements, which directly pander to the public's nationalist instincts, and an apparent desire to be liked at the expense of a longer-term, more demanding agenda, also continue to attract criticism.

Klaus' Euroscepticism - apart from such pronouncements as "I don't know what dirty money is" or his questionning of the existence of Czech WW II concentration camps for Roma - is the defining policy position of his presidency, and he includes criticism of the EU in most public statements. During various state visits in Europe this has led to his hosts viewing his statements as insulting and beyond proper diplomatic behaviour - Latvia and Finland being two examples of this. He has described accession to the Union as representing the end of Czech sovereignty. In spite of this and his tendency to express his opinion on all issues, clearly sensing the overwhelming public mood in favour of joining (77% voted yes), he failed to advocate a side in the 2003 accession referendum.

Subsequently he has maintained a steady barrage of articles and speeches against the EU and even ensured the publication in Czech of a work by the Irish Eurosceptic Anthony Coughlan whose personal political career includes extreme-left allignments and a record of campaigning against every EU Treaty. In 2005 Klaus called for the EU to be "scrapped" and replaced by a free-trade area to be called the Organisation of European States. In spite of this he has said, when challenged, "please don't claim that I'm in favour of just a free trade zone." This has confirmed his unwillingness to justify his more extreme pronouncements when confronted. In 2005 he informed a group of visiting US politicians that the EU was a "failed and bankrupt entity".

He has reversed Havel's policy of avoiding many countries like China. His first major visit was to Russia and in 2006 he hosted Vladimir Putin in a style which was described by many as borderline-sycophancy including using Russian to converse with him. It was noted that, in spite of his statements while in the U.S., his position on most foreign policy matters over the last decade has been closely alligned with that of Russia.

Klaus's popularity in public opinion polls grew rapidly in the first half of 2003, supported by blanket "soft" coverage from the country's largest newspapers, contrasting with an unpopular government and growingly populist rhetoric. It has remained around 60% since then.

Despite his pre-election promises, he exercises his power to veto the laws rather more often than Havel, generally for ideological reasons. Among these was also registered partnership act; however, his veto was overturned by the parliament in March 2006, and the Czech Republic became the first post-communist country to grant legal recognition to same-sex partnerships.

[edit] External links

Preceded by:
Petr Pithart
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
1992–1997
Succeeded by:
Josef Tošovský
Preceded by:
Václav Havel
President of the Czech Republic
2003–present
Succeeded by:
Incumbent


cs:Václav Klaus

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Václav Klaus

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