A look back at the years of Václav Klaus
Posted: March 6, 2013
Whether it was his epic pen-stealing incident, his ubiquitous anti-EU remarks or the musings he periodically published in his online travel diary, Václav Klaus' antics always had its audience. A dynamic center-right political leader who riled the public with such statements as "there's no such thing as dirty money" at the height of privatization, Klaus proved equally as divisive at the Prague Castle as he was in Parliament.
Instead of pushing the envelope on the legal boundaries of the country's post-communist transition, however, the presidency endowed Klaus with the ability to explore the limits of the Czech Constitution-and to reinvent the nature of the office itself.
Unlike Václav Havel, his ideological rival, Klaus took up the presidency a politically charged figure, and continued to meddle in the backroom dealings of the country's center-right throughout his tenure. One of the most appalling moments of his reign is the 2008 presidential election, when an embarrassing saga of blackmail, bribery and scandalous accusations preceded his reelection by parliamentary vote. (In wiretap conversations later leaked to the media, it later emerged that much of the tactics used to get mutinous MPs in line behind Klaus were likely orchestrated by lobbyist Miroslav Šlouf, who was also active in the successful campaign of Miloš Zeman.)
During that same era, as the country dealt with mounting pressure to modernize its fossil fuel-reliant energy sector, he raised controversy with his Blue Planet in Green Shackles. The book, which accuses the global environmentalist lobby of overstating the threats posed by global warming, has a Russian-language version sponsored by the country's largest private oil company, Lukoil.
Despite all his efforts to stir up controversy, Klaus did not become a mainstay on the international scene until 2009. That year, a perfect storm of European integration, the Czech Republic's EU presidency, and turbulence on the domestic political scene catapulted the president to continental notoriety he evidently sought. Within months, Klaus found himself in the spotlight on the floor of the European parliament, orating about the parallels he saw between Brussels bureaucracy and the Czechoslovak communist regime.
His actions seemed mind-boggling a time when the Czech Republic was one of two EU outliers blocking the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. Years later, as the bloc finds itself mired in existential and financial crisis, many across the continent find his convictions palatable.
Though his statements often cause pro-EU lawmakers inside and outside the country to tear their hair out, some say Klaus has been useful in the existentialist sense.
"The European Union doesn't have many critics who are this biting-ones who operate as pundits, at least in the field of economics," says political analyst Alexandr Mitrofanov. "If Klaus didn't exist, [the EU] would have to invent him."
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