Klaus adds injustice to end of his term
Posted: January 9, 2013
Never one to shy away from confrontation, it was always going to be unlikely President Václav Klaus would leave Prague Castle quietly. Ironically, however, it is an apparent act of leniency that will ensure the 71-year-old's second and final term in office ends in controversy.
His New Year's Day amnesty has provoked outrage among much of the population and is set to make headlines for weeks and months to come. In recent days, hundreds of mayors and teachers across the country have removed Klaus' portrait from offices and classrooms, such is their opposition to the president's decree.
So why the big fuss? On the face of it, a big problem has been solved. One-third of convicts, many of whom committed petty crimes, have been let out of jail, greatly reducing the burden on the Czech Republic's often overcrowded prisons. However, there is another part to this amnesty. Many high-profile corruption trials will be halted, seeing dozens of alleged fraudsters automatically presumed innocent.
Historically, amnesties have been used for social reconciliation after a period of civil war, revolution or repressive rule. Parallels have of course been made with the mass amnesty declared by the late Václav Havel, when some 23,000 prisoners - including murderers and serial killers - were released from jail.
That too received its fair share of criticism, for obvious reasons. But at least Havel could label his amnesty a political gesture. It drew a line under the communist era and corrected several miscarriages of justice. Klaus doesn't have the same excuse to fall back on.
Media commentators have questioned the president's official explanation that the amnesty is a way of clearing up the inefficiencies of a justice system he perceives as repressive. In effect, Klaus has trampled on the desire for truth by - inadvertently or not - protecting a select few.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas isn't blameless, either. He signed off on the decree, perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of fear. After all, he needed Klaus' support for the deeply divisive tax bill. Unwittingly, though, Nečas has put his government (which ran on an anti-graft ticket) under even more pressure and will be remembered as being complicit in the president's hypocrisy.
If Klaus had really wanted to improve the system, he would have pardoned individual crimes where perpetrators had shown a willingness to reform their behavior. Instead, his amnesty has undermined and unduly interfered with the long and hard work of many decent police officers, state attorneys and judges.
As lawyer Martin Holub told The Prague Post, "Amnesties, unless their aim is to grant mercy, are always unjust. This unfairness is felt by victims and society as a whole. I believe amnesties do sometimes have a place in a democratic society, but the main issue is that this one will further harm the already-damaged relationship between the public and the judiciary, and it will lead people not to respect the rule of law."
Klaus had a chance to right some of the wrongs of the past. By letting his former cronies off the hook, who have caused untold damage to the state and its citizens, he has failed.
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