Vaclav Havel

Pehe: Havel’s heritage shrinks into clichés

in Czech News

Three years after Havel’s death, his adviser looks back

Prague, Dec 18 (ČTK) — The political activities of former president Václav Havel have shrunk into a few exalting or critical clichés at home, political analyst Jiří Pehe writes in his essay “Havel’s legacy in home politics” in daily Právotoday, on the third anniversary of Havel’s death.

This situation has more to do with the state and orientation of current Czech politics rather than with Havel himself, he writes.

Pehe says the view of Havel will definitely change after some time when he will not be assessed by a generation of people who connected him with their own, often unrealistic, expectations of the development after the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime in 1989.

In home politics, the most common clichés are Havel’s alleged fancy for non-political politics, his alleged excessive backstage intriguing in support of his favorites or against those he did not like, Pehe writes.

Unfortunately, Havel’s real failures are seldom analyzed and even if they are, the critics usually do not interpret the steps of the dissident turned into president in their contexts. Being a “revolution” president, Havel’s real influence, whether he liked it or not and especially in the first years of his presidency, was much bigger than his officially defined powers, Pehe writes.

Both Havel’s opponents and supporters therefore often projected all that they would like to have (not) done into him. For example, Havel should have pushed through a ban on the communist party. Or, he should not have allowed communist Marián Čalfa and economist Václav Klaus to occupy the highest political posts, Pehe writes.

Čalfa was Czechoslovak prime minister in 1989–92, Klaus was Czech prime minister from 1992 until 1998.

People also claim that Havel should have stopped Klaus and his people or at least correct some of their less successful economic reforms in the early 1990s. But most critics do not ask whether it was possible or desirable, Pehe writes.

If Havel had tried to do such a thing and if he had succeeded in the clash with the emerging parties, he would have been criticized for excessive interfering in party politics, Pehe adds.

When Havel stopped being loyal to Klaus’s second government after a series of scandals and sharply criticized it in a public speech in 1997, he was accused of intriguing and inappropriate meddling in government politics, although he used true arguments, Pehe writes.

Like everybody in Czechoslovakia, Havel was learning how to do standard democratic politics step by step. Having lived in the intellectual dissident ghetto for many years, he acquired some stances that were useful in his criticism of the former communist regime but not always appropriate in everyday political life and opponents dismissed them as pointless moralizing, Pehe says.

However, Havel did not promote non-political politics and oppose the system of political parties after 1989. He accepted political parties as an integral part of functioning democracy, same as he changed some of is opinions on foreign policy and international security, Pehe writes.

He says Havel was right when he criticized Czech parties for their isolation, contempt for civic society and favoritism tendencies, which led to mafia capitalism.

In Czech home politics, only two failures seem to be really connected with Havel, one concerning Slovakia and the other respect for the constitution, Pehe writes.

Havel failed to understand the developments in Slovakia soon enough due to his rather Prague-centered perspective as well as contacts and friendly relations with Slovak dissidents who mostly supported the Czechoslovak federal state. As a result, then Czech and Slovak prime ministers, Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, took control of the developments in the final stage of the disintegration of Czechoslovakia in 1992, Pehe writes.

Also due to his enormous influence of the president and founder of a democratic state, Havel did not always respect the spirit of the Czech constitution. Among others, he informally authorized a politician to form a government before officially appointing a new prime minister, Pehe writes.

After Klaus’s coalition government fell in December 1997, Havel did not name Klaus, who then headed the strongest Civic Democrats (ODS), prime minister again, although this would have been the standard procedure. Havel was concerned about Klaus’s possible inability to form a government after the ODS split, yet it may seem that he omitted Klaus in order to appoint a caretaker cabinet comprising his favorites, Pehe says.

The most problematic part of Havel’s legacy appears to be his support for a 1998 agreement of political parties, according to which an early general election was organized based on a one-off constitutional amendment on the dissolution of the lower house of parliament, Pehe writes.

He says this trick that interpreted the constitution in a controversial way was a precedent for his successors, Klaus and Miloš Zeman. Havel’s later efforts to use the Constitutional Court for a correct interpretation of the constitution were much more productive, he writes.

In general, Havel’s performance in home politics was rather good, which can be seen well in comparison to his successors, Klaus and Zeman, who acted or still act in far less common ways, even though the political situation is getting more common, Pehe writes.

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