Behind every great man... - a profile of the two potential first ladies

Katherine Terrell-Švejnar and Livia Klausová, photo: CTK

We’ve heard a lot over the last couple of days about the presidential candidates Jan Svejnar and Vaclav Klaus, but you know what they say - behind every great man, there’s a great woman. Here is a profile of the lives and achievements of the Czech Republic’s two current candidates for the first-lady post.

Livia Klausová was born in Bratislava in 1943, the daughter of a lawyer and a teacher. She met current president Vaclav Klaus while at university, when the two studied together at the Prague School of Economics in the 1960s. The couple married in 1968, with their wedding photos showing what the New York Times describes as ‘the bride in a short, hip, Carnaby Street A-line dress and Klaus with black hair and a beard’. Like Vaclav Klaus, Livia duly went on to establish herself as a respected economist, sitting on the boards of companies like the Czech energy-giant ČEZ, and the bank Česká Spořitelna. When asked during Vaclav Klaus’s first term in office whether her high-ranking positions in several large Czech firms didn’t constitute a conflict of interests with her husband’s job, Livia responded with her usual acerbic-ness “As soon as some law defines this as being a conflict of interests, I’ll step down from these positions… or divorce Klaus.” When her marriage to the president did seem to be on the rocks - with pictures of Vaclav Klaus with a blond air-hostess hitting the tabloids in 2004 - Mrs. Klausová remained unfazed by the media circus which ensued. When asked what she was going to do now, she replied that the allegations had had no effect whatsoever on her afternoon, and she was going to take her grandchildren to the cinema. Mrs Klausová is apparently a very good dancer, with an avid interest in ballet, she also enjoys interior design, and is said to have done much to restore Prague Castle to its traditional splendour during her time in the building. Livia Klausová rarely refers to her husband by his first name. Her pet name for the president is ‘Klaus’, which she uses even when talking to journalists.

Katherine Terrell-Švejnar,  photo: CTK
Livia Klausová’s rival for the first-lady post, Katherine Terrell-Švejnar, only adopted her husband’s surname five years after they got married. She did so upon first visiting what was then Czechoslovakia back in 1984, so that if something bad happened to either Jan or her, she said, the authorities would believe they were married. Like Mrs. Klausová, Mrs. Švejnar is an economist, who still publishes under her maiden name, Katherine Terrell. She met Jan Švejnar in 1976, when he was a junior positioned in the office beside her at the World Bank. She insists that Mr. Švejnar is the better economist, but that she knows how to order and present her ideas better than him. She currently works alongside her husband at the University of Michigan's Ross Business School, though she says the school is happy for the pair to take sabbatical leave, should Mr Švejnar become president. If politicians do vote for Jan Švejnar on Friday, then Katherine will become the second American in history to make the move into Prague Castle. She'd be in illustrious company – the first was the wife of the 'founder of the Czechoslovak nation', Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk, a Brooklyn girl born and bred. Unlike Tomas Masaryk's wife, however, Katherine Švejnar does not speak Czech. But she says this is a project she is working on, and that she is used to learning languages. She regards Spanish as something of a second mother tongue, having been raised in Cuba and San Salvador, the daughter of an American diplomat. When Mrs. Švejnar originally met her husband, she was dating a Chilean socialist, and so she said it took a while for love to blossom between her and the presidential hopeful. She also speaks fluent French.