Ex-dissident Dienstbier could face Klaus in presidential elections

Jiri Dienstbier

Jiri Dienstbier has emerged as the latest "anti-Klaus" candidate for next year's presidential elections. The former dissident and first post-communist foreign minister of Czechoslovakia has just confirmed he is willing to stand. His backers, including some leading Social Democrats, would like to see the incumbent Vaclav Klaus replaced at all costs and hope Mr Dienstbier, aged 70, could unite opposition. Talking over the phone to Jiri Dienstbier, who is attending a conference in San Sebastian, I asked him what his motivation was to run for office.

Jiri Dienstbier
"I think that a change at the Castle is necessary and some people and some politicians proposed me to be a candidate, and therefore I am thinking about it. I agree with the necessity to replace President Klaus and to change the whole atmosphere at the Castle. President Klaus is against European integration, he is a conflicting person, and the Castle should be a place to try to introduce to the society a better political culture and open-mindedness and so."

If you run and if you are elected, what would be you your priorities as the president? Would you concentrate on foreign policy of the Czech Republic, for example?

"The president of course has competences in foreign policy. I think it is necessary to understand that we are Brussels and not that European integration is something that endangers our sovereignty and identity. We should actively participate in the process of European integration and not just be critics and enemies of it. But I think that even in the internal policy, it is necessary to give politicians a place where they could discuss issues in a friendlier atmosphere than they have in the parliament."

Would it be acceptable for you to receive the communist vote?

"This is a strange question. The winner needs 141 votes from members of both chambers of the parliament. It is therefore a question of mathematics and not a debate about political parties. You just need 141 votes."

Former president Havel said he wished someone who did not grow up under communism was elected this time. Do you think it is a disadvantage to have lived your adult life in communism?

"It is a very good idea for the future, but President Havel also knows, and even said so on television two weeks ago, that the problem is there are not enough people in the younger generation and there is a lot of people in the younger generation who were just educated as politicians in the atmosphere of the 1990s, so this generation is also touched by the past. Of course, there might be exceptions, but there are other limits. The candidate must be 40 years old and he or she must be well known in the society. It will take several years before real personalities from this generation are known to the public and accepted."