Former president Havel endorses Greens ahead of general elections

Václav Havel and Ondřej Liška from the Green Party, photo:

Former Czech president Václav Havel has come out in support of the Green Party ahead of October’s early general election. He also backed the party before elections to the European Parliament in June in which the Greens did not win any seats. So, 20 years after he led the Velvet Revolution, does Mr Havel still have political influence? Does his endorsement actually count for much? That’s a question Radio Prague put to political analyst Petr Just, from Prague’s Metropolitan University.

“I don’t think that Mr Havel’s support or endorsement will have any major effect on the party, at least if count the percentage points that would help the Greens get over the five-percent threshold. So I wouldn’t say that his support would change this in any way as I don’t think that for example the endorsement by the current president, Václav Klaus, would affect public preferences of any new, right-wing party.”

What kind of voters can Mr Havel persuade to vote for the Greens?

“Václav Havel and the Green voters have actually a lot in common. They all emphasize the role of the civic society in public affairs; they also stress environmental and post-material issues. So Václav Havel is more or less identified as one of the Green voters, and he belongs to a group that typically votes for the Green Party. It’s young people, among others, who vote for the Greens and who might see Václav Havel a little bit differently than the older generations.”

Mr Havel has supported other parties in the past but none of them have been successful. Is it fair to say his backing is the kiss of death for political parties?

“Well, this is a label that’s very frequently used to describe Mr Havel’s support and endorsement, and it seems that he does choose parties that don’t have any long-term success and support. But it would still probably be just a simplification – maybe it’s attractive for the media and for the public to label it this way. But it’s true that the parties Mr Havel has endorsed before did not do very well from a long-term perspective.”

How is Mr Havel regarded by Czechs today, 20 years after the fall of communism?

“It has been mentioned quite frequently that Václav Havel enjoys much more acclaim abroad, in the US, in Western Europe and also in other central and eastern European countries that in his own country, the Czech Republic. His fate in this respect is probably similar to other leaders of the opposition movements and of the transition processes in the region. I think that for example Mr Walesa does not enjoy as much support in Poland as he does abroad; Mr Gorbachev in Russia is a similar example. So I think that Václav Havel is one of these people who had somehow big and important roles in the transition, they were seen as heroes. But as politics went to its standard settings, let’s say, these mostly intellectual leaders no longer had much support compared to the pragmatic politicians who assumed the leading roles and influence political life now.”