President accuses media of smear campaign

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

President Václav Klaus has hit back at critics of his New Year’s Day amnesty, giving public broadcaster Czech Television an exclusive statement in which he accused his political opponents and the media of orchestrating a smear campaign to discredit him towards the end of his second term in office.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
While President Klaus’ initial response to widespread criticism of the amnesty was fairly muted (expressing the hope that the public would see the correctness of his decision in time) he has now come out ‘guns blazing’. Coinciding with reports that hundreds of municipalities and schools had taken down his photo in protest of the scope of the amnesty (which could halt a number of major ongoing cases of economic crime and corruption, Mr Klaus hit back, charging in effect that the amnesty was not the issue at all but a pretext for a massive and underhanded smear campaign. Here’s what he had to say:

“The cheap, mendacious and absolutely one-sided campaign on the part of the media as well as some politicians over the amnesty is a continuation of something I know well. This is not a campaign against the amnesty per se, but a campaign against me, against the values I defend and represent and have pushed for during two decades in politics. [It] isn’t about the prisoners, about those found guilty or released, about major embezzlers or the victims of crimes. Its purpose is to attack me before I step down.”

Photo: CTK
Václav Klaus stressed that the public, in his view, had largely been manipulated by media reports, drawing a line between those who had been duped and members of the public who apparently saw things as they really stand.

“I have to say I’m not surprised a large part of the population allowed itself to be manipulated by such a massive campaign. At the same time, I value all the more those who resisted manipulation and used their heads. There are more and more of them all the time and I thank them for their courage and their stance.”

Although the president has vocal supporters among both politicians and public figures, there are others who think he not only made a serious mistake in declaring such a broad amnesty but also in his response to the widespread protests. Political analyst Jiří Pehe suggests that in Tuesday’s speech, the president largely overplayed his hand:

Jiří Pehe,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“I think that President Klaus is trying to repeat history, unfortunately as we all know the first time round it’s a tragedy and the second time it’s a farce. He is basically trying to use the ‘Sarajevo Syndrome’ he successfully used in 1997 when his government was toppled and then he blamed a large-scale conspiracy of the Castle and President Havel, the central bank and the small parties. He tried to cast himself as a victim and as a martyr.

“Now he is blaming the media and the public that was supposedly seduced; the problem is that there are no concrete culprits to blame. So I think he is desperately trying to fight back but this time around that it won’t help very much because it really strikes many people as a farce.”