President gives optimistic New Year’s speech, which critics call bland

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

President Vaclav Klaus made his fifth New Year’s speech on Tuesday - the last of his term in office. The president, who is seeking re-election next month, reflected upon his first term, as well as the Czech Republic’s recent history, and current economic success. Political analysts reacted to Mr Klaus’s speech by calling it cautious, crueller tongues called it bland.

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
President Klaus started the fifth and final New Year’s address of his presidency by wishing Czechs a pleasant 2008. The new year, he says, offers people not only the chance to rest, but also to reflect. And in his speech, this is exactly what President Klaus did, both upon his own term as president, and the Czech nation’s past.

As fate would have it, said Mr Klaus, some of the most important events in Czech history have taken place in years ending in the number 8:

“1918 is a year that we like to remember, because this is when our own independent state was founded - while 1938 is a year we like to forget, as it marked the end of our unity, of our First Republic, and signalled the start of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.”

In his speech, President Klaus remembered the Communist coup of 1948, and warned Czechs not to demonise, nor romanticise, the four decades of communism which ensued:

“To fight yesterday’s battles is an easy thing to do, and a cowardly thing to do. It is equally unacceptable to think back nostalgically to the so-called equality we enjoyed in the powerlessness and oppression of the past.”

Onto the present - and Vaclav Klaus’s message to Czechs was that they had never had it so good:

“Despite a number of social problems which are clearly visible, and which we all perceive and feel - today we are experiencing, quite possibly, the best period our country has ever known.”

Mr Klaus praised the country’s healthy economy, but said there were a few clouds on the horizon, namely the rising costs of energy and food.

Political analysts said that the president was treading carefully with his speech. Ahead of next month’s presidential elections - in which Mr Klaus will be up against rival Jan Švejnar for the post – the current president didn’t want to say anything which might alienate those MPs on whose votes he depends.

But some politicians were disappointed with Mr Klaus’s speech nonetheless. Jiří Paroubek, head of the Social Democrats, called the speech offensively bland. The Greens and the Communists also found it lacking in content.

Mr Klaus didn’t make any direct reference to the upcoming elections in his speech, but left listeners in no doubt as to his hopes of winning a second term:

“When I look back on these last five years - they weren’t easy, but on the whole, they have been successful. And all predictions point to the years ahead being at least as successful, if not even more so. I’m optimistic about this, and give you my assurance that I will do everything in my power to make it so.”