President Havel calls on people to think twice before casting ballot

President Vaclav Havel, photo CTK

In his traditional New Year's speech, president Vaclav Havel tackled several issues facing Czech society. He did not miss the chance to hit out at his political opponents and urged people to think twice before deciding who they would give their vote to in the upcoming elections. Alena Skodova has the details:

President Vaclav Havel, photo CTK
The president said this year was likely to be a watershed, not only because Czechs would have four different elections, but because those elections will decide very important issues. Mr. Havel noted that the Czech Republic was standing at a crossroads, and only the upcoming elections would show what direction the Czech nation would take. If the elections do not turn out well, the same infamous people, in whose hands economic, political and media powers are concentrated, will have a decisive say in the most essential problems the Czech Republic is facing, he said. Mr. Havel even called those politicians "modern enforcers of normalization" - the word 'normalization' being frequently used in the past by communist hard-liners. Those people's main objective is to pull all the strings. On the other hand, if such politicians don't get enough votes, Czech society will open up and enable everybody to influence its fate on various levels, said Mr. Havel.

The president spoke at length on the Czech Republic's bid to enter the European Union as soon as possible, and voiced his full support for this idea. He expressed the hope that the accession agreement will be prepared - and maybe even signed - this year.

"For the first time in history we'll become a firm part of a solidary, democratic European alliance, which will - in some cases very quickly - be reflected in a number of practical advantages. Above all it will be very significant from the historical point of view."

The president also mentioned the terrorist attacks on the United States and reminded people that not only were they Czech citizens but also inhabitants of this planet, which is a common home for all.

But it seemed that those who the president had in mind when talking about the concentration of power, turned a deaf ear to him. The Social Democrat Prime Minister Milos Zeman and the head of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, Vaclav Klaus - two long-term rivals, now bound together by a power-sharing pact - took part in a live discussion on TV Nova an hour before Mr. Havel's address to the nation. The two men said that what they called 'political cowards' who want to acquire power without winning it in elections were threatening the country. In the evening, both only had words of criticism for President Havel's speech. Vaclav Klaus told TV Prima that when mentioning politicians, the president should not have used the word 'they' because he himself was part of the Czech political scene.