President Klaus shuns official EU celebrations
The Czech Republic's entry to the European Union on May 1st is a historic occasion and, as in the other nine "newcomer" countries, preparations for the big day are in full swing. Many border villages are draped in festive garb for the occasion in preparation of a day of food, drink and merrymaking with friends from across the border. Shops are sold out of EU flags and many schools have dropped regular lessons in favour of an "EU day" of knowledge quizzes, food bakes and competitions. Friday will bring open air parties across the country and on the eve of the country's accession to the EU leading Czech politicians will gather in the National Theatre in Prague for a gala concert celebrating the country's EU entry. In the face of this merrymaking, President Vaclav Klaus, widely seen as a Euro-sceptic, is keeping a low profile.
While the country's leading politicians and the former president Vaclav Havel are donning their best suits for Friday night's gala concert at the National Theatre, president Klaus will be attending the launch of his latest book "Europe through the eyes of a politician and economist". The book is a collection of unpublished essays reflecting the President's anti-federalist position and it is no coincidence that it will see the light of day on the eve of the country's accession to the EU.
This is not to say that President Klaus is ignoring the occasion entirely. He has made use of his privilege to mark it on home ground -in a stately and reserved manner, having invited the Prime Minister and other top officials to a small gathering at Prague Castle on Friday evening. It is from there that the President and Prime Minister are to make a short speech for the country's public television network. There will be a toast and then their paths divide - while the country's politicians head for the National Theatre which will host the cream of Czech society, President Klaus will head for the Old Town Square to shake hands with ordinary people. And, then - in what is being interpreted by many as a warning - he will undertake a nocturnal climb of Blanik Hill. This climb is a popular annual event on Walpurgis Night, but never before has it been attended by the head of state. Moreover, Blanik Hill is linked to one of the best known Czech legends according to which there is an army of brave warriors sleeping in the mountain who will rise to defend the Czech nation when it is in dire need. The symbolism of the president's climb has left many Czechs chuckling - could it be that he plans to wake them up?