President Václav Klaus makes his exit

Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

President Vaclav Klaus ends his second and final term in office on Thursday. His last hours as head of state have been tainted by the treason charges pressed against him and public displays of ridicule and hostility from those who can’t wait to see him go. Despite this bitter end to his political career the president had a defiant air as he undertook his last work engagements on Wednesday.

Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
President Vaclav Klaus held his head high as he walked into the Office of the Government on Wednesday for his final meeting with the Nečas cabinet. True to form, the besieged president gave no indication of how badly his ego had been bruised by the treason charges, instead taking a parting shot at the centre-right government. He told its members and the media that of all the cabinets he had appointed to office he had invested the highest hopes in this one and was sadly disappointed by the fact that it had failed for make full use of its potential.

When Prime Minister Petr Nečas made an effort to defend his cabinet, pointing out its achievements in pushing through key reforms, the president looked unconvinced and the microphones caught his whispered remark “strong words”. The finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, returned the jibe minutes later with a sarcastic “it sometimes happens that mutual expectations are dashed”.

Petr Nečas,  Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
The prime minister, who recently slammed the treason charges against the president as the sorriest move he had seen in two decades in politics, was clearly ill at ease as he wished the controversial Czech head of state all the best and thanked him for past cooperation. Mr. Nečas has not seen much support from the president since taking office and has now come under fire for co-signing the controversial amnesty that, among others, sparked the treason charges against Mr. Klaus.

In the afternoon Vaclav Klaus headed for the Tugendhat villa in Brno for a final meeting with Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič at which the heads of state exchanged their countries’ highest state distinctions as a mark of merit for their contribution to their countries’ good-neighborly relations. They walked past a group of opponents ostensibly standing with their backs to the villa, some of them wearing clown’s noses as they exchanged nonsensical awards. Journalists noted the air of defiance on the part of the two heads of state; the Czech president facing treason charges, his Slovak counterpart having narrowly avoided them two months ago, likewise for allegedly having violated the constitution.

The ceremony lasted only a few minutes, and the Czech and Slovak presidents retired for one-on-one talks behind closed doors. They were meeting at the very same villa where in 1992 Václav Klaus as prime minister and his Slovak counterpart Vladimír Mečiar signed the treaty on the break-up of Czechoslovakia.

Václav Klaus,  Ivan Gašparovič,  photo: CTK
On Wednesday evening the Czech president was back in Prague giving Czech public television a live, hour-long interview looking back on the ups and downs of his ten years as president. If anyone expected self-criticism they were disappointed. Mr. Klaus defended his decisions in office saying that the treason charges against him were an attempt to blacken his reputation by those who are afraid of his future role in public life. Václav Klaus had a simple message for them: he is not planning to retire any time soon.