Vaclav Klaus celebrates his 60th birthday

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Chairman of the Lower House of Parliament and chairman of the Civic Democratic Party, Vaclav Klaus is 60 years old. Celebrations of the event received more media coverage than any similar event in the Czech Republic. Top politicians, the most famous stars in the world of show business all gathered to wish him happy birthday. Why is there such a fuss over the birthday of a politician whose party did not even manage to succeed in the last elections and whose post Communist economic reforms are criticized by many experts. Olga Szantova asked two prominent Czech political commentators.

This is how Jiri Pehe sees the reasons behind the mass celebrations:

"Well, I think that there are two reasons. First, Mr. Klaus is, without any question, the most important party politician in this country in the last ten years. He is also a politician who has been in very high positions ever since the Communist regime collapsed in 1989, so there are some reasons to celebrate.

"But the second reason is also that Mr. Klaus has in the last three years, at least, surrounded himself with people who are really not able to be critical or to voice any kind of their own opinion. There is a degree of devotion that goes a bit beyond of what I would call tasteful."

Radio Free Europe's Assistant to the Director of Broadcasting Jefim Fistejn has a somewhat different explanation for the huge celebrations of Vaclav Klaus's 60th birthday.

"Probably because of the special impact he had on the whole political life of this country. He is a well educated man, with a touch of nobless, with the special fairness of a sportsman. Of course there is a sea of decent, gentle, sweet politicians. But they are week and capricious. And in a time of transition and in a very delicate geographic situation such a small country as the Czech Republic needs probably more a strong, self confident politician."

So, what has been the role of Mr. Klaus in Czech developments over the past 11 years in Jiri Pehe's opinion?

"Well, I think that Mr. Klaus was a very important element, a very important factor in introducing market orientated reforms. He, in the beginning, was right in promoting the creation of standard political parties and many of his liberal ideas were right. And he has earned his place in history as the chief reformer in this country at the beginning of the 90s.

"But, unfortunately, he very quickly decided that he would much rather stay in power than really go ahead with completing these reforms and roughly around 1992 - 1993 he started making concessions to all kinds of groups and powerful lobbies that in the end totally stopped his reform process. My personal opinion is that roughly since 1994, Mr. Klaus has not contributed anything to reform changes in this country and his main preoccupation is staying in power."

A view certainly not shared by Jefim Fistejn:

"He managed to organize the process of transformation from communism to capitalism, to the free market, in a very extremely good way. The indisputable effect is that the Czech Republic was and remains probably the only country in transition, where no single generation was consciously victimized by this transformation.

"The low unemployment never produced a no-future youth or a no-future elderly people, no no-perspective elderly people and at the same time the low inflation, probably three times lower than in Hungary and ten times lower than in Poland never produced a new pool deprived of their whole life savings. That's why there were no social movements, no protests, no general strikes, and so on. And that is actually the merit of Vaclav Klaus."

Two different views, each of them backed by many in the Czech Republic. Whatever people's views of the chairman of the Lower House of Parliament, he certainly is a very important personality on the Czech political scene, a personality that doesn't leave anybody indifferent.

Author: Olga Szantová
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