Vaclav Klaus - Civic Democrat presidential candidate
Outside the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus is probably best known as the spiritual father of the country's post-communist economic transformation. Since 1989 Vaclav Klaus has held the posts of finance minister in the Czechoslovak government, prime minister of the Czech Republic's cabinet and chairman of the lower house of the Czech parliament. In 1991 Vaclav Klaus became a co-founder of the Civic Democratic Party, remaining chairman of the party until December 2002, when he stepped down. He was subsequently elected the party's honorary chairman. On Friday, Vaclav Klaus will - for the third time in six weeks - stand for the post of president of the Czech Republic, as parliament meets, once again, to choose a successor to Vaclav Havel. When I spoke to Mr Klaus, I asked him first of all to define his idea of modern Czech statehood.
"First, I will prepare a speech for the third vote which will touch on these issues, but on the other hand I don't think there is anything like 'the idea' of a country, of a state, of a republic. I don't think that this is the question of philosophical discourses and sophisticated essays which we are definitely able to put down. I would be much more down to earth, and I will talk about life in the country. I think that the idea of the country is more in deeds than in words, and I think it's a wrong intellectual - or quasi-intellectual - tradition in this country to talk about it in Prague's downtown cafes, because it seems to me that it's the other way round."
How do you define the role of the president? I'm asking you because for the last ten or thirteen years the role was defined by the personality of Mr Havel.
"Well, he was a very special personality and it was a very special moment. I hope we return to a normal presidency which is not the result of a revolution or a total systemic change of a country. So in this respect the follower of Vaclav Havel will definitely be a normal president, whatever this adjective means. Again, I said down to earth - in this respect we have to put the president among normal people, not to keep him so untouchable somewhere in the beautiful Prague Castle. So in this respect one of my ambitions would definitely be to return the presidency more to the citizenry."
Do you think that the president should necessarily be apolitical?
"Well, I would fully disagree with the idea that Vaclav Havel was apolitical, or unpolitical or anti-political. He was very political, he was extremely active politically, he was politically extremely shrewd, extremely skilful and he was heavily involved in domestic politics. In addition to that, he was extremely successful in pretending that he's not involved, which is an even bigger achievement. I think it's an advantage for a politician to come with a visible political background, with visible political baggage, because it's just the mystification of people to pretend that the president could be an unwritten page, an unwritten piece of paper, an untouched piece of paper, and that he just starts to be a politician the moment he enters presidential office. I think that a visible political background is an asset, not a liability, in this respect. And, especially, the visible political connotation or relationship with one or another political grouping is an important defence against the president's potential involvement in politics, because his behaviour is much more controlled and he has zero chance of doing any favours for his old friends and colleagues."
Do you think that the communication between the president, the government, the parliament and the general public needs to be improved?
"I think the president should probably be more open vis-a-vis the government, the parliament, the media and the people. As I said, the president must be among the people, not somewhere out of contact with normal citizens of the country. Last week I went skiing to the Krkonose mountains and I was asked whether I planned to come back again after February 28 and I said, well, if I'm not elected, I will definitely be here. If elected, well, I can imagine being here on Saturday and Sunday as well. So, it's a joke, but at the same time it means that as president I would consider it quite normal to go skiing and to wait in a queue in Pec pod Snezkou. I think that is a necessity."
If elected, to which country will you make your first foreign trip and why?
"Well, I don't like the symbolism of the first trip abroad. It seems to me that it should be a neighbour country because I consider our four neighbours as the genuine neighbourhood for us which we cannot change. It has been here all the time and it will be in the future. So I don't think it would be appropriate to go to some other country than to one of the four neighbours."
And finally, if you do not become president, what are your plans? Is an academic career an option? You must have so many offers from various institutions...
"Well, again, this is a question which should be asked two weeks from now. But I am a member of the parliament, I may think about the European Parliament next year, I am the chairman of a foundation called the Centre for Economics and Politics which I founded and I devote a lot of my time to it. I have promised so many lectures and speeches and participation in conferences all over the world for the rest of this year that I cannot imagine how to fulfil all of my obligations and my promises. There is a very nice colloquium in the middle of March in Palermo, Sicily. Being president I would be very sorry not to be able to go there and to discuss the duality of Italy and the duality of Europe and the homogeneity of a country and the possibility of uniting it under one umbrella, which is a very relevant European issue. So, I really have so many plans that I will definitely not just be sitting here and dreaming about some other worlds."