Klaus bows out

Tue, Mar 5, 2013, 00:00

After 10 years at the helm of the Czech Republic as president, maverick right-winger and Europhobe, Vaclav Klaus, bows out in a blaze of controversy of his own making likely to severely tarnish a political legacy he holds most dear. It was perhaps too much to hope that such a divisive figure in European politics would depart in any other way.

In a parting gesture, the country’s upper house yesterday passed a largely symbolic Bill of impeachment against Klaus over his decision on January 1st to grant an amnesty to 6,000 prisoners and to halt prosecutions of a dozen high-profile corruption cases involving millions of euro in asset-stripping, bribes and fraud. The complaint, which also cites his allegedly unconstitutional obstruction of EU legislation, refers the president, who leaves office on Thursday, to the constitutional court.

The amnesty provoked outraged local mayors – some 600 so far – and school principals to remove once-popular Klaus’s portrait from their walls. Corruption, much associated with the freebooting capitalism of Klaus’s days as prime minister in the 1990s, is a polarising issue. One enterprising bus company is giving “corruption tours”; one stop is at the “location” of a non-existent house which 589 companies registered as their HQ.

Klaus, only too happy to be described as the “Thatcher of eastern Europe”, has made his reputation being against everything – most notably the “attack on democracy” that is the EU, “humanrightsism”, “NGO-ism” and “homosexualism”. He despises environmentalism and is the only head of state to advocate climate change denialism. He has compared the EU to the Soviet Union and almost single-handedly delayed the signing of the Lisbon Treaty.

He succeeded Vaclav Havel but made no bones about his contempt for the playwright, a renowned advocate of non-violence, he recently described bizarrely as a “Jacobin”. Yet in truth Klaus has fashioned his own image in Havel’s dissident mould, albeit of the right – imitation, the sincerest form of flattery.

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