>Anti-communism, 1989 and Iraq – Václav Klaus in 2003

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Czech President Václav Klaus’s website offers a rich assortment of Czech right-wing positions, some idiosyncratic to Klaus, some more standard, which mixes propaganda, polemic and just occasionally some rather interesting ideas. Unlike the finally crafted prose of his predecessor, Klaus’s essay havea rather hasty, over wordy blog-like quality to them. I have been reading some of Klaus’s writings from 2003, his first year in office.

In the wake of his election as Czech President with the support of Communist deputies, Klaus (LN 26 April 2003) characterized his views not as anti-communist but as ‘non-communist’ – critical of and removed from communist ideologies or parties (whose definition did not interest him) – but not Anti-communism in his view was characterized by an inclination towards authoritarian social engineering and violently imposed change and a desire to re-educate others close to those of the Communists themselves and lacked a positive vision for the future and was an ideology of resentment and jealousy towards those better off than oneself. In conclusion he argues that Czech ‘should carefully study’ the institutional and cultural (psychological) legacies of communism and conceded (contra much centrist liberal Czech anti-communist discourse) that the Czech Communists today would ‘probably not’ introduce a one party system or demand nationalization merely implement dirigiste and etatistic policies like those – he claimed of the Social Democrats. Leaving aside the blurring of the Communists and Social Democrats, some sensible and realistic assessments, but a long way from the Klaus of 1990-1, who rode the tiger of populist anti-communism so well, before now rudely giving its tail a pull and getting off.

In speech for the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (MfD 15 November 2003) Klaus expressed disagreement with the dissident view that ordinary people had collaborated with the totalitarian regime by not protesting or forming opposition groups. There was, he said, ‘resistance, inefficiency, substitute individual activities, the atomisation of society, mere passive existence (žití)’ but it was ordinary people who ‘created the prerequisites’ for 17 November 1989. The experience of communism he argued would be ‘our contribution (vklad)’ to the EU, which lacked such direct experience of such things and so had weaker defence mechanisms against socialist ‘constructivism’ – presumably those embodied in EU integration, although this was left unstated. Here the Czech President indulges very mildly in a familiar form of Czech messianism, more charcteristic of ex-dissidents like Havel or Petr Pithart, albeit with his own faintly populist twist. The little people of normalization new better than the dissident elite that came to lead them.

2003 is also of course the year of intervention in Iraq. Here, Klaus’s well known objections partly reflect his view of rights as culturally embedded in certain civilizations (clash of civilizations, without the clash, as it were) and hence a scepticism of the exportability of liberal democratic institutions, especially when imposed from by force. He is also worried but also a sense that the neo-con project opened up a rolling programme of military intervention and thinks other mechanisms such as effective anti-terrorist strategies will be more effective than starting massive preventative wars (MfD 25 March 2005). He also expressed satisfaction that (for once) as head of state he was expressing the majority view of Czech society.

A later review of an essay on the’ democratic globalism’ advocated by neo-con foreign policy writer Charles Krauthammer shows a more ambivalent attitude, however. Klaus agrees with the neo-con dismissal of a world of international organizations, the concept of the international community or global civil society as an organizing principle and is happy to affirm a world of sovereign national interests. He also endorse Krauthammer’s argument that neither pragmatic brute realism or Clinton-esque ‘humanitarian intervention’ (as caricatured by Krauthammer) are well founded policies. He objects to neo-con notions of the US as having special ‘extended interests and the right to shape world order – in effect to make choices for others (Newsletter CEPu 5/2004) and the messianistic notion of the US standing as the only guarantor of civilization against barabarism in a world overrun with terrorists, terrorist states and WMDs http://www.vaclavklaus.cz/klaus2/asp/clanek.asp?id=cKo20mHTmKnD

Here one wants to ask what kind of world the Czech President actually wants – he dislikes Krauthammer’s notion of the US as an unchained Gulliver, but wants the rights of small nations to be respected in the absence of the ties and chains of treaties and strong international organizations. Perhaps one should read it as an appeal for a sensible unchained Gulliver.

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