>Czech Presidency: Dienstbier to enter the fray?


And as if by magic – or possibly journalistic legerdemain – Lidové noviny (9 July) reports that ex-dissident and ex-Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Jiří Dienstbier is about to enter the fray. He first flew a kite about a possible presidential candidacy in March and apparently had talks with Social Democrat leader and ex-PM Jiří Paroubek in May about getting the main opposition party’s backing. Dienstbier easily ticks all the boxes in terms of gravitas, party political independence/inoffensiveness, social market and pro-European credentials to be a credible candidate – he has since been Czech ambassador-at-large and personal representative of President Havel to UN and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia.
Somehow, however I can’t raise much enthusiasm about the prospect of a President Dienstbier. It would hardly represent much of a generational change: another president from the narrow group of largely male, Pragocentric dissident and technocratic counter-elites that emerged in the 1970s in the wake of the collapse of the Prague Spring. The one time I saw Dienstbier speak, at the launch of his memoirs in Prague in 1999 in the café-bar of a bookshop in Prague, he seemed less than statesmanlike, giving as I remember it, a rambling and blustering condemnation of (then imminent) NATO intervention in Kosovo. True, the memoirs themselves were sober and factual to the point of dullness and his scepticism about intervention and US-dominated coalitions has been amply justified elsewhere. Frankly, I think I just prefer my politicians sharp suited, sharp tongued, combative and professional in the Václav Klaus or George Galloway mould and – at least we are talking about a figurehead role like that of the Czech President – some slightly bonkers views seem only to add political spice.

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