BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Vaclav Klaus would have you think he was an anti-communist warrior. He would have you think he ran subversive seminars against the ideology. Nothing fills his ego more than overstating his role.
Klaus, the Czech Republic's disgraceful excuse for a president, regularly berates former dissidents, even those who were in jail. He says they were useless. He claims that it was people like him -- those who allowed themselves to be coerced and kept their heads down -- who brought about regime change. What utter rubbish.
Klaus recently had his revisionist history spun by several of his lapdogs to a naive young reporter from the International Herald Tribune (Nov. 24, 2008). In the article, "Abrasive Czech sows fear in EU," Dan Bilefsky writes: "In the 1980s, a Communist secret police agent infiltrated clandestine economics seminars hosted by Vaclav Klaus ... who had come under suspicion for extolling free market values." Bilefsky quotes Klaus's secret files as his source.
There is no request from Bilefsky at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the keeper of the files, to view Klaus's StB (Statni Bezpecnost) file. Bilefsky used an article in a Czech newspaper as his source. But even that he got wrong. One can expect a reporter -- even a young one -- to be less gullible. Journalism students are taught to use original sources. Bilefsky's article is lazy and disgraceful investigative journalism.
There was nothing clandestine or subversive about Klaus's seminars. Klaus was a clerk at the hugely official State Bank of Czechoslovakia from 1971 to 1986. He regularly attended economic conferences abroad, a status reserved for people who could be trusted to toe the party line. Klaus's seminars ran openly, at least from 1984 to 1989, and were attended by up to 200 people. They hardly needed to be "infiltrated."
What Vaclav Klaus did best during communism was to keep his head low and connive after his convenience. He occasionally attended Rita Klimova's economics seminar. Many dissidents say he attended as an alibi. Klimova, a great hero of the underground movement, was the first post-communist Czech ambassador to the United States. She died much too young of cancer.
Klaus never hosted an underground seminar. He certainly was not extolling free-market ideas at clandestine seminars monitored by the secret police. Most of the underground movement is still convinced Klaus was a toady -- and, even worse, an informer. Many of the former dissidents are convinced he reported to the KGB. A former dissident says at least one former KGB agent -- who was debriefed after the fall of communism -- says Klaus was compromised.
How this narcissistic and arrogant man returned from purgatory after being ousted from Czech politics is regrettably a result of the political incompetence of the Social Democratic Party and the Czech political elite in the late 1990s.
Klaus had been involved in a messy public scandal about bribes and campaign financing during his term as prime minister. He had already been toppled in 1998 as prime minister but had managed to finagle the role of speaker of Parliament in a coalition government. The Social Democrats, CSSD, controlled the prime ministership, and Klaus left politics after being defeated by Vladimir Spidla. Spidla is now the European commissioner for social affairs and a remarkably honest man.
Disagreement among the leadership of the CSSD, and the political shenanigans of former Social Democrat Prime Minister Milos Zeman and then up-and-comer Stanislas Gross, split the party. This split gave Klaus the opening he needed. He returned to public life, and by courting the Communist Party and promising them positions, he was able to win the presidency in 2003 after a series of messy votes in Parliament.
The precursor to Klaus's return was President Vaclav Havel not finding a viable candidate to replace him. Havel, a truly great man and hero of the Cold War, despises political gamesmanship. He is unfortunately the man who gave Klaus his start in politics by making him finance minister in the first government after the fall of communism. Havel soon realized it was a mistake. But a spore-like Klaus would take advantage of Havel's good soul and manipulate people into supporting him. Think of Cinderella and her evil stepsisters, with Klaus starring as the latter.
Klaus employs a lair of slimebags whose sole job is to try to discredit anyone who would reveal his true past. It is a well-oiled propaganda machine that takes its cue from the playbook of the StB. I look forward to the blog site that will be set up to denigrate me -- again, ho hum -- after the appearance of this article. The rabid comments again will bring many new readers to my column.
It isn't just that Klaus advocates public policy prescriptions designed on -- well, Pluto. He is the primary reason the communists still have political cover in the Czech Republic. Klaus courts former corrupt apparatchiks who have moved into business.
Klaus announced his list of presidential legal advisers one month after his first election in 2003. The list is dominated by former members of the Communist Party; at least two, Karel Muzikar and Dusan Triska, were agents of the communist secret police. Both run around the Czech Republic bamboozling foreigners as to their democratic credentials. Muzikar runs the highly dubious Comenius, which provides a home for former communist scum and duped foreigners. Triska is quoted as one of Bilefsky's sources. Gee, wonder why Bilefsky's article is so twisted?
Klaus uses every opportunity to attack the opposition about their ties to communism while using every possibility to suck up to and support the same people he pretends to condemn. Klaus also delights in simply being an ass. He has regularly attempted to destabilize the conservative government of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek -- the leader of the party he founded. Why? Quite simply, Klaus is a megalomaniac. In his desperate need for attention, he behaves like a child who regularly throws temper tantrums.
In the most recent presidential elections Klaus barely won re-election. Opinion polls showed him finally losing ground in public sympathy to candidate Jan Svejnar -- a true free-market economist. But a series of back-deal maneuverings, offers of payment and courting -- yes, again -- the Communist Party sealed his victory.
Klaus is now president until 2013.
Even cholera would be better for the Czech Republic.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He has advised political candidates and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council. He was close to the anti-communist underground during the Cold War.)