He Who Isn't With Me Is Against Me

The Prague Pride controversy shows that Václav Klaus is adding to his list of enemies

Prague Castle has become a hub of activism again. The list of the president's enemies who can be insulted publicly has been exhausted, so new enemies have to be added to the list -- homosexuals and the foreign embassies in Prague who defend them. So we witness yet another attack on Czech society's open-minded nature and on the reputation of this country abroad.

Welcome to the fan club
Václav Klaus is a good strategist. While the talk in the media is often of "truth-loving" [pravdoláskař is a neologism derived from the Czech words for "truth" (pravda) and "love" (láska)], who are supposed to be supporters of Václav Havel, there's no debate about "Klaus-loving". In fact, the opposite is true. Havel doesn't try to array people around him, nor does he challenge people to take his side. In fact, by criticizing Czech society, he voluntarily lowers the number of his potential fans.

Václav Klaus has two political parties that regard him as their ideological leader -- the Strana svobodných občanů (Party of Free Citizens) and Suverenita (Sovereignty). Věci veřejné (Public Affairs), a member of the ruling coalition, does too. There are five internet news sites based on the tenets of Klaus's ideology, among them První zprávy (First News) and Fragmenty (Fragments). He also has a select group of journalists who are "appointed" to talk to him. The D.O.S.T. ("Enough") group, one of the darkest political forces ever to emerge in this country, is centered on him. Despite its members openly holding anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic views and showing a threatening animosity toward sexual minorities, the president has never said, "I don't want to have anything to do with people who adore me as their ideological leader because their views are unacceptable."

To enter Klaus's "fan club" is quite easy: praise me, don't challenge me and you can basically do whatever you want. While Havel always moralized and thus discouraged people from following him, Klaus considers morality an anachronism. He would like to see himself as an opponent of political correctness. But, in fact, he is an opponent of good manners. This is exceptionally attractive for the forces on the edge of society. This explains why Prague Castle receives thank-you letters signed by local neo-Nazis. What's more, the Castle thanks them, in turn, for their good wishes.

The president lives in a world in which anything that is against him is a danger. Is Jiří Gruša criticizing me? Then he isn't a real Czech. Is Karel Schwarzenberg challenging me? Well, he's more of an Austrian than a Czech. If I wasn't elected president, we wouldn't continue to develop as a democracy. Am I unwelcome in the European Union because I permanently criticize it? Russia is a better partner anyway. The media doesn't praise me? I won't talk to them. Civil society? The biggest risk for democracy. Environmentalists? Worse than Al-Qaeda.

Dark side
Václav Klaus likes to claim he is the last guardian of freedom in Europe and a number of people abroad believe him. But his deeds don't match his words. A free society doesn't mean one in which anybody can say anything. A free society means that the weakest and the most vulnerable don't feel marginalized. In other words, how we treat each other is important. Klaus knows he can't openly say whatever he wants. He would lose the image of a cultivated statesman he has been working so hard on building. But, at the same time, he knows there is a certain political potential which he could harness by appealing to the darkest side of society. That's why he is forming a political movement around himself which vilifies migrants, intellectuals, returning exiles, the Roma people and homosexuals. And that is why he launched the wave of hatred and controversy against Prague Pride that took place in the city last weekend.

Regarding the above-mentioned condition for entering and staying in Klaus's "fan club," it is clear that whatever presidential aide Petr Hájek says publicly will never be disputed by the president. Therefore the Office of the President's statement is this: Prague is holding a dangerous event organized by deviants. (In the Czech media, this word used to be used in headlines such as "Two Deviants Escape" and "How to Protect Children from Deviants".)

The Office of the President then said: "The homosexuals' parade is a form of coercion and is far from being innocent fun. It is a serious political demonstration of a worldview encompassing certain values. Among those the traditional family plays no role and deep national traditions and cultural roots are being gnawed upon by a monster called multiculturalism." In the light of Breivik's attacks in Norway, it is highly inappropriate to use this rhetoric. Western policymakers are very careful about strong statements that could trigger hatred. This doesn't mean multiculturalism can't be criticized or that there shouldn't be a debate about values, etc. That isn't what Klaus has in mind. He fails to demonstrate conservative ideas and all we see is a primitive attack, pointing out yet another enemy to be vilified.

No criticism
Czechs argue with their president very gently, as if it were inappropriate to challenge him. This is exactly what makes him feel stronger. So does the fact that diplomats and foreign politicians observe the tradition of not publicly criticizing the head of state of a foreign country. There is a huge discrepancy between what one hears from European ambassadors and policymakers and what the Castle then claims. People who don't get to talk confidentially to European diplomats should be warned that no major country invites Klaus on state visits anymore. If he does go, it is on official government business, not in his own right.

Klaus carefully protects this special "unchallengeable" status. The fact that nobody argues with him, for example, on the non-existence of global warming or his criticism of the EU gives the impression that either we all agree with him or that nobody has the guts to challenge him because he is an educated professor.

So when European ambassadors in Prague issued a statement countering his criticism of the Prague Pride event, the Castle was outraged. They dared to publicly express a different opinion! And not only that. "The American embassy is happy the Czech Republic is a country in which its citizens can enjoy all human rights regardless of their sexual orientation. It is regrettable that there are people in official positions that hold intolerant views," says the US embassy's statement, which made the Prague Castle raise its drawbridges and sharpen its halberds in a move to attack Washington. Klaus's sharp reaction to the Prague ambassadors' statement caught the attention of The Washington Post and The Economist, the latter of which noted that Klaus harms the reputation of his country in the same way Orbán does in Hungary: "Poor countries needing investment and favors from their richer counterparts should polish their images and avoid rows. So it may seem odd that so many politicians in ex-Communist Europe, with wobbly economies and security, often do the opposite."

Putin's way
The ambassadors' letter is exceptionally valuable for us. It reminds us that the path established by Klaus is increasingly divergent from the one taken by Western countries. There is not a single president of an EU member state who would support a movement that openly attacks minorities and its opponents. If we want to find a movement similar to the D.O.S.T. group abroad, the closest would be Nashi, the pro-Putin political youth movement in Russia that publicly attacks opponents of the only right way. Beneath all the rhetorical fog and pseudo-scientific theories it is also the way Václav Klaus wants to lead the Czech Republic and he should finally admit it.

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