Klaus: The Holy “Infant Terrible” of Prague – A New Icon of the Czechs

Autor: Milan Zelený | Datum: 06.01.2009
The times of crisis are the times of (and for) iconoclasts. The crisis of 2008 has emerged from an unprecedented intervention of government and big business in the free markets’ functioning, while debasing and rescinding their duties in market regulation and oversight. President Václav Klaus, however, can be counted among the opposing camp: iconophiles.
UPRAVENO from Czech Business Weekly, January 8, 2009, pp. 24-27.
The word iconoclast comes from the Greek eikonoklástēs (“the breaker of icons”), the one who deliberately sets to destroy cultural or religious icons from within a given culture or times. Iconoclasm does not include habitual destruction of images of dead or overthrown rulers (the damnatio memoriae, which is a sign of cultural weakness) or the destruction of cultural images by foreign cultures.

Preserving the past

Iconophiles are the very opposite of iconoclasts. They “lead back,” argue for preserving the old icons and golden calves, professing the old, tired and irrelevant, pulling us back toward failed thinking, petrified ideas and comfortable conservation of self-defeating and unsustainable behavior.

Is President Václav Klaus an iconoclast?

A foreign newsman called the president an iconoclast. Although it is quite fashionable today, in the Czech Republic and Europe especially, to wonder (and worry) about Klaus and his psychological diagnosis, ranging from narcissism and arrogance all the way to egotism, demagoguery or hubris, Klaus is no iconoclast.
The Czechs have in particular become a nation of Freudian psychologists, ascribing to their chosen icon all kinds of artificially overblown, mythological and quintessentially male characteristics. In their deeper wishful thinking and longing for a strong provider and father figure, Czechs are misled and bound to be disappointed. No strong or exaggerated sense of manliness, virility, courage, strength, or entitlement to dominate can be detected in Klaus—only the opposites of such traits. His repeated planting of stories of extramarital affairs in the Czech tabloids, his arcane theatrics of “getting caught” with a plethora of young “lovers” can fool the Czechs, but they cannot restyle him into a macho man. While being comfortably snuggled in the lap of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Klaus is no Putin.
This “Provocateur from Prague” can certainly be called many things, but iconoclast he ain’t.
Klaus is iconophile, both literally and substantially. Iconophilia refers to overblown respect not just for the image itself but for the movement underlying the image. Russian Orthodox icons of motherland, czar, nation, Putinism, etc., resonate with Klaus as strongly as his Western icons of the invisible hand, free market, monetarism, and Friedmanism, and others. Klaus is the staunch defender, not the destroyer, of such weathered icons of the times past.
In the age of iconoclasts, Klaus comes across as a relic, an old-time-religion believer, the preserver and defender of the old, tired, irrelevant and out of step. This is a rather unusual position to assume when the whole world is coping with crisis and longing for change, new paradigms, new ideas and new leaders. While most people feel a vital and self-preserving need for breaking the icons and images of the old, Klaus offers return and retrenchment, the embracement and idolatry of discarded refuse. This would be an inconsequential and mildly amusing stance for nostalgic individuals, but not for people in positions of power.
No nation, no matter how small, uninformed or isolated should suffer such a hopeless pullback toward Russian nationalism, autocracy and samoderzhavi, or the Soviet-style imperialism, socialism and murderous xenophobia. It does not matter which one—the world becomes poorer and more dangerous either way.
It is hardly surprising that Klaus has become ignored by America, isolated in Europe and so welcome and embraceable at Putin’s “dacha”—his imperial Russia. No wonder, that Putin has “rescued” Klaus from his isolation and awarded him the Pushkin Medal for the promotion of Russian culture in 1997. Klaus has remained loyal ever since, distancing himself from Europe and America while defending Russia over the war in South Ossetia and her violation of the sovereignty of Georgia. This is quite reminiscent of Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš’s “rescue” by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin after World War II. Klaus is becoming like Beneš.
Most Czechs, unfortunately, follow faithfully in tow: procrastinating endlessly on the Treaty of Lisbon, although a part of European Union; vacillating on anti-terrorist foreign missions, although a part of NATO; and following Russian designs by opposing the U.S.-led anti-missile radar system, although a self-declared part of the community of nations.

Playing the odds

Klaus is not only iconophile, he is also a contrarian. A contrarian is someone who strives to profit by investing in a manner that habitually differs from the majority view, betting that the consensus opinion turns out to be wrong. Klaus is a contrarian par excellence. He has to oppose every view, even his own, as soon as it becomes accepted by majority or espoused as conventional wisdom.
The “Contrarian of Prague” is a correct label for a leader who leads back and against, not forward and for something. His opposition to the EU is self-serving contrarian pose, without offering an alternative, like Beneš waiting for his Stalin.
A contrarian cannot help himself from being against things. Klaus has become a globally prominent voice of skepticism about what he calls global-warming “alarmism.” Also, his dissenting views on just about everything, ranging from modern architecture, computers, the Internet, knowledge, trust, Russia, Kosovo, Transdnestria, Georgia, America and of course climate change, have become well known.
In Czech economic folklore, Klaus distinguished himself by such assertions that there is no dirty money, it does not matter who owns it, it does not matter what we produce, etc., leading to the bizarre economic transformation, transferring, via his coupon privatization, properties of the state safely into the hands of communist old-boy networks, Russian mafiosos and cronies, and foreign “investors” who took over industrial concern Škoda Works (now called Škoda Holding), brewer Plzeňský Prazdroj and countless other treasures of the Czech economy—all irreversibly gone with the compliments of this “Proti všem” contrarian.

The art of opportunity

In addition to iconophilia and contrarianism, President Klaus is also an accomplished opportunist. Although all politicians are opportunists to a degree, Klaus towers above them all in refining opportunism into an art. His political style is seizing any opportunity to extend his political influence at almost any price. He is willing to abandon important political principles that he previously espoused, in the process of trying to increase his visibility and influence, even over the smallest of territories. A man without qualities, he was instrumental in breaking up Czechoslovakia, is trying to destroy his own party, the Civic Democrats (ODS); marginalize his own country, the Czech Republic; and offend his own Europe, in the form of the EU—all in order to appease Russia, contrary to the better intuition of the Czechs. Why is he playing Moscow notes more loudly than the European or Czech ones? Why is he pushing a vision of Europe as a loose alliance of helpless, defenseless and NATO-less nation-states that would be easy pickings for imperial Russia? We do not know. Do we want to learn his true motives too late? The weakening of Czech sovereignty vis à vis Russia is already quite obvious. The one group that supports Klaus’ anti-European activities with joyous glee is the communists.
Fortunately, Czechs have the last-resort access to Article 65, paragraph 2, of their Constitution: The president of the republic may be impeached by the Senate for high treason at the Constitutional Court. The penalty may be loss of his presidential office and of his eligibility to regain it.
Klaus exhibits a dangerous tendency to make political capital out of “good” situation instead of truly winning people over to a principled position or improving their political understanding. People do not interest him, except in opportune contexts: then he exploits them, as the means toward his own goals, without compassion, concern or appreciation.
So, The Iconophile, the Contrarian and the Opportunist of Prague, is occupying the Castle, the ancient seat of Bohemian kings, the very icon of Czech statehood, diplomacy and politics, squandering Czech sovereignty from the values the West toward the “protection” from the East. He certainly is not an iconoclast, progressive or visionary like the great historical ancestors and leaders before the post-communist attrapés and political hoaxes took over the Czech lands.
It is not surprising that, like Václav Havel before him, Klaus was elected twice by communists and communist fellow-travelers. It is not surprising that Communist presidential candidate Jana Bobošíková (aka “Bobo the Red”), together with the convicted felon Vladimír Železný, both members of European Parliament for the Czech Republic, have nominated Klaus for the European Citizen’s Prize, in the best traditions of Czech contrarianism, provocation and misdirected Švejkism. Take the slogan “Evropě to osladíme” of the Czech EU presidency, an untranslatable double entendre that cannot be comprehended by Europeans. Literally, “We’ll sweeten it up to Europe” can be interpreted as showing Europe their middle finger. … Go figure.

The need for iconoclasts

Yet, even in the Czech Republic, we need to cherish iconoclasts because they represent the last hope in this mercilessly changing world. We should cherish and listen to this very small and increasingly rarefied group of those among us who are able to do things that others say can’t be done. Iconoclasts perceive things differently from the masses: they see a different reality, imagine different worlds and march to a different drummer. They generate new ideas better than others; they better manage their fears; they pitch their ideas to the masses more effectively. They differ from us in perception, fear response, and social intelligence. Klaus is a modern paradigm of isolation, disconnectedness, the infamous “kůl v plotě” (sadly alone or abandoned) idiom of the Czechs.
The key to curing any disease or malaise surely is disentanglement of overt symptoms from covert causes. Once the causes become clear, the cure turns out to be self-evident. The EU is not as big a danger as the former Soviet Union. Even the Czechs can and will snap out of the doldrums, indecisiveness and unbelonging in their existence—once they identify the causes of their iconophilial lives, suffering too many geese, cherishing too few eagles… then the Czechs shall jump off their comfortable wall in the middle, stop ogling both sides with hopeful eyes and outstretched palms, and come down to the ground of reality, choosing their side, once and for all, like so many small and successful nations before them. Let’s hope Czechs will choose the right side. It’s about time.

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