Interview with Václav Klaus - President of the Czech Republic

By Zhang Hong, He Xiaohe
Published: 2010-12-14

Issue 495, November 22
Translated by Guo Wei
Original article:

Before our interview began, we joked with President Klaus that, "In Prague, there were only two places where we needed show our passports. One was the casino, the other your Presidential Palace."

President Klaus muttered "it's just security," and then he looked us in the eyes and said, "but I am sure, it's much easier to get an interview with me here in the Czech Republic than it is for you to meet with your own president."

In fact, it was a rare opportunity for us to get this interview and we should thank Peter Hyl, who invited us to attend the China Investment Forum and worked tirelessly to arrange the interview.

President Klaus is one of the most popular political figures in the Czech Republic. Even if you disagree with his political opinions, you have to admit that he is charming. Audiences usually enjoy his speeches. The 69-year-old Klaus grew up in an upper-middle class family on the outskirts of Prague and graduated from the University of Economics, Prague in 1963; he also spent some time at universities in Italy and Cornell University in the United States. During the Prague Spring he published articles on economics in a pro-reform magazine. He then held a position at the Czechoslovakian State Bank.

Klaus is a firm proponent of free market economics and has published many books on the subject - due to his prodigious output, he is sometimes addressed as "Mr. Professor."

Vaclav Klaus entered politics during the Velvet Revolution in 1989. He became Minister of Finance in the Czech Republic in December 1989. In April 1991 Klaus founded and became the chairman of the Civic Democratic Party, one of the largest and most right-wing Czech political parties as of 2009. In June 1992, Klaus became Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, but on 1 January 1993, that state was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Klaus continued as Prime Minister in the Czech Republic until November 1997.

When he was Prime Minister, Klaus often clashed with then-President Havel, there was a running battle between the two for years which resulted in President Havel canceling their weekly meetings. Havel publicly referred to Klaus's economic policies as "gangster capitalism" and blamed the prime minister for corruption surrounding the process of privatization. After the Civic Democratic Party lost the elections twice, Klaus resigned as chairman of the party and was then elected President of the Czech Republic in 2003 - he was re-elected in 2008.

In European politics, Klaus is known as a eurosceptic, and he has been called "the Margaret Thatcher of Central Europe". Like the Iron Lady who kept the United Kingdom independent of the European Union, Klaus keeps a constant watch on attempts by Brussels to increase their influence. He is the most vocal opponent of the EU among all European politicians and his country was the last one to reluctantly endorse the Lisbon treaty.

"Now in Europe, there is more and more unification, but not intergration. I support the intergration between governments, because intergration is equal, but I oppose unification that is unequal. I do not want an old Emperor above our government." said President Klaus who was willing to share his opinions about the EU with a couple of visiting Chinese reporters.

He also maintains a strong distaste for the Euro, "we had a condition when we joined the EU, which was that in the future we had to join the Eurozone and give up using our own currency, but we didn't commit ourselves to a specific date or timetable. Not many people in the Czech Republic are interested in the question of whether or not to jon the Eurozone, and we still feel fortunate that we're still using our own currency. As the president, I will be the last one who agrees to adopting the Euro."

President Klaus believes that the Euro is the reason why Greece has suffered a sovereign-debt crisis and argued that Greece only needs devalue its currenct by about 40 percent to deal with the crisis, but because Greece is now a member of the Eurozone, they're no longer able to use this method

They have to radically reduce wages and cut back on fiscal spending in order to achieve a balanced budget.

Klaus is not big fan of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) either. He publicly referred to the IMF as a "barbaric relic from the Keynesian and fixed-exchange rate era," and he could for either the dissolution or fundametal restructuring of the institution. President Klaus has also maintained his dislike of borrowing money from the World Bank, because "the cost of loaning money from the World Bank is not a bit less than that of borrowing on the free market."

The most controversial view held by President Klaus is his attitude to climate change. Klaus published a book called Blue Planet in Green Shackles in 2007, which has been translated into 12 languages. In the book, President Klaus argues that the term global warming is a politcal phrase which lacks sufficient scientific backing.

"After attempting to introduce many terms that were quickly exposed for being nonsense, (such as population explosion, rapid depletion of resources, global cooling, acid rain, and ozone holes), they finally settled on Global Warming. I do not think there is a problem with our climate, and in the future there will not be any problem either."

President Klaus has already visited China three times, and his impressions of China are limited to the country's rapid economic growth and its recent acension to being the nation with the second largest GDP in the world.

He also expressed hopes that Chinese enterprises would come and invest in the Czech Republic.

But he refuted the need for the foreign investment incentives recently enacted by the Czech government, saying "we welcome foreign investment, but it's not necessary to offer incentives."

This article was edited by Pang Lei