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Václav Havel: If this were Germany, Klaus would have to resign

Prague, 11.3.2011 17:58, (ROMEA)

In an interview for the Czech daily Hospodářské noviny (HN) former Czech President Václav Havel has indirectly criticized current Czech President Václav Klaus for his support of Ladislav Bátora, who was a candidate for the racist and ultra-nationalist National Party (Národní strana - NS). Havel also discusses the defects in our civilization with respect to adherence to human rights worldwide.

HN: You recently said the President is a significant co-creator of the atmosphere in society and that to a considerable extent the President's actions embody the basic structure of the state's values. How is Václav Klaus embodying the values of the state through his actions?

It is never a good idea - it is in rather poor taste - to discuss or evaluate one's successor. The only thing I would say is that the technocratic, essentially Marxist emphasis on the foundations [of the state] versus the superstructure is often derived precisely from Václav Klaus's attitudes and is shored up by his actions. In that sense, he has really significantly influenced the atmosphere in the country and its image abroad. Others can evaluate whether society has accepted these attitudes or not and whether that is good or bad.

HN: We respect that you do not want to evaluate your successor. However, you certainly must have an opinion about Klaus's defense of Mr Bátora, who ran as a candidate for the chauvinistic National Party and was supposed to have become a deputy to Education Minister Dobeš....

He may be testing how far he can go, whether he can say anything he wants and get away with it. For example, when the head of state says a concentration camp [editor's note: for Roma at Lety by Písek] was not a concentration camp, but was merely an internment camp - if this were Germany, he would have had to resign.

HN: That brings us to foreign policy. What position should the West take on events in the Arab world now, especially in Libya?

The situation in the Muslim world will also be a big test for the West. The West should be governed by the values it stands for and should not be silent on human rights violations just to preserve economic relationships and oil supplies. It should support democratic forces in Arab countries morally and materially, but at the same time it should not export democracy or force it. This requires very sensitive criticism, as the Arab world's difference and its type of pride must be respected.

HN: What is your view of military intervention?

This is a big test for the West also in terms of the evaluation as to when it is possible to intervene militarily and to what extent. My experience is that some things should not be delayed or extended too long. During my presidency, there were several years of debate about removing Milošević, and those years meant countless more dead, tortured and raped. Appeasement and cautious delays did not pay off, they just brought more horrors, and that should be a great lesson to us. The West should proceed quickly, wisely and with good information, even if its decision would be unpopular.

HN: Would you be for intervention in Libya?

Some sort of military operation is conceivable, of course, it could take various forms, from assisting the rebels there, to a no-fly zone, to targeted attacks on places where Gaddafi is hiding. If this drags on, Gaddafi will dig in and commit more and more crimes, and an intervention will become necessary. I have personally always considered him to be a comical clown. The entire world believed him to be an erratic buffoon. The whole world was wrong. As it turns out, he is a crazed criminal.

HN: What does the current reluctance tell us about the European Union and in general about western civilization?

The danger of western democracy is that it is very often too cautious and politicians only think from one election to the next. We lack personalities such as Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, who went after things that were unpopular but managed to earn their authority and in the end, to even win support for their moves. I don't want to say western civilization is to be written off, quite the contrary, but it must learn from its own mistakes and manage to say to these dictators: "You can keep your oil." Some sort of existential renaissance of contemporary civilization is more than necessary and we hope we will not require a catastrophe in order to start accomplishing that renaissance.

The entire interview is available in Czech at

Gwendolyn Albert, Hospodářské noviny, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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