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The Face of New Europe?

Not long ago you’d have been hard pressed to find a more universally admired head of state than Vaclav Havel, a man whose name is synonymous with dissidence and who, at least in contemporary terms, most closely approximates the ideal … Read More

By / November 25, 2008

Not long ago you’d have been hard pressed to find a more universally admired head of state than Vaclav Havel, a man whose name is synonymous with dissidence and who, at least in contemporary terms, most closely approximates the ideal of the philosopher-king. Havel’s essay, "The Power of the Powerless," in which he showed how the "post-totalitarian" society inculpates everyone who inhabits it, from the state official to the lowly greengrocer, became an instant classic of its genre as well as a founding document of the one revolution in 20th century Europe that went off without a single shot being fired, or a single drop of blood being spilt. And if Havel suffered from executive shortcomings — the treatment of the Czech Roma has not reflected any ism with a human face — then these were minor in comparison to his counterparts in other developing second world countries. It was Havel, let’s not forget, who made the case for deposing Saddam Hussein on strictly humanitarian grounds, Saddam being just another genocidal fascist living well past his species’ expiration date.

Things change.

George W. Bush, the least popular American president in several generations, is leaving office in fewer than two months, and his successor is most universally admired politician on the planet–with no record of lived or legislated accomplishment to recommend him as such. France, formerly a bete noir that birthed a thousand New York Post headlines, has a philo-American centre-right president of Jewish heritage with a wife worth going to war over. Britain, after more than decade of New Labor, is set to elect a bicycle-clipped, user-friendly Tory prime minister who loves to cook and recycle. Russia has rewound the historical tape and tried to see if 19th-century imperialism can’t come out better this time. As for the Czech Republic, its current president is a thundering megalomaniac who worships Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher, snuggles up to Vladimir Putin, thinks global warming science is a dangerous ideology on par with communism, and sees the European Union, whose presidency he’s about to inherit in the natural rotation, as an overextended joke:

[Vaclav Klaus's] anti-Europe credentials stretch back to his failed general election campaign in 2002, when he opposed the Czech Republic’s entry to the EU. As president he refused to give any direction to the Czech electorate during a referendum campaign on the issue, except to say that joining the EU would significantly reduce Czech sovereignty. The vote was 77% in favour of joining.

Klaus has vetoed the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and last week he again called on his party to oppose it.

The Lisbon Treaty, signed in December 2007 and still awaiting ratification, is the latest update of Maastricht would create a non-rotating EU Presidency and a High Representative of Foreign Affairs, who would essentially act as a secretary of state for the entire continent. When he last visited the UK, Klaus openly befriended Declan Ganley, who is known as one of the few Irish neoconservatives and Europe’s most outspoken opponent of a United States of Europe.

So the Czechs, who have been done over by every major power with a roving army for centuries, are now in the rare position of being able to determine the course of European politics at the infancy of the age of Obama. That their elected spokesman should be a right isolationist with warm feelings towards revanchist Russia is only the latest sign that history never ends but proceeds like a drunken ironist.

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