In a new book by Alena Ježková, Conversations with Pavel Fischer, Senator Pavel Fischer recounts his time working with President Václav Havel. We bring you an example from a book interview in which he describes the period of the opposition agreement, but also the weaknesses of Havel. You can buy the book on the FORUM e-shop.
You started working as director of the political department in 1999, at a time marked by an opposition agreement between the ODS and the CSSD, which some describe as an internal political fiasco. How would you describe this time?
It was a time of political crisis that had been in the air since 1997. It involved various scandals in the financing of political parties, public distrust in pursuing economic reforms, and generally “dumb moods”, such as Havel l was calling at the time. . In December 1997, the president delivered a speech to both houses of parliament at the Rudolfinum in Prague, in which he openly pointed to burning issues that political parties have neglected and not addressed at all. This greatly upset the then presidents of CSSD and ODS, Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus. After the June 1998 elections, these supposedly bitter rivals agreed to cooperate between the ODS and the CSSD and, instead of concluding a grand coalition honestly, concluded an opposition agreement, a kind of power monopoly, through which they began to determine policy. It was hard on the president, as he became a de facto representative of the opposition, while still having to remain a state builder and strong enough to curb the initiatives of Zeman and Klaus. For example, when Zeman and Klaus started planning a change in the electoral law that would make it easier for them to govern in the future. Vaclav Havel prevented them because he had the courage to enter into open conflict. He then filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court and won.
There were more cases in which President Havel decided to sue the Constitutional Court, but it was not just an opposition agreement.
Of course, Havel appeared several times before the Constitutional Court with other cases in which Zeman or Klaus acted as important players, and he won several times. But then there were explicitly political conflicts, and the Constitutional Court did not have to resolve it right away. For example, the conflict over the independence of the judiciary or the police of the Czech Republic, there was also talk of maintaining the organized crime unit and who should lead it. At the time, Miloš Zeman, as Prime Minister, and with his people, like Miroslav Šlouf, sought to disband the elite units and push for their reform head-on. If I were to dig deeper, Miloš Zeman already had a special attitude towards security issues. President Havel, meanwhile, sought to restrain, prevent reorganization or force the departure of their bosses from major police forces that were investigating serious crimes, possibly linked to politicians or party sponsors. policies. These were very tough clashes. Havel and I, for example, have long discussed the appointment of a central bank governor. It was in 2000, when Josef Tošovský resigned. Prime Minister Miloš Zeman had his favorite and Havel decided not to listen to him. He had many consultations and came to the conclusion that there were serious reasons not to meet with the government. After all, in the case of the central bank, it must be true that it is independent of the mandate of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. One night in the middle of the night, Václav Havel called me and said, “Won’t I wake you up? I still think about it.” He took it very badly mentally. I said to him: “Mr. President, of course you can spit, but by going into conflict you are drawing lines on the ground that your successor will be very happy about one day, because that is where the limits of responsibility between you and the Prime Minister lead.” Havel decided, applied his own and appointed Zdeněk Tůma as governor. Clearly it was a good choice.
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Ultimately, Miloš Zeman and Václav Klaus took control of the political space and essentially settled for handing over various positions of power. They are political matadors, we will not find two greatest political personalities in our country in the last twenty years.
Deal. The two delimited spaces, the shared roles and outwardly manifest political conflicts that did not really exist. The Opposition Treaty provided both political formations in such a way that it destroyed their potential to offer an alternative to the other. It was a very difficult situation in which Václav Klaus finally won the parliamentary elections as the successor of Václav Havel. I must say that it was very difficult for Havel to follow at the start. It was a real test of his loyalty to the institutions of the Czech Republic, watching and at the same time not criticizing what happened at the Castle with the arrival of Václav Klaus.
What do you mean exactly?
People like Ladislav Jakl or Jiří Hájek, who held the position of civil servants, did not hesitate to make peppery political statements. However, it is entirely up to the president to take charge of the team. Václav Klaus simply had a different style, with the passage of time still very standard compared to Miloš Zeman. But we must not overlook his amnesty. In 2013, on the twentieth anniversary of the independence of the Czech Republic, Klaus declared a presidential amnesty, in which he pardoned some unconditional and suspended sentences, or immediately stopped some criminal prosecutions. These were crimes of about three thousand people, many of them involving toxic cases from the privatization era of the 1990s. Justice managed to punish some of them enough, but President Klaus pardoned them. I am not against the Amnesty Institute, but Václav Klaus not only damaged his reputation, but also weakened citizens’ trust in justice. I see this as his big political mistake.
What are Vaclav Havel’s weaknesses?
A critical analysis of the work of Václav Havel in our country is sorely lacking. This is a task for both political scientists and historians. We need to put aside all the myths and legends about Havel and objectively find out what was available to him at the time, what he achieved, as well as name his mistakes and mistakes. I’m not a political scientist, but I can tell you what I thought was wrong. Vaclav Havel tended to do some political conspiracy. He did not treat all politicians equally, he preferred those he understood. Sometimes he completely lost the desire to talk to his loyal opponents, like Václav Klaus. However, this came at the expense of the issue, as Klaus, as Prime Minister and later also Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, sometimes had correct views on certain issues, such as European cooperation and unrealistic ideas of some European leaders. This is certainly one of Havel’s political errors. Although I’m not surprised in retrospect, because Václav Klaus has an instinct to destroy anyone who doesn’t agree with him or doesn’t adore him enough, and Havel just saved his strength. Klaus was overjoyed whenever he could criticize the president just for sending me, for example. In such situations, I received something from Klaus because of it, so I myself was disgusted with these meetings.
Václav Havel is retroactively accused of agreeing to the bombing of Yugoslavia by the states of the North Atlantic Alliance in 1999. It is also referred to as “humanitarian bombing”. What do you think of that?
Above all, Václav Havel did not use the term humanitarian bombing at all, he even opposed it on several occasions. I have no idea how it happened, more as a critical or ironic designation. The whole situation must also be seen in context. The ethnic conflict which broke out with full force in the former Yugoslavia was a very painful awakening for Europe. While Europe was experiencing impotence, the confrontation caused enormous civilian casualties. The scars in the Balkans are still visible today and they are healing very slowly. At that time, the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which was later to answer to other leaders for the crimes of genocide before the International Criminal Court, did not want to hear the exhortation for restraint. Violence against Kosovo Albanians continued, with massacres in the region implicating the Serbian armed forces. The accession of the Czech Republic to NATO took place on March 2, 1999. In the meantime, the situation in the Balkans has worsened and the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance have tried to find an agreement on the way forward. There was a variant of military air raids on the table, and Prime Minister Miloš Zeman’s government approved them for the Czech Republic. Václav Havel supported the operation, because for him the only possible expression of our indifference to the suffering of others was the only and in this difficult situation the only way to stop the massacres. Although our country did not send its own troops to the Balkans, we opened the air space and allowed the landing of Alliance fighters. Havel mainly supported the presence of blue helmets on the ground, and I am personally happy that, in one form or another, we are still involved in the Balkan countries. The activities of the Czech police, judicial authorities or long-term development aid were added to the activities of the army.