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Western Press Review: Czech Political Chaos Has Particularly Czech Style

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- There was a time in Czech history when executions by throwing out a window was so common that the Czechs became known for the method, called defenestration. A commentator in today's Wall Street Journal Europe calls the ousting over the weekend of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus "a velvet defenestration."

The fall of Klaus's government draws commentary today from British, German and U.S. newspaper.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The Czechs may even come to miss him

John H. Fund, an editorial board member of The Wall Street Journal writes in a signed commentary: "The end came for Vaclav Klaus in much the same way it did for his political and ideological mentor, Margaret Thatcher. Both he and Mrs. Thatcher were victims of internal party dissension fueled by an economic slump and the arrogance both often displayed with colleagues. The Civic Democratic Party decided to dump Mr. Klaus at the climax of a marathon 11-hour debate."

Fund concludes: "As with other leaders of principle -- Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher -- I suspect that in future years the Czechs will come to appreciate Vaclav Klaus's many accomplishments in bringing the Czech Republic fully into the West. They may even come to miss him."

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal says: "Many Czechs will no doubt feel a sense of relief at the fall of a prime minister who seemed only belatedly to take their complaints seriously. It may indeed be salutary for there to be a fresh team to deal with the country's problems. But it would be unfortunate if the manner of Mr. Klaus's ouster were allowed to cloud the magnitude of his achievements. And it would be perilous for the new governing team if the lessons derived from Mr. Klaus's mistakes were not well learned."

TIMES: Mr. Klaus's errors have been those of implementation, not of strategy

The Times of London today labels Klaus "The Czech Thatcher." The Times editorializes: "The free-market convictions of Vaclav Klaus have dominated the Czech political agenda ever since the Communist Party succumbed, almost precisely eight years ago, to the Velvet Revolution. On the international scene, Mr. Klaus may have been the 'other Vaclav', a second fiddle to President Vaclav Havel's silky violin. But at home, first as finance minister and since 1992 as post-communist Europe's longest-serving prime minister, his decisions have been those that counted. His shoes will be hard to fill."

The editorial says: "Like Margaret Thatcher, whose steely Central European equivalent he is, Mr. Klaus made as many enemies inside his party as outside it as he frogmarched the Czech Republic towards a market economy." And adds: "Having demanded and obtained the resignation of the entire Government, President Havel is attempting to form a new one from the existing center-right coalition." It concludes: "The most promising next prime minister would be Ivan Pilip, the young finance minister who clearly understands that to surmount its current difficulties the Czech Republic needs more, not less, fiscal, welfare and free-market reforms. Mr. Klaus's errors have been those of implementation, not of strategy; in rejecting his acerbic leadership, the country's politicians must not depart from the modernizing message he has so formidably struggled to instill."

HANDELSBLATT: It's not clear that a new coalition of the same makeup will emerge at all

The German newspaper Handelsblatt says today in an editorial that the complexities of finding new leadership are daunting.

The newspaper says: "Following the resignation of Klaus's cabinet, President Vaclav Havel and the party's leaders are formally looking for a new government chief. Still, it's not clear that a new coalition of the same makeup will emerge at all, because the second most important party, the KDU, headed by Josef Lux, has long made no secret of a willingness to cooperate with the Social Democrats under the current parliamentary chairman Milos Zeman. President Havel, on the other hand, would prefer a government made up of professionals. If the current coalition, which now has 99 out of the 200 mandates in Parliament, continues to rule, it has two candidates for the post of prime minister: Josef Zeleniec, who resigned as foreign minister in October, and the present finance minister, Ivan Pilip.

The newspaper says: "The criticism leveled against Klaus in the party's own ranks became so massive not only because of his style of leadership but also his behavior in discussing the party finance scandal, that the ministers of both coalition parties declared their resignations, one after the other."

NEW YORK TIMES: There is not much golden about the Czech Republic these days

Correspondent Jane Perlez writes in a commentary today in The New York Times that Klaus's plummet is just one symptom of a disenchanting malaise that has crept over the Czech Lands. She writes: "Not so long ago, there was a fairy-tale land in Central Europe. The prime minister was regarded as a smart economist who knew best how to move his country from communism to capitalism. The president was feted around the world as an oracle for human rights. The magical capital -- Golden Prague - all spires, domes and cobblestoned alleys, was revered by Americans as a romantic travel destination for the 1990s. But there is not much golden about the Czech Republic these days."

Perlez writes: "Klaus finally paid for what friends as well as foes said was arrogance when his political colleagues disclosed details on Friday of a slush fund of contributions to the party held in a Swiss bank. The prime minister said he knew nothing about it, but few believed him and Klaus had little choice but to agree to demands -- and Havel's request -- that he and his government resign."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Czech Republic's immediate need is for an end to the paralysis

The British newspaper Daily Telegraph expresses sadness over, if not the fact of Klaus's demise, at least its nature. The newspaper editorializes: "It is sad to see Vaclav Klaus, the Czech prime minister, bought low by a squalid scandal over party funding. During his three years as finance minister, and five years as head of government, his country emerged from its Stalinist past and qualified as a frontline candidate for membership in NATO and the European Union. In the former Soviet empire, he was the exception, a conservative who stayed in power while his counterparts in neighboring countries lost office to reformed communists."

The Telegraph says: "The Czech Republic's immediate need is for an end to the paralysis which has affected much of the administration over the past months, causing concern to the country's potential partners in NATO and the EU."