Accessibility links

Breaking News

Czech Republic: President Says Freedoms Endangered, Not Climate

Vaclav Klaus (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, August 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus is well-known for his critical, often contrarian views. An economist by profession who has played a key role in Czech politics since the fall of communism, Klaus has now become a standard-bearer for those who say global warming is not a major threat.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondents Jeremy Bransten and Kathleen Moore, Klaus speaks about the planned U.S. antimissile shield, environmentalists, relations with the European Union, and attempts to foster democracy in the postcommunist world.

RFE/RL: The Czech parliament recently approved, with your signature, the establishment of a new Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes that will research the communist and Nazi periods in this country. Why do you think the Czech Republic needs this institute, especially since there is already an Institute for Contemporary History and the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes?

Vaclav Klaus: I have to admit that I don't have any strong opinion on this. Communism as a phenomenon really bothers me and interests me. I lived through it for the biggest part of my life, so I feel I know something about it. I feel I would really enjoy reading any new book or study that would reveal something that I don't know or haven't read in hundreds of other books and articles. So if anyone can add anything to this, that's fine.

But on the other hand, I know that an institute can't contribute anything, because an institute doesn't write anything. It is specific people, authors who might or might not have something to say, who write, so I wouldn't expect practically anything from an institute itself. If someone there is able to motivate a group of good people who will research, come up with something, have strong opinions about it, and are capable of contributing something, that's fine. But the idea that we can solve a problem by setting up an institute is not one I share.

RFE/RL: Do you see a problem in the fact that the institute's governing board will be chosen by politicians?

Klaus: Not at all, these are irrelevant things that are stirring the waters in our calm, summer political pond. It's not about that at all. Who else would be on any board? Look at the board of your radio station, or any other board of any other similar institution in the United States. Who would devise them? Would [the members] be chosen by lottery? Or would there be a referendum on who should be on the board? It's just a made-up, unnecessarily nasty game against politicians and I don't think it's a worthy topic for discussion. Who else should choose them? NGOs? Greenpeace fanatics? I don't understand who should [choose them].

RFE/RL: Do you think new members of the European Union, who experienced communist oppression, should help democracy movements in countries such as Belarus? And if so, how?

Klaus: This is again the fantasy about exporting a revolution or democracy and these fantasies usually end really badly. I don't see the world like that. I don't think democracy was imported here and that anyone had to teach us or that we needed any education in this, nothing like that was necessary. I think the system here came apart from the inside and I believe it will fall apart in a similar way, sooner or later, inside Belarus or Cuba or anywhere else. I think the heroes who think that they caused the fall of communism, that's a falsehood, they're flattering themselves, whether it's our own [people] or some from the outside. So careful, please, it's really a childish dream that's not worthy of serious debate.

RFE/RL: But there are active dissident groups that already exist in countries like Belarus. They put on demonstrations and try in other ways to struggle against the regime. Should they be supported or left to their own devices?

Klaus: I think that if we can support them in any appropriate way that does not complicate their domestic situation, then we should. But to have some program, that's a naive way of looking at history.

RFE/RL: Thanks partly to your latest book "A Blue, Not A Green Planet" you've become well-known abroad for your opinions on global warming. Was this your intention, do you welcome this? Do you want to be an "anti"-Al Gore?

Klaus: This issue has concerned me tremendously for a long time. I met Al Gore in a television debate about this in New York some 15 years ago, so it's not some new thing that I've just discovered. I consider it one of the most serious threats to freedom in the world, one of the most serious threats to the normal development of humanity.

I say what I think not about global warming but about the opinions that are being imported, thanks to the false threat of global warming, by people like Al Gore and many others. The hysteria around this in Western Europe and the U.S. is ridiculous and undignified and there's no doubt that people in a few years' or decades' time will laugh at us and wonder if we went mad in the first decade of the 21st century by betting on this card.

I think we should use all sorts of ways to break this hysteria and one of those ways is by writing this book and by traveling around the world and giving lectures, talks, and interviews. I'm ready to go at the end of September to New York, where the UN secretary-general is organizing, a day before the general assembly, a specific conference on global warming, and it will be a gathering of "Gore-ites," so they're going to be shocked that they invited me "by mistake," too. And I'm going to give a very tough speech.

RFE/RL: You write in your book that socialist ideology has been replaced by the threat of "ambitious environmentalism." Could you define what you mean exactly?

Klaus: Let's keep repeating until we're weary that one thing is ecology, scientific ecology, a descriptive, positive science that describes real things and phenomena in the world and tries to find connections between them and laws and so on. That's not the discipline we're discussing. A completely different thing is this "world view" wrapped up around it that exploits some theories from this or that discipline in order to carry out yet another in a never-ending line of attacks against human freedom and the market economy.

The main attack on the market in the last 150 years has been the softer or stronger versions of what -- now that communism has gone -- is known as the "social market economy," basically the official ideology of Germany and Austria and now the EU. In other words, the main attack on the market and on human freedom has been to add the "social" adjective [to the word "market"].

People know how I began my political career and if there's one expression of mine that's been quoted most, it's the early one from the beginning of the 1990s when I said, "a market without adjectives." In other words let's not spoil things with any adjectives. So the first attack is social, [either] in the softer version of today's European system, [or] in the harder version of communism. Now, more and more, [the words] "social and ecologically oriented" or something similar are added. So it's another attack, [meant to] destroy the market and human freedom and using a slogan -- social in the past and now ecological -- to do something completely different. And for me this is a fundamental attack on human freedom.

As someone who went through communism, I know what this is about and I think it's necessary to sound the alarm. I'm not comparing, like some caricatures have me, the threat of communism versus the threat of environmentalism. Communism was probably worse, though I think that with some of those extreme environmentalists we would live to see something similar. They would be cutting off heads, too, but I'm not comparing them.

If I say that something has replaced something, it's that communism today is no longer a doctrine that could speak to millions, billions of people, where they could go crazy under communist slogans to transform the world. That's why I say this isn't the main danger. The main danger is environmentalism, because there are new, very attractive slogans -- who wouldn't be interested in a clean environment? You'd be mad to say something else -- and this is the path through which, again, we're being fed things that threaten us in a fundamental way.

RFE/RL: Are you skeptical about global warming as a whole, or rather about its extent and the degree to which human behavior can affect it?

Klaus: The word skeptic is inappropriate. How can you be skeptical about whether prices are rising or not? Or how can you be a skeptic about whether you are measuring a temperature or not? Simply put, temperatures are measured and one can't speak about skepticism. Look at the actual numbers and you will see that over the past 100 years the average temperature around the world...has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius.

In Prague, if you have a thermometer in your car, and you drive from Wenceslas Square [in the city center] to any of the outlying housing estates, the difference in temperature will be, on average, 1.5 to 2 degrees. So, in a five-minute car journey you'll find yourself in another world where the temperature is different by 2 degrees. And you will survive.

Humankind has not even registered the 0.7 degree rise in temperature over the past 100 years. So this is not skepticism regarding measurements. It is a call to reason that says: "Let's not go crazy. If the temperature goes up by 0.7 degrees in a century, let's not go crazy." This is not skepticism. It is an appeal for realism, for a rational approach to looking at the world. I'm not saying that the temperature rise cannot somehow accelerate.

There are countless scientific debates about this. Nevertheless, it is not true, it is just not true that there is a single view on this issue. It is a flat-out lie trumpeted by some media and politically backed groups that there is a scientific consensus about this -- not to mention the fact that "scientific consensus" is not a technical term. When Galileo was alive, the "scientific consensus" was that he was wrong. But that proved nothing. There are equally strong arguments to be made that global warming will not be that big a deal.

But skepticism, that is already a label. And I think it's pointless. So really, it's not about the temperature, now that we're talking about it. The essential point is what is causing this temperature rise -- is it the sun or our planet's internal mechanisms or does man add something to the equation? And here there is an enormous, unending debate. And as a person who is an academic and a university professor, I have to state responsibly that the arguments put forward by both sides are equally well-founded. And to make it appear that there is only one set of arguments is complete nonsense. So this is not about skepticism. I think we have to look at this realistically and not go crazy. That's the main thing: not to go crazy.

RFE/RL: You frequently appeal for the defense of individual freedoms. Nevertheless, governments in Europe and elsewhere -- partly through their tax policies -- are trying to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption. Governments also regulate industry. In your opinion, should the state not get involved? Should regulation be left to the free market? What role should government play?

Klaus: Governments and states should play a much lesser role than they currently do. They should interfere with people's lives to a much lesser degree, around the world. I don't want to say that there aren't any reasons for governments, sometimes, to do something. If I thought that, I wouldn't have spent 17 years in politics. Undoubtedly there are some public goods, which should be safeguarded in a rational way. But in a rational way and not on the basis of Mr. Al Gore's appeals.

RFE/RL: Let's move on to missile defense, as it is very much in the news these days. Surveys show that two-thirds of people in the Czech Republic are against the location of a U.S. radar base in this country. Why are people so opposed, in your opinion?

Klaus: First of all, I think this opposition should be respected. It is real. No one has invented it. No one is faking the polls that are being taken. So the first point is that this is the reality.

The second point is what is the reason? I think there are two reasons. People have their own historical experience and will always be against having large military bases nearby. That's natural and very human. We can't be surprised by that. And if someone trivializes and simplifies everything, like [the government's coordinator for radar issues Tomas] Klvana, then he does a disservice to efforts aimed at agreeing on a reasonable solution to this issue.

The third thing is that people don't feel a clear enough danger. And here it is the role of politicians and analysts to explain to them the degree of the threat, of the risk. It is clear that the world has often been wrong and has not detected threats ahead of time. But I think no one here is trying explain the degree of the risk. General statements about the fact that there are "evil" states like Iran and North Korea, which seem extremely far away to any Czech citizen, are of course another reason why many people look at the issue this way. We have to take a rational approach and not say that people are stupid and we should change them.

RFE/RL: So should the government try to persuade Czechs to change their mind?

Klaus: First of all, it is necessary to explain things to them. The word "persuade" sounds a bit Bolshevik. I don't know where you lived under communism, but I don't think it's the appropriate word. I think that a) You have to tell people what the threat level is, in a persuasive manner and b) You have to indicate the reason for expressing our loyalty to the United States of America, to our partner, to our ally. That is what's needed. For me, personally, as I have often said, the stronger argument is the second one, rather than the first.

RFE/RL: Moving on to the EU. You call yourself a Euro-realist and it's well-known that you don't harbor very warm feelings toward Brussels. Before the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, you expressed the fear that membership could result in a loss of national identity. Three years on, how do you evaluate the situation?

Klaus: Nothing has changed. My thesis remains in effect and I think that the number of people who agree with me is rapidly rising. People's experience with the EU only confirms what I said. In addition, the EU is more and more trying to assume the role of a supranational state. It suppresses the identity of all [member] countries -- ours or any other.

Yesterday, I was traveling by car and waiting at a traffic light and in front of me there were two cars. One car had our old-style Czech license plate, with the big round CZ sticker. The second car had the new-style EU plate, where the CZ was written in tiny letters. Look, anyone who doesn't understand what this is all about doesn't understand anything. The EU is trying to make the letters that symbolize our state as small as possible. You can't even tell from a distance if there's an NL for the Netherlands written on there, or an SK for Slovakia. You can't tell. You either need binoculars or you need to be driving right next to the car.

This is a textbook example of the attempt to suppress, to rub out the basic entity that has formed the European continent and has given this continent its characteristic features. So this trend exists and it's not about Euro-skepticism. Looking at license plates is not Euro-skepticism. I am measuring, in centimeters, the size of the letters. This is not Euro-skepticism. It is simply a sharp, strict look at this issue.

RFE/RL: If other prospective EU applicants, like Ukraine, or some of the Balkan states, came to you for advice on their membership bids, what would you tell them?

Klaus: I am of the opinion that homogenizing, rubbing out, controlling everything from a single center is harder to do, the more countries there are. So I am a person who recommends to everyone that they enter [the EU.] Because the more of us there are in the European Union, the weaker the power of this Brussels center will be. And that's what I'm rooting for.

Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?

AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.