Vaclav Klaus's resignation as prime minister of the Czech
Republic last weekend signals the end of an era. And observers here
say his departure can provide important lessons for the fledgling
democracies of post-communist Europe.
Almost eight years to the day after Communist leaders
resigned from power in what was then Czechoslovakia, Mr. Klaus
announced on Nov. 30 that he and his government would step down due
to persistent allegations in a campaign finance scandal that has
spun out of control.
But while politicians here continue to haggle over the new
government, observers and even the Czech president say what is more
significant is the opportunity Czech society has to develop as a
While governments have changed at least once in other
post-communist European countries, the Czechs have kept essentially
the same leaders since communism fell on Nov. 27, 1989. And with
new elections certain to be called in the coming months, Czechs
have a chance to truly assess new political ideas.
A test of democracy
In an address to the nation over the weekend, Czech President
Vaclav Havel acknowledged that opportunity, saying the country
faces one of its biggest tests as a democratic society.
The changes the Czechs face are part of a political pendulum
that swings between left and right in the region, says Vasil Hudak,
director of the Prague center of the Institute of East-West Studies.
Mr. Hudak says, "In the Czech Republic the situation has been
atypical, because the pendulum has been at the right for so long."
Klaus was part of the initial wave of post-communist
reformers who rose to power following the fall of communism in
Central and Eastern Europe. As finance minister in the initial
Czechoslovak government, he became the architect for what would be
seen as a model for transforming a state-run economy to capitalism.
In the summer of 1992, Klaus was elected prime minister, and
helped oversee the peaceful dissolution of the country into the
Czech and Slovak republics.
That split actually served to stunt the Czechs' political
evolution, says analyst Hudak. While voters across Central and
Eastern Europe grew disenchanted with their initial post-communist
leaders, the Czechs retained Klaus, in large part to seek stability
for their new country.
By 1995 Klaus, an admirer of former British Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, proclaimed that privatization in the Czech
Republic was essentially complete. …