>Who shot Václav Klaus?

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It’s just over ten years since Václav Klaus was toppled as Czech Prime Minister in the wake of explosive revelations of dodgy party funding , giving rise to the most dramatic week in Czech politics since 1989. (The split with the Slovaks following the 1992 elections was played out in at slower and more orderly pace – at least in public). The high point of the 1997 drama was the publicly televised appeal by Finance Minister Ivan Pilip and ex-Interior Minister Jan Ruml for Klaus to resign as no credible explanations for concealed donations were possible. As PM and party leader, they argued even if he didn’t know – unlikely on the evidence, but just possible – then he should of done. No very convincing explanation was ever forthcoming from Klaus, but Pilip and Ruml’s bad timing – VK was out of the country at a summit of Central European leaders in Sarajevo when they went on TV – enabled Klaus to tough it out and present the whole thing into a conspiracy again him: the ‘Sarajevo Assassination’ as it was quickly dubbed (probably by journalists).

I always thought ‘Sarajevo’ crisis would make a good docu-drama or thriller, but Czech film maker Radim Procházka more accurately sensed that it was more political pantomime than high drama and put together a witty and acerbic documentary, Papírový atentát (Desk-based Assassination). The film centres on a specially made toy puppet theatre of the scene outside the (then) ODS headquarters with cartoon-style moveable finger puppets figures of all the main dramatis personae (Klaus, Havel, Ruml, Pilip etc). These key political players were then interviewed with the first shot being their reaction to this paper diorama. The film did, however, have a more serious purpose as interviews went on to probe the issue and events of late 1997 and were intercut with archive footage of the unfolding political crises (the (in)famous press conference with Ruml and Pilip, politicians silouetted in the windows of the Civic Democratic Party headquarters, Klaus’s supporters chanting fanatically outside, Klaus’s resignation as PM etc etc) as well as some typically Czech offbeat lighter stuff about the tradition of paper modelling in the CR – the ‘Desk-based Assassination’ model wins third prize in the national championships held with tongue-in-cheek seriousness (I think) in a sparsely attended leisure centre). The Czech news magazine Respekt even supplied its readers with a cut out make-your-own version in its first December issue, but although I am a subscriber, but have so far resisted the temptation to get out the scissors and glue.

Papírový atentát was pointed and drily witty as only Czechs can be present a reasonably clear case that there was no plot and the whole affair was ultimately a fairly standard political crisis dramatized by those involved for a variety of different reasons. The real story was, in any case, one of bad debts, dubious lending and flawed privatization of 1990s. It was, nevertheless, interesting to see the elusive ex-Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec – suspected by many of leaking the crucial details of dodgy financing which , by the standards of the time, was nothing very out of the ordinary – talking on camera. The cynical complicit laughter of journalists and politicians at the ODS press conference, where the (real donor) ex-tennis play Milan Šrejber offered some obviously feeble explanations and then refused to take questions ,was also revealing. However, few very new points emerged for anyone who knows the ‘Sarajevo’ saga , suggesting that as ever it was really Václav Klaus – still very much on the Czech political stage as President – who really got away with murder.

Czech speakers can still catch Papírový atentát online here on the Czech Television website.

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