>From Citizen Havel to Citizen Klaus


It’s little depressing that Czech politics is as far as the mainstream West European media is concerned is Václav Klaus and little else. To emphasize the point BBC Radio 4 gives us a polished , accurate and listenable documentary 15 minute documentary on Klaus in its Profile slot, but airbrushes the rest of Czech politics and some far more important, but personally less magnetic, Czech movers and shakers from our attention. Indeed, not a single currently active Czech politician gets interviewed in this eve of the Czech EU Presidency special.

Václav Havel, however, also still gets a media look-in sometimes, coincidently, the same evening I also at last get a free moment to watch the DVD of Občan Havel (Citizen Havel), the epic documentary following Václav Havel at close quarters over the decade he spent as Czech President from 1993 to 2002. The director Pavel Koutecký, who died before work on the film was completed ,has close access to Havel and we see some interesting behind the scenes stuff: Havel’s thoughts about whether to stand for the Presidency of the soon to emerge Czech Republic having resigned as Czechoslovak President in mid-1992 as it became clear the federation would disintegrate; numerous strategy meetings with advisors over beer and Becherovka (Head of the Presidential Chancellory Ivan Medek emerges as suprisingly politically astute and forceful) ; the President nipping off the a crafty cigarettel the constant minutiae of dress, appearence and protocol; a few pointed remarks from Havel in the mid-1990s about the petty bourgeois provincialism of the (right-wing) political elites running the CR and and some pointed quips about then Prime Minister) Klaus (Advisor: “If he asks for a second option, what will you suggest?”, Havel: “Resignation”).

We also get the big political and personal moments in Havel’s life: his election and re-election as President in 1993 and 1998; the death of his first wife Olga; his own cancer; re-marriage to Dagmar Veskrnková; the Rudolfinum speech laying into the record of the Klaus government; the electoral victory of the Social Democrats.

It’s all rather free form, overlong and uneven, however: too many shots of presidential dog(s) lapping up bowls of water on the margin of major press conferences. And, I suspect, even Czech viewers with an interest in politics will have been left struggling in places to work out which events are going on and when. There’s also little in the way of access to real political decisions; the closest we come are some scenes of Havel’s consultations with party leaders after the deadlocked 1996 election (“I wish [Christian Democrat leader, Josef] Lux was premier, he’s someone you can deal with”) and here, some pompous and patronizing acting for the cameras by Social Democrat leader Miloš Zeman in his meeting with Havel is the closest we get to seeing the Czech politicsal process unfold.

As a personal portrait of Havel (no mere citizen, of course) it’s ultimately rather unrevealing: Havel didn”t like formality, but manged the role of Head of State role; liked a drink and a cigarette; had passable, basic English; was indeed too much of a intellectual, given to viewing politics in philosophizing and moralizing vein; was politically hostile to Václav Klaus; got a bit distracted by symbolic issues like the re-opening of the Slavia cafe ; had limited political power; was a basically decent and popular President.

I look forward to watching Citizen Klaus in 2013 or so…

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