More Karel, no more Kalousek
For his thousands of younger and female admirers, Karel Schwarzenberg can do no wrong. But a more critical assessment might be more useful in helping to secure their hero the presidency.
Schwarzenberg’s most obvious handicap is not his age or his locution. It is Kalousek.
The almost Biblical story of how a prince resuscitated and then helped refashion a half-dead, hard-drinking Christian Democrat with a not unblemished past, into Finance Minister of the Year, was forgotten long before it could ever be forgiven by the under-25s who turned out for their Karel last weekend.
The rest of us, especially those of a left-leaning persuasion, are not so easily able to forgive, let alone forget what is considered to be Schwarzenberg's most cardinal political sin.
We remember only too well how Schwarzenberg picked Kalousek up four years ago, dusted him down, replaced his light brown suit with a dark blue one, and altogether gave him a new lease of life as deputy chairman of TOP 09 and cunning mastermind of the most shambolic and mismanaged economic reforms this country has ever known.
Schwarzenberg’s “Kalousek Heel” is a fact of life for anyone over 25, and an uncomfortable truth that Milos Zeman will do his utmost to exploit in the next few days.
And rightly so.
Kalousek’s record in office is dreadful. Take church restitution for example. The return of vast amounts of money and property to the church may well be fair in principle, but for the country’s finance minister, it is a badly timed decision from the budgetary point of view. Little wonder that Kalousek is now proposing to pay the church in non-tradable government bonds, not cash, which means that the church might never get paid -and that Kalousek himself has something to trade with the new president, whichever of the two it will be!
If Schwarzenberg is to beat Zeman, he will need to overcome the fear of many that Kalousek will be the new president’s most influential advisor. People will be wondering whether the de facto chairman of TOP 09 will be allowed to become the de facto president, at least in matters economic.
Schwarzenberg must assure those who might otherwise vote for him on 26 January but who deeply oppose any further empowerment of Kalousek, that the finance minister will not be choosing, on the president’s behalf, new appointments to the Czech National Bank for example.
My own view is that the special relationship with Kalousek will end, in fact if not in appearance, the moment it has fulfilled its single most important purpose, which is to secure the presidency for Schwarzenberg.
Schwarzenberg sees himself as above party politics, in the way Vaclav Havel always did. But unlike Havel, he needed a political party to achieve his political ambitions.
Recall how he dropped like a stone his association with the Green Party, which got him the job of foreign minister in the Topolanek government, when the Greens lost power. His decision to abandon the Greens at that particular moment wiped out the party's chances of getting back into parliament in 2010.
People will have noticed how Kalousek has been absent from Schwarzenberg’s campaign. Schwarzenberg’s team is acutely aware of their leader’s most obvious handicap and will have asked Kalousek to disappear for a few days.
The question, of course, is whether the finance minister will reappear next weekend through the backdoor of the Castle presided over by Karel Schwarzenberg.
I doubt it. His adoring youth will countenance no criticism of their Prince Charming. But we should remind ourselves of just quite how ruthless Schwarzenberg has been in the pursuit of his ambitions.
This is not something we should hold against him. On the contrary, it is a feature of his character which it would be politically astute to acknowledge when considering how to vote on 26 January.