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Václav Klaus (born 19 June 1941) is the second President of the Czech Republic and a former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. He is indisputably one of the most important Czech politicians of the recent era.
Klaus was born in Prague and graduated from the University of Economics, Prague in 1963; he also spent some time at universities in Italy (1966) and the United States (1969). He pursued a postgraduate scientific career at the Institute of Economics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, which he left (reportedly, he was ejected for political reasons) for the Czechoslovak State Bank in 1970; he joined the perestroika-minded Prognostics Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1987. In 1995 he achieved the degree of Professor of Finance at the Prague School of Economics.
Václav Klaus entered full-time politics soon after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. As a member (and later chairman) of Civic Forum he became the federal Minister of Finance. In April 1991 Klaus co-founded Obcanska demokraticka strana (Civic-Democratic Party, ODS), the strongest and most right-wing of the post-Civic Forum splinter parties. He remained its chairman until the autumn of 2002.
In June 1992, ODS won the elections in the Czech Republic with a reform program; however, the winner in Slovakia was Vladimir Meciar's nationalistic HZDS. It soon became apparent that Slovak demands for increased sovereignty were incompatible with the limited "viable federation" supported in the Czech lands; both leaders assumed premiership in their respective polities and quickly agreed on a smooth division of Czechoslovakia under a caretaker federal government.
Klaus continued as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic after the 1996 election, but ODS's win was much narrower and his government was plagued by increasing instability and economic problems. He had to resign in the autumn of 1997 after a government crisis caused by an ODS funding scandal.
Václav Klaus is a prominent member of the Mont Pelerin Society. His enthusiasm for the free market economy as exemplified by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and as practised by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush was well known and also often criticised. Others agree with his free-market concepts, but point out that during his premiership he neglected the importance of law and enforcement of property rights.
ODS lost the parliamentary elections in 1998 and Milo Zeman, chairman of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), succeeded Klaus as prime minister, although his minority government had to be supported by an "opposition agreement" with ODS and personally Klaus, who became the chairman of the Parliament.
ODS was again defeated in the elections of June 2002; after long equivocation, Klaus resigned as party chair in the autumn and was promptly elected the honorary chairman by unanimous vote.
After more than five years spent in opposition, Klaus was elected President of the Czech Republic by joint session of both chambers of parliament on February 28, 2003; he succeeded Václav Havel, who has been one of his greatest political opponents since the division of Czechoslovakia. The result surprised many: Klaus was elected at the third vote with just 142 votes out of 281. The governing coalition, buffeted especially by feuds within CSSD, was unable to agree on a common candidate to oppose him. Klaus achieved the quorum thanks to the votes of most Communists (whose parliament club he visited before the election and whose shunning from political meetings he ended). Apparently a faction within CSSD, unsatisfied with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, and reportedly even a few right-leaning members of KDU-CSL, supported Klaus.
Václav Klaus still has many opponents, and his alleged arrogance is the least among their criticism—they depict him as a narrow-minded pragmatist interested only in technology of power and textbook economic precepts. Beside faults of his governments—and outright corruption—the most contested issues are his relation to Communism, both in the country's past and the strengthening political party today (he's published articles praising "the grey zone" of the majority of ordinary people and condemning dissidents like Havel for haughtiness; in another article he declared himself a "non-communist" but not anticommunist, which he rejects as cheap and superficial posturing), his Eurosceptic pronouncements, which often border on pandering to the public's nationalist instincts; and an apparent desire to be liked at the expense of a longer-term, more demanding agenda. On the other hand, his backers claim that among Czech politicians of the last decade, Klaus is one of the few, if not the only one, with the intellectual capacity and dedication necessary for true statesman's greatness.
Klaus's popularity in public opinion polls grew rapidly in the first half of 2003, probably fuelled by his public opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, his loudly voiced scepticism on the process of European integration, refusals to grant amnesties, and sometimes populist rhetoric.
Life outside politics
Vaclav Klaus is married to economist Livia Klausová and has two sons and five grandchildren: Vaclav is the headmaster of a private grammar school in Prague and Jan works as a financial analyst.
Václav Klaus is also a writer and wrote over 20 books on various social, political, and economics subjects, including a book about the first year of his presidency, Year One.
For many years during his youth, Vaclav Klaus was an outstanding sportsman, playing basketball and volleyball. He also enjoys skiing and tennis. He was the first to break the Stanley Cup tradition that the only those hockey players who have won it can hold the Cup; on July 26, 2004, a couple of Czech hockey players presented it to him at Prague Castle.
In his spare time, he enjoys fiction and music, especially jazz. Prof. Vaclav Klaus holds a number of international awards and honorary doctorates from universities all over the world.
He currently provoked great dispute over his decision not to appoint judges under 30 years of age.
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