Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic and a staunch opponent of the proposed E.U. constitution, was in the U.S. last week peddling his book On the Road to Democracy: The Czech Republic from Communism to Free Society. Before meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House, he stopped by TIME's Washington bureau for a chat.
YOU HAVE SUSPICIONS ABOUT THE PROSPECT OF A STRONGER EUROPEAN UNION. WHAT WORRIES YOU? Suspicion is an understatement. For me, the developments in the E.U. are really dangerous with regard to moving out of a free society and moving more and more toward masterminding control and regulation.
WHY DO YOU FEAR AN E.U. SUPERSTATE? We spent a half-century under communist eyes. We are more sensitive than some other West Europeans. We feel things, we see things, we touch things that we don't like. For us, the European Union reminds us of COMECON [Moscow's organization for economic control of the Soviet bloc].
I GUESS YOU WON'T BE GOING TO FRANCE ANYTIME SOON ... Not ideologically, but structurally, [the E.U.] is very similar [to COMECON]. The decisions are made not in your own country. For us who lived through the communist era, this is an issue.
WHEN FRANCE TRIED TO EXERT POLITICAL CONTROL OVER THE EUROPEAN CENTRAL BANK IN 2000, A BRITISH POLITICIAN SAID THAT THE E.U. HAS BEEN SHOWN FOR WHAT IT IS: A RUSE BY THE FRENCH, FOR THE FRENCH. DO YOU THINK THERE'S SOMETHING TO THAT? I don't think the main issue is the attempt to control the European Central Bank. The much bigger issue is the French position on all sides of the political spectrum about fiscal policy and taxation. They want to harmonize taxation. They call the different tax rates [in new member states like the Czech Republic] "tax dumping."
SHOULD THE E.U. BE EXPANDED TO INCLUDE COUNTRIES LIKE UKRAINE AND BELARUS? I am ready to confer membership to Turkey, to Kazakhstan, to Morocco, and to everyone. The more countries, the better.
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE U.S.�E.U RELATIONS NOW? I really don't think the antagonism between Europe and the U.S. was as great as the headlines in some of your publications would suggest. We are moving in a positive direction.
WHAT SHOULD EUROPE DO NOW TO HELP IN IRAQ? One thing is what NATO decided to do: to help build the security force. The fact that the army and police were dismantled a few years ago, I'm sure that everyone understands now that was a big mistake.
HOW IS THE CZECH POLICE TRAINING GOING IN IRAQ?I was in Jordan recently and met a group of our Czech instructors who were training the Iraqi policemen. They were absolutely frustrated not with the quality of the people and their ability to learn, but they were telling us that 80% of the people disappear in a couple of days. They just use it as a way to get some salary and then they disappear.
YOU ONCE SAID THAT THE IDEA THAT DEMOCRACY COULD BE IMPOSED THROUGH FORCE WAS OUT OF A PARALLEL UNIVERSE. GIVEN YOUR EXPERIENCES AT HOME AND NOW IN THE MIDDLE EAST, DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT WAY? Democratic transformation is a domestic task. You can motivate some people [but] you cannot do it from outside.
WHAT'S GOING ON IN RUSSIA TODAY? I see challenges and successes, tremendous successes. You may know the famous book written in the late 1960s by Andrei Amalrik [Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?]. His nightmare scenario was not just one small
Chechnya, but civil war on a wholesale scale. But the end of the communist era was three minutes of shooting at the Moscow White House, not three years of fighting. One trouble is that they have not created a standard, well-defined political structure. They still don't have ideologically well-defined political parties. You have all the names of the political parties, but no meaning. This is the main issue in the country. I don't see the charismatic leaders able to organize these parties. They don't organize by themselves. There must be a leader to do it.