The country watched with morbid, self-flagellating fascination, as President Václav Klaus took the microphone at the UN conference on climate change in New York Monday.
Knowing Klaus, the Czech Republic’s most vocal global warming sceptic, everyone was prepared for what might come. Politicians like ČSSD Chairman Jiří Paroubek and Green Party head Martin Bursík pleaded with the president to tone down his speech and embarrass the country as little as possible.
Bursík even worried that Klaus’s unorthodox opinions might jeopardize the Czech Republic’s chances to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2008 to 2009.
But anyone expecting Klaus to shock conference attendees was disappointed, pundits agreed.
While reinstating his belief that climate change is not the product of human activity and his fear that the global warming debate is too one-sided, Klaus focused on the political impacts of environmental policies, arguing, for instance, that adopting strict energy saving policies would put developing countries at a disadvantage.
Even Bursík admitted afterwards that Klaus didn’t cause that much damage with his speech.
This week’s op-eds oscillated between patronising dismissal, relief and a certain level of admiration for Klaus’s tenacity to stick to his worldview no matter what.
In her online commentary in Respekt Wednesday, Markéta Pilátová compared Klaus to Don Quijote, “fighting the windmills of international ignorace”. “Our president reads Hayek, the economic theoretician, and other renowned experts, but he hasn’t noticed that here on Earth, it’s getting pretty hot,” she wrote.
And although several commentators, such as Daniel Anýž in Hospodářské noviny, suggested that Klaus should have emphasized he’s voicing his own opinions and not those of his fellow countrymen, most noted with relief that Klaus’s speech received little attention in international press.
“It’s not surprising,” wrote Pilátová. “Why comment on something so ridiculous and silly?”
Not playing the game
A Mladá fronta Dnes correspondent reported that journalists in the UN press centre laughed at Klaus’s speech, with some musing whether he was being serious. But some pundits argued that this wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Clearly, the content of [Klaus’s] speech was original,” wrote political analyst Bohumil Doležal in Lidové noviny Tuesday. “Klaus is playing down the issue of global warming. But it would be difficult to overlook the wave of mass hysteria, a sort of modern-day chiliasm, that the fear of climate change provokes.”
Doležal even went so far as to praise Klaus for not being afraid to stand apart. “Even if he came across as a lone eccentric, he had a meaningful role in the debate,” Doležal said. “The conference in New York was clearly something like an ice-skating exhibition for influential politicians, the Czech president chose not to play that game.”
In Tuesday’s Právo, Jiří Franěk noted that Klaus’s speech was “not the exhibition of a renowned economic guru” but that it was “matter-of-fact and even willing to accept other viewpoints”. Above all, Franěk said he appreciated that Klaus wasn’t his usual pedantic self.
Mladá fronta Dnes commentator Pavel Páral stood alone in supporting Klaus’s efforts. “Klaus knows how to choose his words and diction well to suit the situation, and he was able to make good use of his short time slot on UN soil, without controversial and provocative pronouncements in the vein of ‘I don’t see any proof of humans destroying their environment,'” Páral wrote Tuesday.
He argued that Klaus did well to focus on the politics surrounding global warming rather than on climate change itself. “The key issue is whether political decisions at the global level, like those involving the Kyoto protocol, should be made on the basis of a single scientific panel,” said Páral. “Not whether ocean temperatures will increase by three-tenths of a percent or by a percentage point and a half.”
But like Pilátová, Páral compared Klaus’s role to that of Don Quijote, in this case emphasizing the futility of the president’s crusade: “Klaus fought for the right thing in front of an international audience, but it was, I fear, like a fight with windmills.”