THE CHANGE of presidency in the Czech Republic means that one Václav (Havel) is out, another Václav (Klaus) is in. It seems that this name improves the chances of hopeful heads of state to the west of Slovak borders: The patron saint of Bohemia is another leader called Václav, better known as Saint Wenceslas. But what else do these figures share? Some might point to their will to fight for the best interests of their nation - and their ability to win that battle.
Saint Václav was born in 908, in the era of Christianisation of Bohemia. Despite his alleged passion for religion and peaceful contemplation, he often had to spend time in battle rather than in prayer.
When he came to power, the country was divided and under threat from Bavarian and German rulers. Václav was able to gain the support of most of the local aristocracy and managed to fight an equal battle with the Germans. Later, the former enemies had to unite against the threat posed by invading Hungarians.
Václav's life made him not only a saint, but also a national symbol. The statue of St. Wenceslas on one of Prague's largest squares, created by sculptor Václav Myslbek, has witnessed many of the most significant events in Czech history, including the revolution that brought Václav Havel to power.
Havel, a writer and philosopher, dedicated much of his life to the fight against the communist regime and Russian rule. Although severely persecuted, his efforts paid off: Communism collapsed, Russian forces left the country, and Havel became both president and a symbol of resistance at home and abroad.
Havel was a determined opponent of Czechoslovakia's division and in the spring of 1992 he stepped down as president in protest against agreed plans to split the federation, only to be elected as the first president of an independent Czech Republic in 1993. It then seemed that this division, carried out against the will of the majority of people, represented a major defeat for Havel, and one that could hardly be undone.
However, 10 years later, both countries are planning to enter the EU together, and even Havel admits that the division played a positive role in the history of both nations.
It is this division that Klaus is best remembered for, as it was he, along with Slovak PM Vladimír Mečiar, who masterminded the process.
Although a veteran politician, Klaus must hope that his biggest battles still lie ahead. He has shown himself to be ready to fight for a place in the history books, keeping up the good tradition of the Václavs. Considering the limited number of possible outside enemies, Klaus's opinions until now, and the fact that without the votes of the Czech communists - not known for their pro-Western stance - Klaus would not be president today, it seems clear who will have to prepare for battle with Klaus: the EU and the US.
Klaus has repeatedly criticized the EU on a number of issues. He is well aware that the Czechs currently have no better option than to join the EU, but the respected economist has his doubts about monetary union, as well as efforts to transfer further authority to Brussels.
Klaus's stand on the Iraqi issue is very different from that of the pro-US Havel. The new president has said that he should not be expected to be too supportive of any war, and his new friends, the communists, have expressed hope that Klaus will continue to deal with the issue "like a man".
Taking into account the current foreign policy of the US and the uncertain future of European integration, this fight may indeed serve the best interests of the Czech Republic - and make Klaus the next national hero.
10. Mar 2003 at 0:00