We’ve been exploring the evolution (or, more properly, devolution) of former Czech president Václav Klaus, who, hailed only a couple of years ago as a “champion of liberty,” has since become a “slavish defender” of Vladimir Putin – in particular, of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine.
As we saw yesterday, Klaus – by way of making a case for Russia’s claim to Ukraine – called Ukraine an “artificial entity” with “no historical tradition of statehood.” Andrei Illarionov and Dalibor Rohac of the Cato Institute refuted this “most extraordinary claim” with ease, citing previous incarnations of the independent Ukrainian state, going back to the Kievan Rus (882–1240) and the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia (1199–1243).
But Klaus doubled down. “For Russia,” he maintained, “the Ukraine is more than just its closest foreign country, more than e.g. Estonia, Tajikistan, or Azerbaijan. It is the historic cradle of its statehood and culture.” To which Illarionov and Rohac pointed out that “England is also the cradle of the modern United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. But…we doubt that Klaus would see that as a reason or a justification for any of those countries to claim English lands.”
Writing in the Washington Post on October 16 of this year, Anne Applebaum – the author of the definitive history of the Gulag – brought us up to date on the unsavory Klaus-Putin axis. Klaus, she noted, had spoken this year at the World Public Forum’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” – an event, sponsored by Putin intimate Vladimir Yakunin and featuring sizable contingents of Russian secret service agents, that annually brings together “people willing to endorse Russian views of the world.” At the forum, Klaus defended Putin’s actions in Syria, calling them “a logical step.”
Noting that Klaus has “financial links to Moscow” (she didn’t go into detail), Applebaum compared the World Public Forum to the Soviet front groups of the Cold War era. Those groups, she recalled, “were run by ‘agents of influence’ — people who knowingly promoted the interests of the Soviet Union in the West — or ‘useful idiots,’ people who did the same thing, unconsciously, usually out of ideological naiveté.” But Klaus and other participants in the forum, she underscored, aren’t exactly idiots, spies, or traitors; they’re people who, for whatever reasons of their own, “seek openly to legitimize the anti-NATO, anti-European, anti-Western views of the Russian elite” and “to undermine Western security and support the spread of Russian authoritarianism in Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.”
She concluded: “So what do we call them? We need a new vocabulary for a new era.” Which is precisely the reason why we coined the term “useful stooges.” How sad that Václav Klaus, once a hero of freedom, has become the very model of the modern useful stooge.
Not everybody is put off by the new Klaus. Tomorrow we’ll meet somebody who thinks his new political line is just plain terrific.