You are here: Home Články / Articles 1999 The ODS is split over Yugoslav crisis

The ODS is split over Yugoslav crisis

The second largest Czech political party--the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) of Vaclav Klaus--is split over the NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia. It is the first time since January 1998 that the party is internally disunited. Vaclav Klaus managed to consolidate his hold on the party in December 1997 after a group of prominent ODS politicians had revolted against him. The rebels left the party in January 1998, to found a new political party, the Freedom Union (US).

Following the departure of those politicians from the ODS, the party became ever more than before dependent on Klaus's leadership. With the exception of Miroslav Macek, who had played an important role in the party before its January 1998 split, other new ODS leaders were little known to the Czech public. Their most outstanding quality was an absolute loyalty to Klaus. The ODS's election campaign prior to the June 1998 parliamentary elections was entirely based on Klaus. It was his leadership and charisma that helped the ODS rise from ashes.

The so-called opposition agreement that the ODS and the Social Democrats (CSSD) signed in July 1998 was Klaus's masterstroke. In exchange for receiving high parliamentary and other posts, the ODS agreed to let the CSSD form a government. It further promised not to trigger a vote of confidence in the minority government. The agreement put the ODS in a very comfortable position: party leaders, including Klaus, kept important posts but, at the same time, had not responsibility over economic developments in the country and could behave like an opposition party.

The signing of the opposition agreement further strengthened Klaus's position in the party. Other party leaders never diverged too far from Klaus's views. At the end of 1998 Klaus's position in the party was so strong that he and his closest associates even proposed a reform within the party that would reduce the influence of regional party organizations and shift power into the hands of a small group of "party managers."

The Yugoslav crisis has, however, shown that the ODS is not a monolith. In response to NATO attacks, Klaus has made a number of critical or ambivalent statements. In a newspaper interview he even suggested that the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was directly provoked by NATO strikes. The party leadership issued a statement echoing Klaus's views.

This behavior has provoked strong reactions within the party. Some local organizations of the ODS have distanced themselves from the views of both Klaus and the party leadership. Some prominent party politicians have openly disagreed with Klaus's views and spoken about "a lack of democracy" within the party. While no politician has threatened to leave the party in protest, the image of the ODS as a firmly united party has suffered.

It is not clear yet whether Klaus's ambivalent attitudes toward the NATO operation may diminish the popularity of the ODS. Opinion polls suggest that while support for the NATO air strikes is rather low among Czechs, a majority of ODS voters support the strikes. Moreover, many of those ODS voters who do not support the NATO action, may have problems with a lack of leadership Klaus has shown during the crisis.

The Yugoslav crisis may eventually trigger a crisis within the ODS. Ivan Langer, who is seen as a "crown prince" of the ODS has recently made a number of statements on the Yugoslav crisis that diverge from those of Klaus. The most difficult dilemma the ODS faces right now is that Klaus is both its biggest asset and its biggest burden. Even those who have rebelled against Klaus realize that Klaus's eventual departure from his top party post would significantly reduce the size of the ODS's electorate. The party currently does not have a leader who could match Klaus's charisma.

Reuters - 21. 4. 1999