We will have lived fortunate lives if we meet more people than we can count on our fingers who have studied the art of politics and the principles of economics, and who have done high and courageous service in that art. Today we meet and hear from such a man.
Václav Klaus is the president of the Czech Republic, and has served twice as its prime minister. He was born in Prague in 1941, and holds his doctorate in economics from the University of Economics in Prague, where he still teaches. He also studied in Italy in 1966 and in the United States in 1969.
In 1989, large events began to unfold in the world, including events right outside this hotel where the Berlin Wall stood. These events were terribly significant in the native country of our speaker, who had begun his career as an academic, worked for a long time in a state bank, and eventually returned to the academy. In the month in which the prospect of freedom came in the Czech Republic—or Czechoslovakia as it was then—he was immediately appointed its finance minister, in which role he set out to restructure his nation’s economy.
Our speaker is a believer in the free market and a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, a society dedicated to freedom that was founded in 1947 by people like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Lately he has been something incredible and unique in the context of European politics—a person in high authority who is critical of the steady advance of centralized power in the European Union, and of the absence of accountability in its government to the peoples who are ruled by it.
Our speaker is part of one of the greatest stories in modern times. The people of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic are among the handful of peoples who had the disaster strike them of being ruled first by the German Nazis and then by the Soviet Communists. Nothing could be more abusive than to have either of those things happen, except to have both of them happen. And there is something about the Czech Republic that it has always stood up against such rule. Churchill thought that one of the worst tragedies of the 1930s was to abandon that brave place to Hitler. When the Iron Curtain fell, it would be one of the first places to rally.
Today we meet a man who came forward to show the alternative to collectivist rule, based on a distinction that Churchill loved. It had been a government where the government owned the people. How then could it become a government where the people own the government? I think it is no exaggeration to say that one of the most clear-sighted, deeply learned, and steadily courageous of all of the servants of human freedom in our age is the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus.