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Czech President Discusses Fragility of Freedom - 2003-11-19

The president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, Wednesday addressed the subject of the fragility of freedom in remarks at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center. The Czech president said individual rights are more important than those of society at large.

The often controversial Mr. Klaus stressed the primacy of individual freedoms. The 62-year-old politician told his audience that Czechs and others in eastern and central Europe who endured nearly 50 years of communism regard freedom as a precious but fragile commodity.

"We don't take freedom for granted," said Vaclav Klaus. "We are sensitive to all kinds of creeping - for other people almost invisible - changes which signal to us the future possibility of the weakening and potential loss of freedom in the nominally free non-totalitarian world."

Mr. Klaus, who succeeded his long-time rival Vaclav Havel as Czech president earlier this year, said individual freedom is paramount. He said it deserves more emphasis than such issues as human rights, environmentalism, or judicial activism. Mr. Klaus also expressed his disapproval of the moral righteousness that he believes has crept into many political debates.

"Because we feel in it a strong authoritarian temper of those who want to impose their values on others," said Czech president. "They pretend to know better than the rest of us what we need and what we want and what is good for us. They want to protect us from ourselves."

Earlier this month Mr. Klaus told an interviewer that the Czech Republic's impending membership in the European Union is a marriage of convenience, not of love. He said a principal challenge for the ten million Czechs is preventing their country from being worn down by EU bureaucracy. Mr. Klaus, a disciple of free market economist Milton Friedman, served as Czech prime minister during much of the 1990s.