Czech historians on today's inauguration: A president for a new generation

Historians compare Pavel and predecessors and explain why his presidency isn't a breakthrough but a natural "changing of the guard." Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 09.03.2023 09:45:00 (updated on 09.03.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Czechia will have a new head of state beginning this afternoon when Petr Pavel officially becomes president. He will be the Czech Republic’s fourth president since 1993.

Pavel will be a different kind of head of state than his three predecessors as this is a natural change of generations, historians told ČTK.

Since Pavel has not yet taken up office, it would be rash to say whether this is a historical breakthrough, historian and political scientist Jacques Rupnik, from the French university SciencesPo, said.

Bringing a different background

Rupnik said Pavel was "a different type of candidate" who is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Václav Havel, Václav Klaus, and Miloš Zeman.

"Havel embraced the concept of the presidential office which, in a way, was inspired by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk: The president and philosopher, the king who is beyond the party routine and who has no party. Havel’s influence went beyond his powers. He had a strong legitimacy, drawn from November 1989," Rupnik said.

Klaus and Zeman were both "politicians, founders, and leaders of two main parties and former prime ministers," Rupnik said, adding that Pavel does not have similar experience, but as a retired general, may have a different type of influence because of the war in Ukraine.

Historian Jan Rychlík, from the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, said Pavel marked the arrival of a new generation that no longer draws its legitimacy from the 1989 revolution.

Historian Adéla Gjuričová, from the Institute for Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences, said that while Pavel was linked with the Velvet Revolution, it was in a different sense than his predecessors.

"He was a member of a very narrow section of the Communist elite that transitioned into the new situation. Besides, they made a significant career in it," she said.

"His election is a breakthrough in the sense that in the previous period, he was neither a major political actor nor a symbol," she added.

High expectations but limited powers

Gjuričová and Rupnik warned of a gap between the president’s constitutional power and people’s expectations. Gjuričová said despite the strong mandate from the direct election, he has minimal powers – tremendous prestige and a beautiful seat with total isolation from most political operations.

Rupnik said the strength of Pavel's mandate may evaporate before he can address topics that are important for society.

After the inauguration today, Pavel will make a speech, greet the public from a balcony in Prague Castle, and take part in other ceremonial events.

On Friday, Pavel will begin exercising his presidential powers when he appoints Petr Hladík as Environment Minister in the morning. On Monday, he will leave for his first foreign visit to Slovakia.

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