Klaus, Václav (vätˈsläf klous) [key], 1941–, Czech politician. A staunch free-market economist and leader (1991–2002) of the Civic Democratic party, he has been one of Eastern Europe's more influential post-Communist leaders. While a member of the Czech state bank (1971–86), he came to admire the ideas of such conservative economists as Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek. The first finance minister of the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism in 1989, the dapper, imperious Klaus became prime minister in 1992 and continued in the post when after Czechoslovakia was dissolved (1993) and the Czech Republic became independent. The Czech economy was extensively privatized, but economic setbacks in 1997 forced his resignation.
In 2003 he was elected Czech president, succeeding the retiring Václav Havel, with whom Klaus was often at odds when he was prime minister. Klaus was reelected in 2008. A staunch Eurosceptic, Klaus refused to sign the European Union's Lisbon Treaty as required to formalize Czech ratification (the last ratification needed). He finally did so (Nov., 2009) after the Czech Republic was given an exemption from the EU rights charter that he demanded so that Germans expelled after World War II could not reclaim their property. His decision, at the end of his last term, to amnesty dozens of business and civic leaders accused of corruption angered many Czech citizens. He was succeeded (2013) as president by Miloš Zeman.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.