In a last-minute effort to gain support for his bid for the presidency of the Czech Republic, Ross School of Business Prof. Jan Svejnar told Czech voters he will give up his United States citizenship if he wins the election 10 days from now.
Svejnar, whose work at the University focuses on economic growth in Eastern European countries, announced his bid for the Czech presidency six weeks ago after receiving requests from Czech parliament members dissatisfied with the incumbent president’s economic and environmental policies.
Svejnar, who was 17 years old when he immigrated to the U.S. to flee from the communist government of former Czechoslovakia, earned degrees from Cornell University and Princeton University in labor relations and economics.
Svejnar’s policy suggestions, which include adopting the Euro, have been well received by Czech citizens, but he has faced criticism for holding American citizenship and residing in the United States. In response, Svejnar said he would relinquish his U.S. citizenship if elected.
“In the event that I am elected the Czech president, I will immediately take steps to drop my U.S. citizenship,” Svejnar said, according to the Mlada Fronta Dnes, a Czech news publication.
According to Svejnar’s wife, Ross School of Business Prof. Katherine Terrell, Svejnar decided that giving up his U.S. citizenship would be the best way to demonstrate his loyalty to the Czech Republic.
“In recent weeks, he has met and talked to people from different walks of life as well as of different political orientations, and he felt that this was a reasonable expectation on their part,” said Michael Kraus, one of Svejnar’s advisers.
Terrell said the decision was made because of “the notion that the Czech people would not feel that their president were loyal to them if he had dual citizenship.”
Kraus said the decision was difficult for Svejnar.
“It was not easy because he has great attachment to the United States, the country that offered him a new home,” Kraus said.
The announcement will benefit Svejnar as he attempts to win more support from citizens and lawmakers alike.
The Prague Daily Monitor reported on Jan. 17 that 52 percent of Czech citizens would vote for Svejnar. The other 48 percent said they would vote for Svejnar’s opponent, incumbent president Vaclav Klaus.
Unfortunately for Svejnar, the public will have little to no role in the election. Instead, the bicameral Czech parliament will elect the new president on Feb. 8.
Garnering enough support will be difficult for Svejnar, especially in the senate. The Civic Democratic Party – which supports the incumbent president – holds 40 of the 81 upper house seats. That means he would need to win the support of every other party on both ends of the political spectrum to win the election.
Svejnar has already received support from several parties, including the Social Democratic Party, the environmentally-focused Green Party and the Communist Party, which account for about 43 percent of Czech parliamentary seats.
Svejnar and Klaus will debate before members of parliament today, outlining their platforms on national television.
Kraus said that Svejnar has gained respect during his campaign despite his underdog status.
“It would certainly be a surprise if, in the end, Jan Svejnar wins,” Kraus said. “Even if he doesn’t win, he has served his country well by promoting a debate about the issues, about alternatives, about both it’s domestic issues and it’s orientation to the outside world.”