Final Word from Thursday, December 30, 2004





Poplars are fast-growing trees, and Mirek Topolánek (whose name derives from the Czech word for "poplar") has grown more than any other Czech politician in 2004. He was an unlikely candidate for ODS chair in 2002, survived Václav Klaus's demeaning "phony and vacuous" SMS going into 2003, and led his party to three straight victories in 2004. His handicap from day one has been that Czechs tend to expect their leaders to be larger-than-life (Klaus, Václav Havel, Miloš Zeman, Josef Lux). But Topolánek has the strongest backup team in Czech politics (Petr Nečas, Martin Říman, Vlastimil Tlustý, Jan Zahradil, to name a few) and could become the first "average guy" to serve a full term as premier. His big challenge in 2005 will be to consolidate his party's position without eliciting the let's-all-gang-up-on-ODS animosity that has haunted the Civic Democrats since 1997. He's our choice for Person of the Year. [Czech Republic fake shadow cabinet]

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