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Vaclav Klaus's pen snatching recalls a similar kerfuffle over gloves in 1991

'Why Mr. Klaus, you have taken my gloves!' exclaimed an Irish journalist colleague, recounting an experience at a banquet with current Czech President Vaclav Klaus back in the early 1990s.

By Staff writer / April 14, 2011

Czech President Vaclav Klaus looks at the pen used by his foreign minister to sign a bilateral agreement with his Chilean counterpart, during a news conference with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera following the signing, in Santiago on April 4. Czech media has chided Klaus this week after a viral Internet video showed him discreetly pocketing the ceremonial pen during the signing.

Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

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Czech President Vaclav Klaus has long been controversial for his skepticism about European unity and climate change. But he’s earned new international recognition for a YouTube video-gone-viral that shows him stealthily swiping a ceremonial pen in Chile.

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With cameras rolling and his Chilean interlocutor oblivious, Mr. Klaus examines the pen, crusted with semi precious blue stones. He then shifts it under the table with one hand, and subsequently pockets it with the other, amid a rustling of his suit jacket. (See video below).

"All I have to say is, it is not a pen but just a stylus," Klaus offered later, adding that he takes things all the time, according to press reports.

Indeed, he may be telling the truth. Back in 1991 when Klaus was still a young economist making waves in then-Czechoslovakia, I was in Slovenia with journalists covering the outbreak of the Yugoslav war. Talk turned to all the new characters emerging in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Klaus’s name came up.

An Irish correspondent quickly recounted an extraordinary experience with Klaus at a banquet, where she was seated next to him. She put her set of dinner gloves on the table next to Klaus when she noticed his hand reaching out. The gloves disappeared. She immediately said in the most animated way, as she told it, “Why Mr. Klaus, you have taken my gloves!”

Some explanation ensued involving Klaus’s wife and her tastes, as the gloves were returned.

In the aftermath of the current video, Czech officials say the not-so-secreted pen is a commemorative artifact handed to dignitaries as a matter of course. Chileans officials are graciously saying similar things.

"It is what people do regularly,” Klaus said as the event went global. “They keep notepads and pens from such events."

But many Czechs believe the proper protocol involves gestures done above, not below, the table. A Facebook campaign is underway to send Klaus a shower of pens, "as the president obviously has nothing to write with."

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