Source: POLITICO / www.politico.eu / By Siegfried Mortkowitz /
President Miloš Zeman ‘says what people want to hear, the way they want to hear it’ — just like Donald Trump.
PRAGUE — He’s brash, provocative and blatantly politically incorrect. He recently called 90 percent of Czech Roma “unadaptable” and lazy, and he volunteered to remove a burkini from the body of a Muslim woman. He has been accused of being a racist and a cynical opportunist.
Miloš Zeman is also the president of the Czech Republic. His first term, now drawing to a close, has been marked by declarations that have provoked outrage and disbelief at home and abroad, such as a claim that the recent wave of migrants was a plot by the Muslim Brotherhood to “gradually gain control” of Europe.
Now busy overseeing the formation of a new government following October’s parliamentary election, Zeman has vexed many Czech politicians by declaring that he would give the billionaire Andrej Babiš, whose ANO party won October’s legislative election, two chances to form a minority administration.
If Babiš — who has been charged with subsidy fraud but may well be pardoned if Zeman is returned to office — becomes prime minister and Zeman is reelected, Brussels would face a formidable tandem in its bid to get the Czech Republic to submit to the European Commission’s will on issues like migration and gun control directives.
It is a reflection of Zeman’s contentious personality and disruptive political career that he is today admired by former foes and vilified by many of his one-time Social Democratic Party colleagues.
“I oppose his personal values, I oppose his contacts in business and I oppose his activities against the Social Democratic Party. There are many, many things that I do not admire in President Zeman’s personality,” said Jiří Dienstbier Jr., a former minister for human rights and equal opportunities and the leader of the Social Democrats’ liberal wing.
“I like the guy,” said MEP Jan Zahradil, a member of the executive board of the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS). “I wouldn’t vote for him, but I have to admit that I like his personality.”
In 2013, Zeman became the first Czech president to be elected by popular vote (previously they were chosen by parliament). The Czech Republic has a history of extraordinary heads of state, such as Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, a philosopher, sociologist and feminist who founded the state of Czechoslovakia in 1919 and was its first president, and the dissident playwright Václav Havel, who became known for his vision of an egalitarian and inclusionary civil society when serving as the country’s first post-communist president.
In a 1993 interview with the New York Times, when Czech Roma were facing widespread discrimination and racist violence, Havel said the problem was “a litmus test … of a civil society” and called intolerance “the biggest challenge of our time.”
Zeman is the anti-Havel president. Rather than try to combat bigotry, he foments it, fulminating against immigrants and calling Muslims “criminals” who want to impose sharia law rather than integrate.
In comments in 2015 that denigrated Muslims and women at the same time, he said: “Unfaithful women will be stoned, thieves’ hands will be cut off and we will be deprived of the beauty of women because they will have to have their faces covered. I can imagine that in some cases this might be beneficial, though.”
He is an intellectual and quite smart … but he likes to play anti-intellectual notes and this has worked very well for him — Jan Zahradil, MEP