What’s behind the protests against Czech President Zeman?

We have seen huge protest protests against Czech President Milos Zeman. How much would say are those protest aimed on Zeman personally and how much are they aimed on him because he might be perceived as a symbol of what people dislike 25 years after the Velvet Revolution? Read few comments.

Seán Hanley, Senior Lecturer in East European Politics, University College London

I think in the this case more at Zeman as a politician than as a general movement of disappointment and dissatisfaction with politics and the results of transformation  as say in 1999 with Thank You Now Go (although there is plenty of potential for the latter).  A lot of voters have passed their judgment at the ballot box in 2013 or more recently in local elections by rejecting established parties or just staying at home. The extent of Zeman’s odd, embarrassing and undignified behaviour as Czech head of state, which is approaching the point of caricature, is surprising.  Despite some off-colour jokes, his conduct as Prime Minister in 1990s and presidential candidate in 2012-3 was generally acceptable, although his egocentric memoir Jak jsem se mylil v politice perhaps contained warnings of what was to come.

Zeman’s election as president was always very divisive and unacceptable to large sections of liberal and right-wing opinion, partly because of his left-wing politics, partly because of his personality, and partly because of the bruising populist and nationalist tactics  he used to defeat Karel Schwarzenberg. I think the protests have their roots in this earlier rejection of Zeman.  His boorish behaviour and lack gravitas in office provides a focus for a protest renewal and by his presence at the 17 November commemorations, a solemn and serious event (given added weight because of the 25th anniversary of the fall of communism) simply underlines his failings. So I suspect many of the demonstrators waving red cards would not be in streets if a president of the centre- or centre-right had behaved as Zeman has (or that might see a different set of demonstrators).

I have not seen the latest polls but I think Zeman probably still has a core of support (if probably a rapidly declining one) among small town, older, small town and left-wing voters who brought him to power, who may be willing to overlook his manifest faults. There was small counter-demonstration. Paradoxically, it is these people – most of whom were not in the streets – that Zeman’s erratic behaviour and politically unravelling presidency has probably let down the most, although the fading of Zeman’s political star will possibly relieve some of the tensions in the Social Democratic Party.


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