Narcissistic Klaus vs. Obscene Zeman

Who Would You Rather: President’s Edition

By Alexandra Pastron

Garbage, eggs, tomatoes and sandwiches top the list of things thrown at Czech President Milos Zeman last month, during a speech commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and the end of Communism in former Czechoslovakia. Less than two years after his inauguration, some Czechs are making it clear that they want President Zeman out of Prague Castle.

In the most recent report from the Czech Public Opinion Research Centre, 49% of Czechs trust the president. At the same point in his presidential career, 68% of Czechs trusted Zeman’s predecessor, Vaclav Klaus.

While the actual powers of the Czech president are fairly limited, his function as the country’s international representative ensures him plenty of publicity, and recently the allegedly alcoholic president’s headlines have ranged from scathing to comical.

Since taking office, Zeman has been widely accused of alcoholism.  Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

Since taking office, Zeman has been widely accused of alcoholism. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.

The early days of Zeman’s presidency were marked by dubious public appearances as the president appeared to be intoxicated, which he later said was the result of a virus. During a visit to China in October, Zeman reportedly stated that the Czech Republic should learn from China how “to stabilize society,” rather than reprimand the country for its poor human rights, contrary to the fact that Czechs have historically championed the promotion of civil liberties. In September, the president rebuffed European Union sanctions against Russia and denied the presence of Russian aggression in Ukraine, stating that the conflict was essentially a civil war. These actions prompted the Washington Post to refer to him as a “virtual mouthpiece for Russian President Vladimir Putin.” Most recently on a live radio broadcast, Zeman made use of several colorful expletives to refer to Russian dissident punk rock band Pussy Riot, calling them “b******,” followed by crudely translating their name into Czech before asking the interviewer, “You know what ‘p****’ means in English?” The broadcast provoked not only widespread criticism but also a proposed ban of the president from live radio broadcasts in the future.

“Klaus thinks the world turns around him. Zeman thinks the same with a touch of alcohol to make it a little more fun.”

The Czech Republic’s distinguished first president, Vaclav Havel, was hailed as the leader of the Velvet Revolution and known for his commitment to human rights. After serving three terms, however, Havel’s lifelong political opponent Vaclav Klaus was elected by Czech parliament as his successor in 2003. Prior to his election as president, Klaus served as prime minister until he was forced to step down after being blamed for a funding scandal within his party, the Civic Democrats.

As president, Klaus held more contentious views than his predecessor. He was known for his opposition to the European Union, non-governmental organizations and, peculiarly, jean jackets. In opposition to the promotion of gay rights, Klaus famously defended a statement made by his deputy chancellor that connected homosexuality to sexual deviation. He was also infamous for his staunch disbelief in manmade climate change, calling it “the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity” and equating the rise of environmentalism to a religion. He even published a book on the subject titled “Blue Planet in Green Shackles: What Is Endangered: Climate or Freedom?”

Klaus is famous for his firm opposition to theories of global climate change. Photo courtesy of www.ekonomia-ks.com

Klaus is famous for his firm opposition to theories of global climate change. Photo courtesy of http://www.ekonomia-ks.com

“I do consider both men pretty unpredictable and dangerous for our post-communist society.”

Klaus’s views earned him many critics. Perhaps most famous among them being David Cerny, radical Czech artist and arch-nemesis of Klaus. On the year of Klaus’s presidential election, Cerny created a sculpture in which viewers must climb a ladder to peer inside a giant fiberglass anus. Inside playing on a loop is a video of the now former president being fed slop by another nemesis of Cerny’s to the sound of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

Less than a week before leaving office, Klaus was accused of high treason as a result of his 2013 New Year amnesty that freed 7,000 prisoners, which many felt was a violation of the constitution. Last month, the former president stated that Europeans should “abolish the European Union, just as they abolished communism,” and that Ukraine is an “artificial entity.”

It is perhaps an interesting twist that Klaus, a proponent of conservative economics, and Zeman, the former leader of the left-wing Social Democrats, should both be accused of doing Russia’s bidding in a country once occupied by Soviet troops.

With two controversial post-Havel presidencies, which of the two titans of post-communist Czech politics is the lesser evil for liberal minded Praguers?

“I personally prefer Klaus, because he didn’t make me feel ashamed for my country in front of the whole world.” – Madla Svobodna, student at Charles University

“I have to say neither. Klaus is super-ego Moses coming down to people of the Earth to save them with his wisdom. Zeman is just a clown turned politician who wants to finally show that he has the power and take revenge on everybody.” – Jana Janickovicova, order management

“[Zeman] is totally stupid. He’s president, he mustn’t behave like this.” – Adam Holecek, student at Charles University

“Klaus promoted nationalism, racism and ideology of Czech fascism, publicly supporting the weirdest neo-Nazis and anti-Semites around. Zeman promotes Czech Slavianophilia towards Russia and Communism. To be asked to choose between the two of them is like the story of Jewish refugees in Poland meeting on a bridge between the German zone of occupation and the Soviet zone of occupation in late September 1939.” – Martin Smok, historian

“I prefer the previous one because he didn’t fail as much.” – Vojtech Strnad, student at Charles University

A protestor holds up a sign depicting former President Vaclav Havel under the label "President," next to current President Milos Zeman under the label "Oaf." Photo courtesy of Laura Zablit

A protestor holds up a sign depicting former President Vaclav Havel under the label “President,” next to current President Milos Zeman under the label “Oaf.” Photo courtesy of Laura Zablit

“This may sound a bit extreme but that is like asking do you prefer the plague or celiac? One has been brought on us by rats and the other we brought upon ourselves.” – Bara, IT administrator, referring to the fact that Klaus was elected by the Czech parliament, whereas Zeman was the first president to be elected by direct democracy.

“They’re both idiots, but Klaus was showing his a**holery with certain elegance and grace.” – Jan Sykora, student at Charles University

“I wasn’t too fond of either, but given a choice I would prefer Klaus. Both were quite often embarrassing representatives of the Czech Republic on the political scene, Klaus because of his views on the European Union, global warming, amnesty and stealing pencils at international conferences; Zeman even worse for public drunkenness, open support of Russia and using really foul language. I don’t know whose ego is bigger, but both of their humongous egos are very unbecoming of humble human beings. Given an option I would bring Havel back! Klaus to Zeman, ‘z blata do louze,’ a Czech expression meaning from mud to puddle, from bad to worse.” – Eva Heidefors, recruitment consultant

“C, none of the above. Klaus thinks the world turns around him. Zeman thinks the same with a touch of alcohol to make it a little more fun. Seriously, we were not left with much of a choice during the last presidential elections. [Zeman] is a self-centered alcoholic.”– Vince Skalicky, manager

“Neither of them. Klaus seems to be much smarter than Zeman, therefore I would probably pick him.” – Alzbeta Novotna, student at Charles University

“For me it is almost impossible to give priority either to Vaclav Klaus or Milos Zeman. I do consider both men pretty unpredictable and dangerous for our post-communist society. After 25 years since the Velvet revolution, [Zeman] feels no obligation to support the ideas of democracy such as human rights, freedom, anti-Soviet approach, etc.” – Adela Muchova, project manager

“I do not prefer either of them. I can see they grew from rivals to friends, which is maybe the even scarier version.” – Katka Bendova, pre-school teacher

“I definitely consider Vaclav Havel to be the greatest president because he was the only one who cared about our country. He fought for our freedom, he cared about people. Klaus didn’t, but he was okay – he didn’t do anything good or bad. Zeman, well, I’ve never met anyone who voted for him, and yet he won the election. He is only making complications and creating a bad name for our country.” – Martina Duskova, student at the University of Economics

Alexandra Pastron is in the NYU College of Arts and Science Class of 2016. Her hometown is Pasadena, California.

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Categories: Fall 2014 Issue Number 3, Uncategorized

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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