Clinton Trumps Zeman

Do Czechs prefer Clinton’s diplomacy to Trump’s derision?


By Claire Kraft

Courtesy of Allen Peng.

American students studying in the historic city of Prague take a leisurely walk through the Old Town Square, marveling at the ancient architecture surrounding them. A man approaches, stopping the students in their tracks, and in a Czech accent says with intense sincerity, “Please tell me that you will not vote for Trump.”

As Americans continue to regard the popularity of Donald Trump with excitement or dread, many people in the Czech Republic, a relatively new democratic country in central Europe, mostly feel the latter. The U.S. presidential race has focused on a wide variety of issues from gun control to income inequality, but overseas, Czechs are concerned with the foreign policy of the candidates and hoping the largest military arsenal in the world does not fall into the wrong hands.

This concern stems from experience. Czechs are all too familiar with a press-loving leader who has no fear in displaying his xenophobia and placing blame on others, with Muslims as the current target. The president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, who the BBC has called the Czech Donald Trump, has made inflammatory statements that were reprinted in newspapers around the world.

In his 2015 Christmas Speech, Zeman said, “I am deeply convinced that we are facing an organized invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees.” A month before this speech, Zeman attended anti-Islam rally that took place on the anniversary of the protests that led to the overthrow of the communist government in then Czechoslovakia

But when it comes to the United States, Czechs perhaps expect a different kind of leader to take charge. The momentum with which Trump has risen in the primaries has surprised Czechs, who previously believed Trump to be a joke.

“I think that a lot of people really are afraid of this kind of politician being president of the most powerful country in the world,” said Jiri Pehe, a political commentator who advised former Czech President Vaclav Havel in the 1990s.

“I heard this campaign will maybe cause other countries to hate the USA.”

Those who push a progressive agenda in the former Eastern Bloc today are worried that Trump could have an adverse affect on Europe and transatlantic relations.

“It’s so important that the election ends up well, that America will not be isolated,” said Monika MacDonagh-Pajerova, a student leader of the Velvet Revolution that overthrew the communist regime of Czechoslovakia in 1989.

MacDonagh-Pajerova, who today promotes European solidarity, believes Trump’s isolationist policies would hinder European countries’ effort to work together on security issues. She was mainly concerned over Trump’s commitment to “an American presence in Europe through NATO.”

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine illustrates the need for U.S. leadership in the region, MacDonagh-Pajerova said. She believes that the aggression that Russia has recently shown may mean a “resurgence of Russian military tactics.”

Any resurgence that comes from Russia brings back memories of the previous Soviet Union invasion that took place the Czech Republic in 1968. With these memories comes a desire to be protected from these tactics ever being possible again.

“The only thing Putin understands is strength,” she said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We really need America strong, decisive, and understanding that Europe is important.”

Even Czechs who do not take much of an interest in American politics, like Vojta Jonas, a 25-year-old student at Czech Technical University, Trump’s policies do not bode well for European interests.

“He maybe has a good campaign for American people, but I heard this campaign will maybe cause other countries to hate the USA,” said Jonas.

He added that Hillary Clinton was the most favorable candidate because she seems sympathetic to Czech interests, and has a  “respectable” public appearance that makes her a preferred candidate.

A Czech preference for Hillary may be due to a sense of nostalgia for the time when she first visited Prague Castle with her husband in 1998, who was then the U.S. president. During Bill Clinton’s presidency relations between the United States and the Czech Republic were at an all time high. When the Clintons visited Prague Mr. Clinton said, “We are making progress as friends and partners. That is possible only because of the courage President Havel and the Czech people have shown and continue to show today.”

Along with this nostalgic undertone, Hillary’s foreign policy is not a mystery to the people of the Czech Republic. As Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term, she has already made her mark around the world.  “I think Hillary Clinton would be a more understanding and considerate president because she was a head of state department herself.” said MacDonagh-Pajerova.

“If you ask most Czechs they will probably side with the Democrats,” Pehe said. He added that if Czechs were allowed to vote in the U.S. election, Hillary Clinton would be elected president. However, Vaclav Bartuska, the ambassador of energy security at the Foreign Ministry in Prague, believes that Americans will choose Trump.

To Michal Durcak, a 20-year-old student at Charles University, Trump would be an even better choice for European security. “Republicans are always a better choice because of their support of interventions abroad and big support for NATO and stuff like that,” said Durcak. He continued by saying that if Trump became President, “immigration policy would be changed drastically but that’s pretty much it.”

“When you look at how much people follow the U.S. elections, nothing really has changed. People still think that’s a pretty important job to have.”

Senator Bernie Sanders stands on the other side of the election and his, self-proclaimed, socialist policies. One of the reasons Sanders has become so popular within the U.S. election is because his socialist ideas promise a decrease in America’s income inequality; the United States has one of the largest such gaps in the world. A gap that is far smaller in the Czech Republic because of the communist regime it suffered under.

More than two decades after the end of the communist regime, some Czechs harbor a sense of trepidation when faced with the possibility of a socialist American president. Magda Kravlova, a vocal major at Prague Conservatory, said, “It’s really not good, and it’s difficult to see that. But I don’t think socialism would work anywhere in the world.” Even though the fundamentals of socialism and communism differ vastly, the deep mistrust of anything like communism still runs deep.

“A lot of people say that the United States is waning, that it is a power that is in decline, it’s really not what it used to be,” said Pehe, “Yet when you look at how much people follow the U.S. elections, nothing really has changed. People still think that’s a pretty important job to have.”

Claire Kraft is in the Steinhardt School of Cultural Education, and Human Development class of 2018. Her hometown is San Juan Capistrano, California.

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Categories: Culture, Europe, News, Spring 2016 Issue Number 1

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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