Feature

Czech Republic: A president elected through slime

The Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election was a nasty affair.

Jan DrazanLidove Noviny

The Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election was a nasty affair, said Jan Drazan. Rather than having the president be chosen by parliament, the election was thrown to the people this year, and the campaign was ugly. Milos Zeman, a leftist former prime minister, was openly championed by outgoing President Vaclav Klaus, a right-winger—which would seem odd until you recall that, as partners in a grand coalition in the 1990s, the two men were joint architects of the cozy relationship between big business and politics that corrupts government to this day. Klaus also has a personal dislike of Zeman’s rival, Karel Schwarzenberg, who was a close ally of Klaus’s enemy and our beloved first president, Vaclav Havel. So Klaus did the dirty work for the Zeman campaign, appealing to “nationalism, xenophobia, and chauvinism.” He falsely smeared Schwarzenberg, an aristocrat whose family had to flee the 1948 communist takeover of Czechoslovakia and who was brought up in Austria, as a “foreigner” with Nazi family ties. Klaus’s wife sniffed that she couldn’t abide being succeeded by a First Lady who “spoke only German.” The smears worked, and Zeman won. Havel used to say, “Truth and love will always prevail.” Not this time. 

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