By Steven Martin Kensington
Milos Zeman has now won his second term in office as President of the Czech Republic, with 51.55% of the vote, as opposed to chemistry professor Jiri Drahos with 48.44%. The voter turnout was over 66%. The difference between these people, as noted by CNN’s Sheen McKenzie, is that Mr. Zeman is a “hardline anti-migrant”, while Mr. Drahos is a “soft-spoken academic.” Drahos does not have any prior political experienced before now running as an independent, whereas Zeman has been Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 before being elected President in 2013.
Zeman is known for his critique to “EU, immigrants, Islam, the media and urban elites,” according to McKenzie, and has also campaigned for stronger ties with Russia and China, making some reporters call the election “a Choice Between Leaning East or West.” Drahos, on the other hand, are in favor of both the EU, NATO, adopting the euro, and going in a more Western direction.
The Constitution in Czech politics limits the President, but he does have the power to name the Prime Minister, judges, central bank board members, and sign bills passed by parliament into law. Mr. Zeman has promised Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman, the title as Prime Minister. He has said that he plans to reappoint Babis next month, as his current presidency doesn’t end until March.
Political analyst Michael Romancov said that “Zeman never questioned the Czech membership in the EU, but on the other hand he would welcome a referendum on exit and in practice he significantly deviated from both EU and NATO.” Zeman himself said he’d give the people the choice: “Brexit is a choice that must be respected.” He has allegedly “caused panic in Brussels by failing to rule out his own Brexit-style referendum.” Despite claims of being anti-EU, he still supports staying in the Union, and according to activist Petr Bouska, “he still flies the E.U. flag over the castle.” Bouska does, however, add that “it could soon be joined by a Russian or Chinese flag.” During his first term of office he blocked the country’s planned entry to the eurozone, claiming he supported adopting a common currency, but only if Greece “leaves the eurozone or is excluded,” because he doesn’t want “Czech taxpayers to pay Greek debt.”
His anti-migration stance is best illustrated in one of his statements from 2015: “I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organized invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees.” This attitude being popular in Czech politics, the country can be compared with Poland and Hungary on its “stubbornness” of accepting migrants. For instance, they were required to accept 2691 migrants, and only allowed 12, declining any more entries, and are still fighting in EU courts over the issue.
This stance doesn’t seem to be subjected to change anytime soon, so unless EU considers applying sanctions to force them to accept more migrants, they likely won’t. And even if EU does so, the Czech people will get an even stronger hatred for the Union and be more likely to wish to leave when Zeman manages to organize the referendum successfully. We can’t tell how far this conflict will go, but as it goes now, it seems to increasingly get itself into trouble. Another question regarding the future of the Czech Republic is whether Zeman will keep pushing the limits of the Czech constitution, and – if that’s the case – how far he will manage or be willing to do so. Does Zeman want to be an authoritarian dictator? We’re not sure, but he would likely have taken more risks and pushed the constitution more in his first term if this was really his plan. He seems to be a man of principle, and to be fully convinced of the opinions he espouses, whatever those happen to include.
Zeman will likely keep being skeptical to the Union. Particularly because of the freedom of movement policies, but also because of Greece’s participation, and Zeman’s fear that his country’s taxpayers would need to subsidize them. As several other commentators have pointed out, he will likely move the country towards more Eastern relations, and thus – sort of – “change sides” in international geopolitics, between the West and the East. What this implicates for the future of geopolitics is, of course, difficult to predict. How important it may be in the future in comparison to the past, whether it will change course in the next election, are different questions to respond aptly to, but we should know from philosophical history that politicians’ attitudes and values come and go, while that of culture can remain unchanged for quite a while. Czech culture seems to have remained such for a while, and will likely continue to do so, however long it might last.