The Going Gets Tough

Posted: January 24, 2013 in CEE Politics, Czech Politics, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
Zeman Billboard

Official Zeman Billboards. Photo- Hospodarske Noviny

Schwarzenberg’s Credentials Tested as Czech Election Gets Nasty

The Czech presidential election is hotting-up as the second and decisive round of voting approaches. A series of stinging attacks and negative attack adverts have sharpened the distinctions between candidates Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloš Zeman as voters prepare to go to the polls on 25th and 26th January. With just days to go, Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg has been on the defensive, but has the chance to use his rival’s attacks to his advantage.

Billboards showing the contrasting styles and substance of the two campaigns have mushroomed across the country. Schwarzenberg’s posters bear the slogan “Czech Republic is the Heart of Europe. Go for it!” whereas Zeman’s betray a negative turn, appealing to voters to “Stop Kalousek getting to the castle” in a reference to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, Schwarzenberg’s deputy in the Top ’09 party.

Having realized that they cannot tarnish Schwarzenberg’s impregnable integrity, which sets him apart from the majority of other Czech politicians, the Zeman team and their allies, including current President Vaclav Klaus, have identified two perceived weaknesses – his alliances and his principled internationalism – and have begun their assault on the Prince.

Both Zeman and Klaus have attacked Schwarzenberg over his position on the notorious Beneš decrees – the disappropriation and forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from the Czech lands in the aftermath of the second world war. Schwarzenberg, who famously went into exile in Austria during the communist period and became a leading international human rights campaigner, said “What we committed in 1945 would today be considered a grave violation of human rights and the Czechoslovak government, along with president Beneš, would have found themselves in The Hague,” referring to the international criminal court.

Rather than acknowledging Schwarzenberg’s identification of what amounted to ethnic cleansing, Zeman accused Schwarzenberg of “speaking like a Sudeten German, not like a president.” Outgoing president Klaus, who recently pardoned a number of people imprisoned for corrupt practice during the Zeman government of 1998-2002, added “I consider these remarks and these attitudes as scornful of Czech history and as a Czech, I feel threatened by them.” Klaus’ wife Livia had also attacked Schwarzenberg’s Austrian wife Therese, stating that she didn’t want the next first lady to only speak German.

Schwarzenberg has refused to stoop to the level of these personal attacks, which merely demonstrate how out of touch the Zeman-Klaus cohort are, especially with young Czechs, who are increasingly multilingual, internationally experienced and globally concerned. Rather, Schwarzenberg launched an effective critique of the façade of politics created by the supposed opposition between Zeman on the left and Klaus on the right, which has for years masked their common interests (and those of theirbackers) and effectively shut the Czech people out of political life. Breaking the hold of this tight-knit group who act out a sham Punch-and-Judy politics for the benefit of themselves and their shadowy backers would be one of Schwarzenberg’s greatest achievements.

However, the threat to Schwarzenberg posed by his association with Kalousek who is widely disliked and has a distinctly murky reputation, is real, as Zeman’s team have realized. If the Foreign Minister is to be able to realize his dream of “moving away from a Europe of small minds” as he told Spiegel Online and, to become the President who is able to put Czechs firmly at the heart of Europe, then he will have to consider his relationship with his deputy.

If someone were to offer advice to the Prince, it might go something like ‘stick to your guns, defend your principles – they are ours too – but ditch Kalousek. Stick with him and you compromise your credibility and chances of winning. Inflict all your cuts at once, ditch him and you can win the election and change Czech politics and Czech lives.’


Schwarzenberg Campaign Material.


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