The Case for Karel or Why Zeman is a Bad Choice

Editor's Desk

Mitchell A. Belfer

The Case for Karel or Why Zeman is a Bad Choice

Available in Czech here.


For the first time in history, Czechs head to the polls in direct presidential elections. The goal, to find the candidate best set to symbolise the nation; not lead it. Reflect it, not galvanise it for personal gain. After a motley-crew of candidates – ranging from a full-body-tattooed composer to a Jewish technocrat – were disqualified in the first-round nearly a fortnight ago, a series of political energies have been infused into this final week of canvassing between the last-two-men-standing: Karel Schwarzenberg and Miloš Zeman.

Although not Czech myself, having lived here for some time, gotten to understand some of the positive and negative engines driving Czech society, and feeling a deep sense of commitment to this country, it is important to reflect on the state of politics here and offer perspectives as one who is both immersed and simultaneously extraterrestrial to the Czech Republic.

Such a reflection is, certainly, timely since very soon – in a time-frame that could be counted in hours – the course of Czech history will either continue on the path of post-communist transition where the strength and decency of Czech people will be rewarded or thrust on a trajectory which better resembles a back-to-the-future scenario of political opaqueness and the deployment of undemocratic tactics.

Zeman, considered by many to be of fine intellectual stock, and having played a significant role in the Czech Republic’s transition, has resorted to piggish antidotes, political bullying and true mudslinging in a shallow attempt to delegitimise his opponent. Consider the deviations from the issues Zeman has taken in order to attack Schwarzenberg’s family, his up-bringing, and his spoken Czech. In thinly veiled manoeuvres, using populism, to gain long-term political objectives, Zeman is a polarising figure; though it is clear he is reaching out for more and more power among less and less people.

Without engaging in fairly-tale discourses, please understand that Schwarzenberg is not the ideal President; beyond the words idealism and politics are diametrically opposed. Yet for all the mud slung his way, for the accusation that he is not Czech enough, that he abandoned post during communism, – forgetting that he was, in fact an active dissident – that his oratory is not up-to-par and that he participates in an unusually unpopular government, Schwarzenberg remains upbeat, enthusiastic and unfazed; a point which speaks to his strength of character seeded because, not in spite, of his age.

Indeed, the position Schwarzenberg and Zeman are competing over is best in the hands of an older person with a career of diplomacy behind them. After all, and not to be repetitive, this is a representative not decision-making post. Czechs need to seriously reflect on the question as to why Zeman and Schwarzenberg want to be President of the Republic. For Schwarzenberg the answer seems clear-cut, to put a diplomatic exclamation mark on his already well-decorated career. But what about Zeman?, would being President become a means to an end? And what of the rumours that Zeman would undermine those who challenged him in this election, would he use his public position to settle political scores? Zeman has too many ambiguities surrounding him to elect as a representative of the Czech Republic at the most crucial time in its recent history.

This is not the time to pass the buck of responsibility over the future of this country. In a share-holders society, like the Czech Republic, each member must conscientiously work to secure the political and economic stability of the state through expressions of democratic governance. So, instead of being passive observers playing the game of arm-chair revolutionary, the Czechs have an opportunity to gain control of the spiralling political system. It is indeed my hope that the citizens of this country use the democratic tools at their disposal, the same tools that were fought for throughout the dark ages of communism, to make a difference in Czech history and to help us, those unable to cast ballots of our own, continue to live in a Czech society painted in the many colours of political pluralism and a vibrant civil society.

2020 - Volume 14 Issue 2