The second-oldest profession in action
Posted: January 30, 2013
With Miloš Zeman packing his suitcases for Prague Castle, the time seems ripe for casting criticism aside in favor of constructive analyses of what promises to be an eventful presidential term. So why are the editorial pages of all major Czech newspapers filled with self-deprecating comments and pessimistic headlines such as "Democracy's biggest weakness: It's for everyone"?
The press's reluctance to swallow the bitterness of Zeman's victory is likely the result of two factors. First, the president-elect's disdain for us journalists is well known, and his wry, often offensive verbal attacks are likely to make our jobs increasingly difficult in the coming years.
Second, Zeman secured the presidency using a highly negative smear campaign, attacking his rival Karel Schwarzenberg with self-serving demagoguery and half-truths that cast an unflattering light on the future president as well as the electorate at large.
On the eve of the vote, Vladimír Zavadil, a one-time communist secret police collaborator, anonymously commissioned a one-page advertisement in tabloid daily Blesk outlining the main "reasons" not to vote for Schwarzenberg. The ad accused Schwarzenberg of championing foreign interests, ignoring the Czechs' plight during Nazi occupation and clearing the way for the return of property to German "war criminals."
When its publication met with public outcry, Blesk's publisher Ringier Axel Springer divulged Zavadil's identity, but only after it emerged that the ad's publication may have been illegal. While the Zeman camp officially distanced itself from the Blesk fiasco, his campaign was spotted with similarly jingoistic remarks, including one in which he erroneously accuses Schwarzenberg's aristocratic family of Nazi collaboration.
In a sense, hitting his rival below the belt proved a shrewd decision on Zeman's part. As the weekly Respekt observed while referencing George W. Bush's campaign mastermind Karl Rove, "If you've managed to make your opponent have to defend himself, you've won."
The question remains: At what cost? Zeman takes the presidency at a time when both major political parties face existential crises, while the disillusioned electorate is deeply polarized between right and left. As it stands, Zeman's opponents are separated from those who supported him by a mere half a million votes. These conservative voters are unlikely to fall quiescent believing their candidate fell victim to Zeman's dirty tactics. Meanwhile, the leftist "other half," as Zeman's voters have been condescendingly referred to, will take issue with Schwarzenberg supporters' generalizations regarding their intellect, socioeconomic status and political literacy. Zeman, whose level of smugness already exceeds that of his predecessor Václav Klaus, has neither the will nor personality to remedy this.
"It's naive to imagine that Miloš Zeman will be a level-headed, nonconflicting and uniting president, or that he will improve domestic politics with noble and apt behavior," daily Hospodářské noviny predicted. "After the rough campaign, such a head of state is what the country needs most, but the president-elect is … rogue and arrogant."
One of Zeman's first promises upon getting word of his victory was to be "the president of all Czechs." Yet if his campaign is to be any indication of events to come, deepening the societal rift seems the likelier scenario.