Miloš Zeman

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Miloš Zeman
Zeman M 1.JPG
3rd President of the Czech Republic
Assumed office
8 March 2013
Prime Minister Petr Nečas
Jiří Rusnok
Bohuslav Sobotka
Preceded by Václav Klaus
3rd Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
In office
22 July 1998 – 15 July 2002
President Václav Havel
Preceded by Josef Tošovský
Succeeded by Vladimír Špidla
Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies
In office
27 June 1996 – 17 July 1998
President Václav Havel
Preceded by Milan Uhde
Succeeded by Václav Klaus
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
28 February 1993 – 7 April 2001
Preceded by Jiří Horák
Succeeded by Vladimír Špidla
Personal details
Born (1944-09-28) 28 September 1944 (age 72)
Kolín, Bohemia and Moravia
(now Czech Republic)
Political party Communist Party (1968–1970)
Civic Forum (1990–1991)
Civic Movement (1991–1992)
Social Democratic Party (1992–2007)
Party of Civic Rights (2009–present)
Spouse(s) Blanka Zemanová (Divorced)
Ivana Bednarčíková (1993–present)
Children 2
Alma mater University of Economics, Prague
Signature
Website Official website

Miloš Zeman (Czech pronunciation: [ˈmɪloʃ ˈzɛman]; born 28 September 1944) is the third and current President of the Czech Republic, in office since 8 March 2013. He previously served as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, from 1998 to 2002. As leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party during the 1990s, he transformed it into one of the country's major parties. He was Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament, from 1996 to 1998.

In January 2013, Zeman was elected President of the Czech Republic. He is the first directly elected President in Czech history; both of his predecessors, Václav Havel and Václav Klaus, were elected by the Parliament. He announced his candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections on 9 March 2017.[1]

Early years[edit]

Zeman was born in Kolín.[2] His parents divorced when he was two years old and he was raised by his mother, who was a teacher.[2] He studied at a high school in Kolín, then from 1965 he studied at the University of Economics in Prague, graduating in 1969.[2]

In 1968, during the Prague Spring, he became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, but was expelled in 1970 due to his opposition to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.[3] He was dismissed from his job and spent more than ten years working for the sports organisation Sportpropag (1971–84).[4] From 1984, he worked at the company Agrodat, but he lost his job again in 1989, as a result of a critical article he had wrote in Technický magazine in August 1989, entitled "Prognostika a přestavba" (Forecasts and Reconstruction).[2][5][6]

Activities from 1989 to 2013[edit]

In summer 1989, he appeared on Czechoslovak Television criticising the poor state of the Czechoslovak economy. His speech caused a scandal, but his views helped him join the leaders of the Civic Forum a few months later, during the Velvet Revolution.[7]

In 1990, Zeman became a member of the Chamber of the Nations of the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly. In 1992, he ran successfully for the Chamber of the People of the Federal Assembly, already as a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), which he joined the same year. In 1993, he was elected chairman of the party,[2] and in the following years he transformed it into one of the country's major parties.

The success of ČSSD in the 1996 legislative election allowed him to prevent his rival Václav Klaus and his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) from forming a majority government. Zeman became the Chair of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and held this post until the early election in 1998.

In 1998, ČSSD won the election and Zeman became Prime Minister of a minority government, which he led for the next four years. In April 2001, he was replaced as leader by Vladimír Špidla.[8] Zeman then retired and moved to live in the countryside in the Vysočina Region. He won a presidential primary in 2002 to become the ČSSD nominee for president, but lost the 2003 presidential election to Václav Klaus, due to party disunity. Zeman became an outspoken critic of his former party's leaders. He left ČSSD on 21 March 2007, due to conflicts with the party leader and chairman, Jiří Paroubek.[9]

In October 2009, he founded a new party, Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci.[10] The party did not win any seats in the 2010 or 2013 legislative elections.

Presidency (March 2013 – present)[edit]

Zeman in the Senate of Poland, 24 May 2013

In February 2012 Miloš Zeman announced his return to politics and intention to run in the first direct presidential election in the Czech Republic.[11] Polls indicated that he was one of the two strongest candidates in the election, alongside Jan Fischer.[12] Zeman narrowly won the first round of the elections and progressed to the second round to face Karel Schwarzenberg, winning by a clearer margin.[13] His term began in March 2013.

Zeman's alleged excessive alcohol consumption became a subject of public discussion and media attention on several occasions. Many Czechs believed he was drunk during his appearances at Czech TV headquarters, shortly after his victory in the 2013 presidential election, or during the exhibition of the Bohemian Crown Jewels.[14]

In May 2013, Zeman refused to grant a tenured professorship to literary historian Martin C. Putna, due to Putna's appearance at 2011 Prague Gay Pride.[15]

In June 2013, the coalition government led by Petr Nečas resigned due to a corruption and spying scandal. Zeman, ignoring the political balance of power in the Czech Parliament, appointed his friend and long-term ally Jiří Rusnok Prime Minister, tasked with forming a new government. This was described in parts of the Czech and foreign media as a political power grab, undermining parliamentary democracy and expanding his powers.[16][17][18][19] On 10 July, during the appointment of Rusnok's cabinet, Zeman advised the new cabinet members not to "let yourself get annoyed by media criticism from jealous fools who have never in their life done anything useful".[20]

Zeman played an important role in a scandal that occurred in October 2013, shortly after the Czech legislative election. ČSSD First Deputy Chairman Michal Hašek and his allies in the party called for chairman Bohuslav Sobotka to resign following the party's poor election result, and excluded him from the team negotiating the next government. However, it subsequently emerged that Hašek and his allies had attended a secret post-election meeting with Zeman, where they were rumoured to have negotiated a 'coup' in ČSSD. Hašek initially denied the accusations, stating on Czech Television that "there was no meeting". However, his allies (deputies Milan Chovanec, Zdeněk Škromach, Jeroným Tejc and Jiří Zimola) later admitted that the meeting took place. The event sparked public protests in the country and eventually led to Hašek apologising and resigning his position in the party.[21] Zeman said he had not initiated the meeting. His Party of Civic Rights – Zeman's people (SPOZ) received 1.5% of the vote in the election, winning no seats.[22]

On 6 April 2014, in the wake of the 2014 Crimean crisis, Zeman called for strong action to be taken, possibly including sending NATO forces into Ukraine, if Russia tried to annex the eastern part of the country. Speaking on a radio show he said that, "The moment Russia decides to widen its territorial expansion to the eastern part of Ukraine, that is where the fun ends. There I would plead not only for the strictest EU sanctions, but even for military readiness of the North Atlantic Alliance, like for example NATO forces entering Ukrainian territory." The Czech Republic has been a NATO member since 1999, when Zeman was prime minister. In the Czech constitutional system it is the government that has the main responsibility for foreign policy, although the President is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The ČSSD government of Bohuslav Sobotka resisted strong EU sanctions against Russia after its annexation of Crimea, because of the negative economic impact of such a step on the country.[23]

Zeman with Chinese president Xi Jinping, 17 November 2016

An opinion poll conducted by the CVVM agency in March 2016 reported that 62% of Czechs trust President Miloš Zeman,[24] up from 55% in September 2015.[25] By December 2016, his approval rating had fallen to 48% following a series of scandals, with around 49% of those surveyed stating that they didn't trust him.[26]

On 9 March 2017, during a meeting with his supporters, Zeman announced his intention to run again for the presidency, confirming his decision the next day in a press conference. He said that he had been persuaded by the support of the people. He stated that he does not think he is the favourite in the election, and that he won't run a political campaign, attack his rivals, or participate in debates.[27] He also announced that he will participate in a television programme called A week with the President.[28]

On 26th March 2017, during a radio interview, Zeman stated that someone had placed child pornography onto a computer in the official residence. Zeman claimed that he had called "IT guys", who had found out that the hackers were from Alabama in the United States.[29] Later, Zeman's spokesman added that "the President, like every night, googled his own name on the internet and one of the pages contained child pornography".[30] According to police, there was no evidence of a hacking attack on Zeman's computer.[31]

Views[edit]

The New York Times has described Zeman as a "populist leftist".[32] Like his former opponent Václav Klaus, Zeman is a climate change skeptic. He has said that in his opinion, human activity probably cannot influence global warming.[33] Zeman has promoted friendly relations with China.[34]

In March 2016, Zeman defended Poland's newly-elected Law and Justice government, saying: “I expressed the view that the Polish government, which was created as a result of free elections, has every right to carry out activities for which it received a mandate in these elections. It should not be subject to moralising or criticism from the European Union, which should finally focus on its primary task – to protect the external borders of the Union.”[35][36]

Kosovo[edit]

Zeman is opposed to having an embassy in Kosovo. He said that he is against the recognition of Kosovo, and has described it as a terror regime financed by the illegal drug trade.[37][38] While visiting Belgrade in 2014, he stated his opposition to the formation of an independent Kosovan army, equating it to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). He commented on the history of terrorist acts committed by the KLA, and noted that its disbanding was a component of the peace agreements.[39] During the same visit, he said he hoped Serbia would join the European Union soon.[40]

NATO and Russia[edit]

In November 2012, during a speech at the University of Economics, Prague, he explained his dislike for Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State. Zeman stated that Albright had promised that there would be no bombardment of civilians during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia. "And Madeleine Albright made a promise, and Madeleine Albright didn't keep the promise. Since then, I don't like her."[41][unreliable source?]

He has described the war in Donbass as "a civil war between two groups of Ukrainian citizens".[42] As for the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, he has noted that the Kosovo precedent has been used as an argument for the separation of Crimea from Ukraine.[40]

In March 2015, Zeman criticised protests against the US Army's military convoy (called the "Dragoon Ride") crossing the Czech Republic following NATO exercises in Poland and the Baltic states:[43]

Zeman meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, 9 May 2015

"In the past months I have been fighting anti-Russian fools, but most recently I have had to fight anti-American fools as well, since fools are evenly spread on both sides. ... I disagree with the U.S. troops being labelled an occupation army for one simple reason. We experienced occupation twice last century [1939 and 1968] and we know what it looks like."

— Miloš Zeman

Zeman announced that he intended to visit Moscow for the 2015 Victory Day celebrations and the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Nazi Germany. He said that he was not going to look at military equipment, but rather to honour the soldiers who had sacrificed their lives. He described his visit to Moscow as an "expression of thankfulness that we[who?] in this country don't have to speak German, if we would have become submissive collaborators of Aryan origin", and that "we don't have to say Heil Hitler, Heil Himmler, Heil Göring, and eventually Heil Heydrich, that would have been particularly interesting".[44] Most other EU leaders declared that they would not attend the events due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.[45][46] U.S. ambassador Andrew H. Schapiro criticized the decision, saying that it would "be awkward" if Zeman was the only statesman from the EU at the ceremony. Zeman responded by banning him from the Prague Castle.[47]

Zeman with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., 29 September 2015

"I cannot imagine that the Czech ambassador in Washington would advise the US president where he should travel. And I will not allow any ambassador to have a say in my foreign travel plans."

— Miloš Zeman

The ban was later lifted by Zeman's office.[48]

Middle East and views on Islam[edit]

Zeman has expressed concern about the growth of Islamic terrorism and of ISIL.[32] In June 2011, Zeman said, referring to Islam, "The enemy is the anti-civilisation spreading from North Africa to Indonesia. Two billion people live in it and it is financed partly from oil sales and partly from drug sales." He likened Muslims who believe in the Qur'an to antisemitic and racist Nazis.[49]

Zeman called for unified armed operation against Islamic State (ISIL) led by the U.N. Security Council. In June 2015, Zeman commented that: "If European countries accept a wave of migrants, there will be terrorist groups among them, of which also a Libyan minister has warned. By accepting the migrants, we strongly facilitate Islamic State’s expansion to Europe."[50] Zeman described the Middle Eastern refugees arriving in Europe as an "organized invasion".[51] In September 2015, Zeman rejected the European Union's proposal of compulsory migrant quotas, saying, "Only the future will show that this was a big mistake".[52]

Concealed carry[edit]

In 2016, following a number of terror attacks around Europe, Zeman joined a number of other Czech politicians and security professionals in urging the 240,000 gun owners in the country with concealed carry licences to carry their firearms, in order to be able to contribute to the protection of soft targets. Zeman's wife obtained a concealed carry license and a revolver.[53]

Criticism and controversies[edit]

Zeman (right) and Miroslava Němcová, former Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic (May 2013). In June 2013, the Civic Democratic Party (the leading party of the parliamentary coalition government) nominated her for the post of the Prime Minister; however, Zeman refused to appoint her and instead chose his long-time ally and friend Jiří Rusnok
Czechs showing red cards to the President during the protest named "I Want to Talk to You, Mr. President", on 17 November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

In 1996, before the legislative election, Zeman met with Czech-Swiss entrepreneur Jan Vízek in the German city of Bamberg. In the so-called "Bamberg Memorandum", a group of Swiss entrepreneurs allegedly agreed to fund the ČSSD pre-election campaign in exchange for economic influence in the Czech Republic after the election. The investigation ended in 2000, with Vízek convicted of falsification of the memorandum by copying signatures from earlier documents. He later admitted that he had intentionally publicised the case in order to compromise Zeman before the next elections in 1998. Zeman was never charged with any wrongdoing, but the reason for the meetings between Zeman and Vízek in 1996 was never revealed.[54]

In 1999, one of Zeman's advisers, Jaroslav Novotný, allegedly blackmailed the director of the state-owned Štiřín Castle, Václav Hrubý. Novotný allegedly pressured him to falsify evidence in order to prove that former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec corrupted journalists.[clarification needed] The police confirmed the blackmail, but no charges were ever brought.[55]

Zeman has been criticized for his contacts with the powerful Czech lobbyist Miroslav Šlouf, formerly his chief adviser. While Zeman was prime minister, Šlouf maintained contact with the controversial entrepreneur František Mrázek, nicknamed the "Godfather of Czech Organized Crime". Šlouf and Mrázek met and exchanged information at the Office of the Czech Government.[56] Mrázek was assassinated in 2006. In leaked wiretapping records, he nicknames Zeman mlha ("fog") and claims that Zeman "could not be bribed, and wanted only a sandwich, three pickles and for people to like him."[57] In 2010, Šlouf and Martin Nejedlý, a representative of the Russian oil company LUKoil in the Czech Republic, were the main donors to his Party of Civic Rights – Zemanovci.[58]

In 2002, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder cancelled an official visit to Prague after Zeman called the ethnic Germans in pre-war Czechoslovakia "Hitler's Fifth column".[59] Zeman stated that "the Czechs and Slovaks were doing the Sudeten Germans a favor by expelling them, because they granted them their wish to go Heim ins Reich".[60] Later, Zeman called Karel Schwarzenberg, his rival in the presidential campaign of 2013, a "sudeťák" (Sudeten German),[61] leading the Austrian Die Presse to ascribe Zeman's victory to an "unprecedented anti-German dirty campaign."[62]

On 26 May 2014, during festivities celebrating the independence of Israel, Zeman said "So let me quote one of their [Islamic] sacred texts to support this statement: "A tree says, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. A stone says, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."[63] I would criticize those calling for the killing of Arabs, but I do not know of any movement calling for mass murdering of Arabs. However, I know of one anti-civilisation movement calling for the mass murder of Jews."[64] When criticized and urged to apologise by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, his office replied "President Zeman definitely does not intend to apologise. For the president would consider it blasphemy to apologise for the quotation of a sacred Islamic text."[65]

Zeman's comments on the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting and "Islamic ideology" in June 2014 caused a diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia. The diplomatic source said: "The Saudis had an exact list of what Zeman said on the issue in the past. The list had several pages. The [Czech] ambassador was in a very unpleasant situation as the protest had never gone so far before."[66]

On 17 November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, thousands of Czechs took part in a demonstration against Zeman, protesting his pro-Russian stance and vulgar language.[42][67] Eggs were also thrown, with one accidentally hitting the German president, Joachim Gauck; German officials said it was just a piece of eggshell.[67] On the same day, a group of about 60 people held a counter-demonstration in support of president Zeman.[68]

Personal life[edit]

Kateřina Zemanová, Miloš Zeman's daughter.

In the 1970s, Zeman was married to Blanka Zemanová; the couple divorced in 1978.[69] In 1993, he married his assistant Ivana Bednarčíková[70] (born 29 April 1965).

He has an adult son named David from his first marriage. His daughter from the second, Kateřina Zemanová (born 1 January 1994), was one of the most visible faces in Zeman's presidential election team. In a post-election speech, Zeman asked her to be his "informal First Lady", as his wife is reportedly shy and does not like media attention.[71] When asked about his religious beliefs, he describes himself as a "tolerant atheist".[72][73][74]

Zeman is a heavy drinker and long-term chain smoker. He only slightly curbed his consumption of alcohol and cigarettes after being diagnosed with diabetes in 2015.[75]

Lawsuits[edit]

Zeman has a long history of losing lawsuits regarding his public comments. In 1993 Zeman lost his lawsuit over his defamatory statement towards former police officer Milan Hruška. He falsely accused him of lack of intelligence and inadequate education. Zeman was fined, but ignored the court ruling and never apologised.[76]

In 1997 Zeman accused his party colleague Jozef Wagner of wanting to join the Communist party after leaving his faction in the Chamber of Deputies. Zeman lost the lawsuit and was ordered to apologise and pay compensation. Zeman initially ignored the ruling, before apologising in 2001.[77] In 2000, Prague City court ordered Zeman to apologise to politician Miroslav Macek after he described him as a "thief".[78] In 2007, Prague City court ruled that Zeman had unlawfully accused journalist Ivan Brezina of corruption. Zeman was ordered to publicly apologise by means of a newspaper article and pay 50.000 CZK in damages.[79]

On 19 February 2012, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that Zeman's campaign team had lied during the presidential campaign. According to the court ruling, this did not affect the outcome of the elections.[80]

On 2 March 2016, The Prague 1 District Court ruled that Zeman had falsely accused well-known journalist Ferdinand Peroutka of supporting Adolf Hitler. According to the preliminary judgement the Office of the President had to publicly apologise to Terezie Kaslová, Peroutka's descendant.[81] After the final appeal failed, the president's office announced on 23 September that it would appeal in the Supreme Court.[82] The office was fined 100,000 Kč in October 2016 for failing to apologise. However, the Supreme Court stated on 28 October that the apology would not be necessary until the court had ruled on the Office's appeal.[83]

State Awards[edit]

Country Awards Date
 Czech Republic Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the White Lion[84] 7 March 2013 (ex officio)
 Czech Republic Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk[84] 7 March 2013 (ex officio)
 Germany Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany 5 May 2014
 Slovakia Order of the White Double Cross 27 May 2014
 Jordan Order of al-Hussein bin Ali February 2015[85]
 Poland Order of White Eagle 15 March 2016
 Slovenia Order for Exceptional Merits (Slovenia) 18 February 2016[86]
 Macedonia Order 8-September 9 June 2016[87]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Jiří Horák
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
1993–2001
Succeeded by
Vladimír Špidla
Political offices
Preceded by
Milan Uhde
Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies
1996–1998
Succeeded by
Václav Klaus
Preceded by
Josef Tošovský
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
1998–2002
Succeeded by
Vladimír Špidla
Preceded by
Václav Klaus
President of the Czech Republic
2013–present
Incumbent