I love my country, the Czech Republic, with an especially soft spot for its Eastern part, Moravia, where I was born and raised. I have always admired our modest yet rich and curvy landscape with apple orchards, small vineyards, calm rivers and thick forests filled with wet smells of pine bark and fresh mushrooms. I am fond of my compatriots who are, with all generalisation included, down-to-earth kind of people, who have always used common sense and brittle humour to survive the twists and tugs of the history’s trials. We have kept good neighbourly relationship with our former Slovakian brothers, fondly remembering their similar yet slightly softer and more melodic language and exchanging friendly double-bladed jokes. Although I have lived abroad for the past several years, I always return home keenly and with a bittersweet nostalgic pang in my chest.
Recently, this undefined pang has transformed into steadily growing nostalgia for my country as I used to know it, as I had to admit to myself that I have become ashamed of my fellow citizens, the Czechs, Moravians and Slavs alike. Reading the Czech newspapers and watching our TV channels I ask myself in disbelief: What happened to all these great rational people? Who brainwashed them all?
These days, if you have just a brief look into one of the national newspapers, you are bound to come across at least one more or less invective comment directed at the president of the republic, Milos Zeman. Since his victory in the presidential poll in March 2013 (accidentally the first direct presidential election in the history of the country), Milos Zeman has been growingly criticized by the media, throughout social networks and by a large part of the upper-middle class public.
There is nothing wrong with healthy criticism, whether coming from individuals, political and religious representatives or from the media. Luckily, being a democratic country for over 25 years we have the freedom of speech and enough impartial platforms to provide for a variety of opposition, support or commentaries. Milos Zeman’s pronounced opinions and political steps are often controversial and the need for (critical) speech is not surprising. I do not wish to discuss here the correctness of Milos Zeman’s presidential activities, his political and personal qualities nor the colour of his socks – that is not the point of this article. I accept him as an officially elected president of the country and I agree with some his notions and disagree with the others.
Unfortunately enough, what might once started as reasonably healthy and justifiable criticism now turned into something completely different. The biased media with active support of Zeman’s political opposition have been leading something that cannot be called but a witch-hunt. Milos Zeman has been put on a pedestal to represent the ultimate evil politician figure, or rather the combination of preeminent symbols of an incompetent president, appalling human being and an idiot with penchant for a good beer and vulgar vocabulary. Similarly to medieval inquisition processes with the witches, the media and public’s bloodlust seems to be satisfied only by a constant persecution.
Zeman, calling himself the ‘president of the lower 10 millions’ [referring here to the ordinary middle class citizen as compared to the richest 10 thousand inhabitants of the country] prides himself in being the president of the people; the guy we could sit down for a beer in that pub down the street or that bendy-legged next door neighbour whose tools we regularly borrow. He uses slang language of the people and likes to stress out that he ‘thinks like us’. This attitude certainly helped in him being elected to the post, yet also raised a wave of animosity amongst the intellectuals of the country, who find his person vulgar and bumpkin-like and who are reassured in their stance with every new presidential activity. One of the recent scandals was Zeman’s use of some profane language during a radio interview on a national channel, where Zeman, discussing the Russian radical activist group Pussy Riot, set off to explain to the moderator what a ‘pussy’ means in English. Yes, profanities do not belong to the language of a president, nor should they sound from mouths of other politicians; it simply is not appropriate. This incident, however, was fully intentional from Zeman’s part; it was not a slip of ‘a drunkard’s tongue’ as the mass media massage tried to imply in the following days (and weeks). He wanted to explain, to shock and most of all to appear in human light to his listeners – to sound as one of them. Zeman’s fondness of direct language accompanied by often clumsy and adverse formulation of his statements has, nevertheless, brought him more enemies than friends in the long course. The most recent source of public whipping is Zeman’s statement on the topic of disabled children and their inclusion in regular school classes. Zeman spoke about this during his visit to the Rehabilitation Institute in Brandýs nad Orlicí:
“I don’t share the opinion that children with a certain disability should be placed in classes together with students who are not handicapped, because it would be a disaster for both. This is no racism or preference of an ethnic group, but children are much happier if surrounded by a community of equals. (…) From the point of view of peace of mind, it is much better if practical classes exist. I don’t like the inclusion at all and I’m opposed to it.”  1
This was very unfortunately phrased and provided enough ammunition to berate the president for what will probably be another two months. Later on this week Zeman’s spokesman stated that ‘Mr President did not want to negatively comment on disabled children. Nothing is black and white. Mr President spoke for keeping practical classes [i.e. for mentally disabled children] in schools only in those cases when this would be beneficial for the children. He absolutely did not intend to offend physically disabled, as it has been wrongly attributed. He wanted to point out the situation when education of all pupils in a regular class suffers [from such inclusion of mentally disabled children] and when cases of bullying appear.”2
Surely we all understand that education of handicapped children demands carefully planned programme and individual approach. There are cases when a disabled child benefits immensely from integration in a regular class, and, vice versa, healthy children might learn to respect and understand disabilities from a first-hand experience. However, for a seriously handicapped child who gets specially trained staff and conditions adjusted to his exact learning needs, a specialized class can offer a much more advantageous environment and better future prospects.
On the example above I wanted to point out that as stated earlier, things cannot be seen only black and white. If we use common sense to reflect upon what we see and hear around us, from politicians, media but also from friends and family, there will always be a way to form an unbiased, rational opinion. Zeman’s statement is not completely unfounded, although it was presented in an incomplete and lamentable way.
The problem is that Zeman could say anything at this point, and it would always be wrong. He has become the punch bag of the public, someone upon whom we can direct our frustration and where we can source all our problems. And although Zeman seems to be somehow enjoying the controversy that his statements cause, he might be underestimating the moronic hate of the media that are supported by his clever opposition and only enhanced by the general lack of common sense.
Milos Zeman is not the worst president in the world nor is he the best one. However, the facts stand that presidential post is a formal, publically elected position of the leader of the country. As such it represents us, the citizens, on the international political scene. The president is an embodiment of the country, with all dignity, responsibility and more or less symbolical powers this brings. Whether we differ in political opinions with the president or not, we still should honour the presidential post, unless civil rights or laws are being disregarded, which is not the case of Milos Zeman. Yes, we also might dislike a president on an individual basis, but that does not justify impertinence and public attacks on his person, nor come to that, on his supporters or anyone else. Could you ever imagine the Brits denigrating the Royal Family in such a way as our Czech media speak of Milos Zeman? That would be simply unthinkable and outrageous.
We might, and we should, at points, disagree with our political representatives, but we ought not to tie Milos Zeman to a burning stake. The country effectively burns with its leaders and such negative propaganda as we create today does not serve to any good purpose, neither on national nor on the international scene. By publically degrading the president of our country we degrade ourselves, as citizens who elected him as our representative, and as people whose ethics and manners should not be forgotten only because it has become a norm for the media.
We are criticising the deteriorated presidential standard, but before pointing our fingers we should look at what happened to our citizens’ standard in the first place. Where have our fair reasoning and good manners gone? Even the brittle dark humour is too kind for the flagging of the Evil Zeman Witch. Were the standards compared and based upon that sample of civil activism we witness in the media, I believe we would deserve a much worse president than we got in Milos Zeman.