Do Prague protests signal genuine fall in support for President Zeman?

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

A series of protests against Czech President Miloš Zeman were staged in Prague and other big cities on Monday, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Thousands of people voiced their discontent with Mr Zeman’s performance in office and perceived pro-Russian and pro-Chinese positions. Commentator Jiří Pehe believes this could mark a turning point in the public perception of President Zeman who has so far topped polls of most trusted Czech officials.

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK
“I think that people in this country, especially in big cities, are genuinely ashamed of this president. They feel he does not represent the country well, that he is aggressive and uses vulgar language, and on top of that, his attitudes towards the crisis in Ukraine are really not in sync with the majority of people in this country.

“It’s not a big surprise that people, especially those in Prague who have traditionally been more opposed to this president than the rest of the country, used this opportunity of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution to protest against the president.”

President Zeman enjoys a relatively high level of public trust. In a survey published last month, some 64 percent of people said they trusted the Czech president. How will the protests affect his popularity?

Jiří Pehe, photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“First of all, I think that the various surveys of the president’s popularity do not really reflect the popularity of the particular politician. Ordinary Czechs traditionally hold the office of the president in a very high esteem, and unless the president does something really terrible – such as the amnesty that President Klaus granted just before leaving office which really caused his popularity to plummet – people traditionally trust the president.

“But I think that at this point, we might see a drop in the president’s popularity ratings because the last survey took place before a series of very controversial steps by the president.”

But don’t you think that his popularity with his voters might actually increase? Most of his supporters are not based in big cities, and share different values than the people who took the streets on Monday?

“It’s difficult to predict but my guess is that his overall popularity will drop because even his voters cannot be really happy about the way he has recently been behaving.

Photo: CTK
“It’s true that President Zeman is trying to pitch these two camps against each other, the camp of his supporters against what he calls the ‘Prague café’.

“But last year, when he was engaged in attempts to bypass Parliament and shift power in the Czech constitutional system towards presidency, many of his supporters in the end expressed their dissatisfaction with actions, and his popularity dropped sharply.”