End of Zeman presidency ceremonially marked with burning and drowning of effigy
Outgoing president Miloš Zeman ended his term in office at midnight on Wednesday, with the symbolic lowering of the presidential flag and the closing of Prague Castle’s Gate of the Giants. But that wasn’t enough for some Zeman critics – they wanted a proper ceremony to mark the end of the former president’s time as head of state.
Riffing on the ancient Slavic tradition of marking the passing of winter and welcoming in the spring with a ritual known as “Vynášení Morany“ – burning and drowning an effigy of Morana, the pagan goddess of winter and death – a group of around hundred people started gathering in Hradčany Square in front of Prague Castle on Wednesday evening from about 5.30pm. Except instead of an effigy of Morana made out of wood and straw, they had a giant sculpture of Zeman’s head in tow.
From the square, the procession of people, accompanied by live music, drums, and the effigy of Zeman, left the castle at around 6pm and made its way down to Charles Bridge. The parade also included a troupe of Ukrainian and Czech women in traditional folk costumes with wreaths on their heads.
On Charles Bridge they ceremonially set the head alight and threw the burning effigy of Zeman into the Vltava River shortly before 7pm. The singer Jaroslav Hutka performed two anti-Zeman songs and the whole affair was photographed by passing tourists, of which there were however far fewer than usual due to the rainy weather.
The event was organised by the Velvet Illumination association, which organises annual Carnival parades. A similar happening also occurred in 2013, when Zeman’s predecessor Václav Klaus finished his term as president.
Similarly to how burning and drowning Morana symbolised not only the end of winter but also the banishing of misery, disease and death for the Czechs’ ancient Slavic ancestors, the ritual “throwing out” of Zeman also carried a host of symbolic meanings for the participants, according to Olga Cieslarová, one of the event organisers. She told the Czech News Agency before the start of the procession that the event was not only ceremonially marking the end of Zeman’s tenure, but with it also the end of lies, vindictiveness, vulgarity, arrogance, gossip, prejudice, hatred, lack of self-reflection, empathy and transparency, excessive alcohol consumption during working hours, and "the complete degradation of the presidency".
At midnight a group of people also assembled in the rain on Hradčany Square, and toasted the end of Zeman’s presidency with champagne and cries of “Finally!”
The website jetencurakjesteprezidentem.cz (the domain name of which can be loosely translated, in slightly more polite language, as “Is that idiot still president?”), which if you entered the address into your web browser had, up until that time, simply taken you to a page displaying the word “Je” (He is), at midnight updated to say “Není” (He is not).
In his ten years as president, Miloš Zeman received criticism from many corners of society for a number of his decisions and statements. According to critics, he flagrantly disregarded the Constitution, overstepped the bounds of his office, used his position to pardon people he knew of crimes, was too accommodating to authoritarian regimes, surrounded himself with untrustworthy aides, and divided society with controversial statements.