Klaus, Zeman - loved and hated by Czechs

Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

According to latest opinion polls almost fifty percent of Czechs would like to see Civic Democrat Vaclav Klaus as the new Czech president. The second largest share of public support is enjoyed by Social Democrat Milos Zeman with 36 percent and the third candidate, Senator Jaroslava Moserova enjoys the support of 16 percent of the population. These figures however do not signify much, as it is not the public who decides about the new head of state anyway. But they are interesting from another point of view. Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus seem to raise both love and hatred in equal proportion among the Czechs.

Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
While 36 percent of the public want to see Milos Zeman at Prague Castle, exactly the same percentage think he is the worst of the candidates. Twenty-nine percent have said the same about Vaclav Klaus. While some people admire the two charismatic leaders for what they stand for, for others the two personify the growing pains of Czech democracy and are often blamed for all that went wrong during the years of transformation. These negative sentiments probably reached their peak some three years ago when a group of ex-student revolutionaries from 1989 called for Vaclav Klaus and Milos Zeman to leave Czech politics. The main argument against them was the power-sharing pact their respective parties had signed a year before and which deadlocked the Czech political scene. The former students signed a petition called "Thank you, now leave", and filled up squares in Czech cities. Today, "Thank you, now leave", are a civic association. Its chairman, Josef Broz, was among the signatories in 1999. I asked him what he thought about the fact that both Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus are still around and, what's more, running for the highest post in the country.

Milos Zeman,  photo: CTK
"My opinion is clear. It is a very bad situation. I think that Mr Zeman and Mr Klaus are the same people as before. For me the message is the same: 'Thank you, now leave.' But it is not the decision of the people, it is the decision of the two chambers of parliament."

Another signatory of the "Thank you, now leave" petition in 1999, was former student leader and now non-affiliated Senator Martin Mejstrik. Ahead of today's vote Mr Mejstrik called on the Social and Civic Democrats to withdraw the candidacies of Milos Zeman and Vaclav Klaus and support Senator Jaroslava Moserova. But it seems that among the general public and the lawmakers, the ideals of the "Thank you, now leave", movement, so popular at its time, do not enjoy much support. After all, Vaclav Klaus, and Milos Zeman, former party heads, former prime ministers and chairmen of the lower house remain the most influential figures in this country alongside Vaclav Havel since the fall of communism.