Miloš Zeman accepts invitation to visit Trump at White House

Donald Trump, photo: CTK

US president-elect Donald Trump has invited Czech president Miloš Zeman to the White house next year, Prague Castle has revealed. The pair spoke by telephone on Tuesday, affirming a common stance on issues such as migration and battling terrorism.

Donald Trump,  photo: CTK
The call came from Trump Tower in New York, from where the president-elect is conducting his transition efforts prior to being sworn in as President of the United States in January 2017. According to information revealed by Prague Castle spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček, Trump invited President Zeman to visit the White House next year, likely in April. The Czech president accepted, and then issued a counter-invite for Donald Trump to visit Prague some time in the future, and this invitation was also received favourably.

Back in late November, the US president-elect spoke with Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban, the first European leader who publicly backed Trump. Orban has also received an invitation to the White House. Petr Kratochvíl is the director of the Institute of International Relations Prague. I asked him how the invitations extended to Zeman and Orban, who are both perceived as populist leaders in Europe, might impact US-European relations:

Viktor Orban,  photo: European Commission
“I seriously doubt whether this stronger political connection between Trump and Orban and Zeman will have any deep impact on Czech-US or Central European-US relations. Because if you look at Trump’s plans in terms of the economy, his policies are isolationist. But then he is also demanding greater defence expenditures from European allies. And the Czech Republic and Hungary are precisely examples of those countries that are not fulfilling such commitments. So I am really sceptical of the impact beyond stronger personal ties and increased populist discourse.”

Both Viktor Orban and Miloš Zeman are well known for their populist stances, particularly on immigration and battling Islamist terrorism. Back in November, Orban hailed the election of Trump as representing the end of “the era of liberal non-democracy”. After the election, Miloš Zeman also released a statement saying that in choosing Trump, the “American people had not allowed themselves to be manipulated by the media.”

According to the Castle, during Tuesday’s call Trump expressed gratitude for the fact that Zeman was the only European president to express public support for the Republican candidate prior to November’s election. But Petr Kratochvíl suggests that Zeman’s support for Trump in an internal American election, which included levelling insults at rival candidate Hillary Clinton, broke with accepted practice:

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Well, it is certainly inappropriate, and is certainly a highly unconventional strategy (for a Czech head of state) to support one candidate. And, even more importantly, to strongly, and even in a vulgar manner, to criticise the other candidate. I would even go so far as to say that such games with our future are both inappropriate and dangerous. Of course, it is lucky for Zeman that his favoured candidate was elected, and now the president will reap the rewards of that. But I don’t think this is very good for the country.”

Czech president Miloš Zeman was never afforded an official White House visit by outgoing president Barack Obama, but the pair did meet, for example during a 2015 reception in New York marking the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.