Czech President Milos Zeman booed at Velvet Revolution anniversary over sanctions stance

By bne IntelliNews November 17, 2014

bne -


Czech President Milos Zeman was booed as he gave a speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in Prague on November 17, while several thousand marched in protest at his stance on sanctions against Russia.

Hundreds rallied at Charles University as the president unveiled a plaque to students who had marched to the city centre in 1989, sparking the events that led to the downfall of the last communist government. Bodyguards had to protect Zeman while he delivered a speech, as protesters hurled eggs and insults at the president.
A further 5,000 raised red cards on Narodni Street in the city - scene of the clash with communist-era police - to tell the president it was time to leave. Signs reading  "Down with Zeman" and "We don't want to be a Russian colony" abounded, according to Euractiv. 
Zeman, a former Social Democrat premier, has always been a divisive figure who enjoys provoking opponents, much like his rightwing predecessor Vaclav Klaus. Zeman has antagonised opponents recently by his comments on sanctions against Russia, and in particular a radio interview in which he vulgarly attacked the persecuted Russian pop group Pussy Riot.
Meanwhile, at the university ceremony, the crowd applauded speeches by Slovak President Andrej Kiska, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and German President Joachim Gauck, according to CTK. All of those figures have recently called for a sterner approach to Moscow over its continued aggression in Ukraine. 
Zeman, by way of contrast, has been pushing for a new "pragmatic" foreign policy for Prague. Meeting officials in Beijing last month, he insisted the Czech Republic has no questions over the sovereignty of Taiwan and Tibet. He then flew home on a jet privately-owned by the country's richest - and perhaps most-secretive - man, Petr Kellner. 
Zeman's Russian connections are nothing new. The president has consistently spoken out against EU sanctions waged against Russia, with the most recent instance coming the same day, as Zeman repeated to Russian television Channel One that there is "simply a civil war in Ukraine".
Suspicious minds
The coalition government meanwhile has been less consistent. Social Democrat (CSSD) Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka - a bitter enemy of Zeman - has flip flopped throughout the Ukraine crisis.
That is now reported to have raised hackles in Washington, which has started applying pressure across the region in a bid to disrupt Moscow's tactic of picking off EU member states in the east. Speculation abounds that Sobotka is in for a chilly reception at the White House as he travelled to the US the same day to unveil a bust of former president Vaclav Havel in Congress.
Meanwhile, a tussle continues within the coalition government over foreign policy. Some CSSD ministers, including Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, appear to be straining to retain some of Havel's stress on human rights. 

Yet such ideals are mostly concentrated in the capital and larger cities. Zeman won the country's first ever direct presidential election  in January 2013 mainly because of his support in the regions. Prague - with a GDP per capita (at purchasing power parity) higher than many parts of western Europe - has  been a stronghold of the centre-right since the Velvet Revolution.

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