Presidential Campaign: Klaus Speaks Out

Over the past few days, everyone and their grandmother in the Czech Republic has been making up their minds as to whether they’ll support Zeman or Schwarzenberg, the candidates who made it to the second round of the presidential elections last weekend. The defeated candidates and parties from the first round have made their endorsements. The way this has been going on has been interesting and has revealed a lot about what structures Czech politics. The endorsements have not necessarily followed a straight-forward left-right pattern. In particular, the social democrats (ČSSD) have had a very hard time making up their mind and it is safe to say that the party is deeply divided over whether or not to support Zeman. Zeman is a former ČSSD prime-minister but has since left the party. His platform continues to be leftist, so it would seem that after the official ČSSD candidate (Dienstbier) lost, endorsing Zeman would be no-brainer. The endorsement has come but it is very reluctant. The day after the elections, they called on voters to support Zeman on 25 and 26 January, but the day after that, Vladimír Špidla, who succeeded Zeman as party leader and ČSSD prime minister, announced his support for Schwarzenberg. Clearly, there’s no love lost between the ČSSD leadership and their former leader Zeman. 

While many on the left have trouble supporting Zeman, Klaus, the current president, and the face of the right in the Czech Republic ever since the end of communism, has no problems doing so. While he has been reluctant to speak out in the campaign so far, he has now issued a veiled endorsement for Zeman on grounds that ‘he lived in this country through, bad, better, best, and worse’. See, count Schwarzenberg’s family left Czechoslovakia after the communists took over in February 1948, and Karel Schwarzenberg (born 1937) did not return until after the collapse of communism in 1989. While one might think that this history of exile might work in Schwarzenberg’s favor, his being an ‘exulant’ is now being used against him by Klaus.

An underlying dimension here is the relation that the various candidates and their supporters had with Havel. Klaus and Zeman never got along with Havel, but Schwarzenberg worked as Havel’s advisor during the 1990s. While his conservatism strikes me as something that would place him closer to people like Klaus than to Havel, it would seem that the straight-forward left/right or progressive/conservative heuristic falls short here. Then again, Schwarzenberg’s career as an elected politician started in the Green Party, so I suppose that should serve as a strong indicator that such short-hands may not work for Schwarzenberg (or for Czech politics generally, for that matter).


The Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms – a raven gnawing away at the severed head of a Turk. Staying classy!


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