Why Does Zeman Oppose Sanctioning the Russians? He’s On Their Payroll (says Respekt).

In my previous post I mentioned a list of things that I needed to write about. One of them, and a topic that I’ve been following with some interest, is the politics of anti-Russian sanctions. This issue is interesting enough throughout Europe, but gets an added layer of memory politics in Eastern Europe. Views on the current Russian government don’t always align with views of the communist past (although KSČM has been supportive of Russia). Indeed the current and previous Czech Presidents, Zeman and Klaus, have been two of Putin’s big supporters in the Czech Republic. Especially Klaus cannot be accused of being in any way pro-communist, although his approach to the past has always been one of pragmatism (less the case for other ODS politicians).

Both Zeman and Klaus are known to insist on speaking Russian with representatives of the Kremlin (something that for many smacks of the submissive pre-1989 relation between the Castle and the Kremlin) and apparently have pushed others in the Czech elites towards speaking Russian. I’m not sure this means all that much but as someone who is keen on languages, I find it an interesting detail.

In the recent conflict in East Ukraine, both Zeman and Klaus have taken the side of the Kremlin, denouncing the sanctions as misguided and the result of Mephistophelian backroom politics, propaganda, and purposeful disinformation. (The last is a favorite ingredient when Czechs are discussing their opponent’s politics. They also like ‘provocation’. Both terms strike me as being drawn directly from the communist vocabulary. But I digress.)

Many Czechs view Russia’s action in Ukraine through the lens of the 1968 invasion and see with apprehension how Russia flexes it muscles. But in spite of this common view, many continue to support Zeman.

Czech media are all quite skeptical of Zeman’s position, wondering why he is so devoted to the Kremlin line.

Weekly magazine Respekt now offers an answer to that question by suggesting that Zeman is on the Russian’s payroll. Under the title ‘Russians are paying Zeman’ (Zemana platí Rusové), Respekt argues that Zeman’s recent visit to the Greek island of Rhodos was paid for by Vladimir Yakunin , one of Putin’s close friends and targets of the recent sanctions. This also brings back the discussion of Zeman’s campaign financing, which back in late 2012, early 2013 included contributions from LukOIL. Clearly, to be continued.

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