Czech President Miloš Zeman has in the past suggested caustically that his day wouldn’t be complete if he didn’t insult at least one person. Well on Monday, the president – who is recovering from a knee injury – inadvertently insulted a good many by suggesting in a radio interview it would be “undignified” to name the country’s next prime minister from a wheelchair.
The remark drew not a few angry responses in the social media and a response from the National Disability Council which has called on him to apologise. Its chairman, Václav Krása, says that while he does not think the president’s remark was intentionally offensive, it was damaging nonetheless.
“The president basically said that a head-of-state who is in a wheelchair is less dignified than one who can walk. And that certainly is not the case. I know [Wolfgang] Schaeuble a little and I know he is a very significant German politician who is the finance minister and is also a former interior minister who conducts his job very well. Mr Zeman’s statement suggests that people in wheelchairs are not suited for high office. The remark is discriminatory.”
Václav Krása is a former politician himself, a former high profile MP during the 1990s who brought new attention to helping those with disabilities. He says he realises that Mr Zeman - confined to a wheelchair only short-term – probably does not feel comfortable enough to appear in public, but that all the same a more positive message should be sent.
“The president probably doesn’t feel comfortable in a wheelchair and that’s understandable. I also don’t think his remark was aimed at those with disabilities. But he should clarify his remarks in the media with some kind of an apology.
“I think the president should normally continue in his job even in his wheelchair, as I do in mine, everyday. I think it would send a good message and would renew the focus on his job rather than on whether he is in a wheelchair or on his feet.”
One politician who serves as inspiration for many to this day, brought up in several comment sections on Czech websites, is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Václav Krása also spoke about him as an example:
“Without question Roosevelt was a great politician and an example for all of us. I still remember that photo of him at one table with Churchill and Stalin and all three were basically equal. Of course, I’m no fan of Stalin but they were all statesmen who decided about the future of the world and it didn’t matter that Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, above all, he was a great statesman.”