Zeman’s “Kalashnikov” comment: Harmless quip or dangerous populism?

27-01-2016

Miloš Zeman has long been known for his blunt language and biting wit. However, comments he made this week – interpreted as suggesting that the prime minister could be shot – have been criticised across the political spectrum. But has the Czech president “lost control of himself”? Or is he merely appealing to a certain constituency?

Miloš Zeman, photo: Khalil BaalbakiMiloš Zeman, photo: Khalil Baalbaki President Zeman was asked at a town hall-style meeting on Monday how Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka could be removed. The second part of his answer was loudly cheered.

“If you want to get rid of any politician, including the president, there is just one democratic way… free elections, which in the given case will be in a year’s time. There is also a non-democratic way: a Kalashnikov.”

Mr. Zeman has long been known for his witticisms. Indeed the word “bonmot” has become closely associated with him.

However, once his “Kalashnikov” comment was more broadly reported there was a wave of condemnation from across the political spectrum.

Bohuslav Sobotka – a disciple turned rival of Mr. Zeman’s – said the Czech Republic was probably the only civilised state where the president could call for the killing of the prime minister.

Communist leader Vojtěch Filip described the statement as disgusting, while Miroslava Němcová of the Civic Democrats suggested the president’s low-class humour was reminiscent of what one might hear at the worst kind of pub.

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip JandourekBohuslav Sobotka, photo: Filip Jandourek But Jan Veleba from Mr. Zeman’s former SPO party argues that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.

“This has clearly been misused because in his answer the president didn’t name the prime minister. It was clearly hyperbole. And if the prime minister was a real guy and spent a little time among the people, which he clearly doesn’t, maybe such questions wouldn’t be asked. I personally wouldn’t create such hysteria, never mind issuing a statement.”

Political scientist Petr Just says, however, that Mr. Zeman’s comment wasn’t just in bad taste – it was potentially dangerous.

“I think it was highly inappropriate. I of course understand that it was meant as a joke, as irony, it was not meant in a real way.

“However, in the Czech Republic we are currently witnessing more and more calls for the establishment of some militias that should protect Czech society in the current migration crisis.

“We witness more and more that there are threats against those who support refugees.

“So in the current environment in Czech society, any statement like this should be taken seriously.”

Milan Štěch, the chairman of the Senate, said that Mr. Zeman seems to have lost control of himself. Do you think that could be true? Or is he perhaps making a calculated appeal to a certain kind of voter when he says these things?

Petr Just, photo: archive of Charles UniversityPetr Just, photo: archive of Charles University “I think these statement were addressed to his voters. Zeman knows very well what people’s feelings are. People generally are very critical of the government, they are very critical towards politicians.

“He is addressing this audience and his fans and also interfering in general politics, in governmental affairs.

“It’s not for the first time but this time it was connected with these serious statements. And this makes it a more serious issue than any time before.”

27-01-2016