This Saturday’s election saw the victory of former PM Milos Zeman over current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. The duel between a decried populist and an old-school aristocrat revealed a division previously unseen in modern Czech society. A few days before the first round of the presidential election, Charles University sociologist Martin C. Putna described the vote as an historic event in which the Czechs are “subconsciously electing their king”. Putna claimed that this inadvertent royal tradition rests on two factors. The first is the presidential residence – Prague Castle located in the heart of the capital and situated on a minor hill overlooking the city – which has been the seat of Czech monarchs since the ninth century. The second factor is the Czech Crown Jewels, stored in the St. Vitus Cathedral inside the Prague Castle complex, the fourth oldest coronation vestments in Europe. Both the Prague Castle and the Crown Jewels are among the major symbols of contemporary Czech sovereignty, nationalism and statehood even though they are intrinsically linked to a regal tradition.
Whether the Czechs were looking for their king in their first ever direct presidential election or not, they were faced with a decision between two candidates representing entirely different values. From the perspective of a presumed royal tradition, the names of both candidates foretold their roles in the election. Karel Schwarzenberg (the current Foreign Minister, a nobleman and head of the House of Schwarzenberg – an Austrian-Czech aristocratic family) would represent the higher echelons of society, while Milos Zeman (whose last name literally translates as “laird” or member of the lesser gentry) would epitomize the lower classes of Czech society. This, in fact, proved to be accurate as Schwarzenberg found his voters mainly amongst the higher middle class, students and in larger cities. Zeman, on the other hand, had his base in the country-side and among classes with smaller incomes.
During the campaign, and especially in the last two weeks between the first and second round, Zeman chose a more offensive approach than Schwarzenberg. Bringing up issues which added a nationalist tone to the election, Zeman accused his opponent of maligning former president Edvard Benes and the expulsion of Sudeten Germans after World War II. He also pointed out that Schwarzenberg’s wife lives in Austria and does not speak Czech and that Schwarzenberg himself lived as an emigrant during the communist era.
Full Article: Czech presidential vote: a society divided | openDemocracy.