Reelection of Czech President Signals Rising Tide of European Populist Movements
With the recent reelection of the Czech Republic’s president Miloš Zeman, the rise of anti-immigrant and pro-Russian sentiments have taken a stronger foothold within Central and Eastern Europe. Winning by a margin of just over 51% of the popular vote, Zeman defeated his liberal and novice opponent, Jiří Drahoš, signaling the increasing political viability of populist movements across Europe.
In recent years, Zeman has notably become a controversial political figure in the region famed for his acerbic remarks, frequently attributed to a style reminiscent of ‘Trumpism.’ Simultaneously, Zeman harbors an admitted affinity for casual drinking and a habitual trait of appearing intoxicated in public.
Zeman’s brazen platform centers largely on a voice of anti-immigration and pro-Russian partnership. A vocal supporter of Putin, Zeman advocates for closer ties between the two countries as well as increased economic partnerships with China; a decided push away from Western allies. However, the Visegrad Group, of which the Czech Republic is a formative member, has been said to be transitionally turning away from its traditional spheres of Western partnership in order to restructure perceived trade imbalances and large capital flows out of enlisted countries. Yet, it remains to be determined just how deeply Zeman wishes to enhance Russian and Chinese relations in the future.
On a similar initiative, Zeman’s political push to hold referendums on Czech membership status within the European Union and NATO suggests a deeper defiance against Western liberalism. This is further exhibited in Zeman’s continued opposition towards EU initiated quotas for refugee intake and his stark adherence to xenophobic social division amongst Czechs and immigrants.
Moreover, the Czech Republic stands alone as the only EU member state to have recently recognized the transition to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Under Zeman’s leadership this support posits further endorsement of Trump-like rhetoric and amplifies a trend of emboldened politicians in the region who act on far-Right political platforms.
The Zeman administration’s instability is furthered as it seeks to reappoint billionaire Andrej Babiš to the position of Prime Minister, who faces criminal charges for allegedly receiving fraudulent funding from the EU. The boldness of Zeman’s leadership and his extreme political direction in the Czech Republic may seem like an outlier in comparison to the base of the EU’s political makeup. However, Zeman’s reelection parallels the rise of ‘illiberal democracy’ across Central and Eastern Europe and stakes it claim in growing nationalist political sentiment worldwide.