A way to summarize why I have been decided for quite some time to vote for Miloš Zeman as Václav Klaus' successor is to say that among the candidates who had a significant chance, he was the most right-wing one. He was the clearest for of the green politicians and NGOs; he was the most candid one when it came to jokes vs political correctness; he is a much stronger hawk when it comes to foreign policy (especially the threats posed by the Muslim world) than Václav Klaus (he talks about the Anticivilization spreading from Northern Africa through Indonesia that makes living partly by drugs and partly by oil; he wants to invite Israel to NATO to help us fight against this major threat); regardless of his talk, he has done a lot for capitalism in Czechia, e.g. by his having privatized the banks 15 years ago.
Zeman is a self-described leftist. Still, those of us who remember all the developments right before, during, and after the Velvet Revolution must know that this "leftism" is a part of the image that Zeman has to preserve not to negate his life but there's no genuine "leftism" of the kind that irritates me so much. In some sense, he is a conservative fifth column within the Left which is a good thing.
I remember his analyses he wrote shortly before the fall of communism. They were rather brave and I never thought that they would be too much on the left from the opinions of Václav Klaus; well, they were somewhat on the left. When Klaus managed to establish the standard, strong, right-wing political party in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s, Zeman wanted to remain competitive so he gradually redefined himself as the leader of the modern left – successfully so. He had to because the other side was already taken. ;-)
Last time he made me upset about some left-wing comments on the economy was probably in 1992. My perception of Zeman after 1992 is completely different and everything I know about his later conflicts with the rest of the social democratic party's establishment is compatible with the idea that he wasn't left-wing enough for those bastards.
Zeman also calls himself a eurofederalist but those folks who are satisfied with this naive, superficial label had to become disappointed once they learn some "details". ;-)
Just to be sure, he can imagine a European federation – so can I but I just don't want any such thing – and he wants Czechia to join the eurozone within 5 years – which is irrelevant because all the other major politicians and economists are against.
However, that's been pretty much the complete list of the attitudes in which Zeman is pro-EU. The rest of the EU attitudes hiding in the head of this politician is a chain of anti-EU nuclear timebombs which is a major reason why I preferred him. ;-)
Zeman is just visiting Austria. He didn't cause any real scandal worth the name but he made it clear that his opinion about the expulsion of ethnic Germans in 1945 wasn't just a cheap trick to get national votes in the presidential election. It's an important part of his seeing of the world. So he insisted on judging the expulsion in the historical context. He said something tough that I totally agree with – after all, I've said it many times years before Zeman.
He said that the expelled Germans should have felt lucky because the alternatives were tougher. A highly conceivable alternative was a death penalty for these – hundreds of thousands or millions of – [so far] Czechoslovak citizens who had arguably committed high treason by happily becoming citizens of the Third Reich and allowing this monstrous regime to overtake their homeland. Various things could have taken place in 1945; all the people who were actually expelled could have been executed. Perhaps 1/2 of them or 1/3 of them. It would still bring almost every German family a huge sorrow. In this sense, the Czechoslovak government was extremely generous; we may even say it was protecting the ethnic German from a potentially uncontrollable revenge by the ethnic Czechs. Moreover, the expelled people were allowed to escape the looming communism which was really great for their freedom and which was great for them economically, too.
Zeman despises the murders etc. during the "wild expulsion" phase just like I do but these trees shouldn't prevent us from seeing the forest – the question what should have been done with the millions of Czechoslovak citizens of German ethnicity after it was clear once again that they did a seriously wrong thing – high treason and related acts (which helped to cripple the life of many other Czechoslovaks: 300,000 Czechoslovak citizens were killed during the war, for example).
These are not just some irrelevant ghosts from the history. We must reach sufficiently compatible opinions about these matters if we want to preserve the "thick line" after the history. The historical bills must remain paid and people have to agree with the outcome. Also, we must know whether the context should influence the current policies and decisions. It should. People who don't learn the history are bound to repeat its mistakes.
But let me return to the EU.
Zeman has signed the European Stability Mechanism but he actually opposes all the ideology and planned action behind this project. He thinks it is crazy for the EU to help countries like Greece and Cyprus; he "cannot imagine" that a Czech finance minister would approve such things. You could suggest that his opinions are inconsistent but they aren't. The purpose of ESM – officially – isn't to pour money to undisciplined, screwed countries. It's supposed to be an arrangement encouraging countries to act responsibly and helping them with loans if they're in trouble that occurred despite their disciplined behavior. I can imagine that such a mechanism could be morally justifiable in my eyes. It just differs from the "real-world ESM" which is a gadget for large-scale redistribution of money within the EU.
You could also say that his desire to join the eurozone is incompatible with his negative opinion about bailout for troubled EU countries. But I don't see any incompatibility here, either. A single currency just doesn't imply a single wallet! Many people or nations may use the same currency even though they hate each other; they would never pay a penny to the others. It's just a damn unit of wealth! Paying with the same banknotes or coins as someone else doesn't transform you into her sister.
Of course that I may also imagine that within 5 or 10 years, Czechia will be in the eurozone. We may pay with the same unit. I think that the crown should strengthen before the merger – well below CZK 20 per euro while the current exchange rate is CZK 26 per euro – but at the moment when I don't have any clear remaining expectations about a future trend of the exchange rate, switching to the euros is just about dividing some numbers by a fixed, particular, well-known conversion factor. There's nothing wrong about it. If the inflation targeting by the ECB is similar to the inflation targeting by the Czech National Bank, nothing really changes. We must be sure that we're approximately in the same optimum currency area as the true core of the eurozone – which I still assume to be Germany – and I think we clearly are. Otherwise there's no problem about the transition.
The only problems are the fiscal and redistribution policies that some people are trying to add on top of the innocent fact that some people use the same unit of money. These are the real problems. If we join a currency that is doing these insane things, it's very bad. If we remain in a system that doesn't expect this unlimited redistribution, things are just OK.
But the main topic I wanted to mention was Zeman's attack – in an interview for Profil, an Austrian journal that will be published on Monday – on the EU regulation. It was far from the first time when he criticized such things. In the past, he has repeatedly complained about the fluorescent light bulbs whose ugly light was forced on his room by the crazy EU regulation of light bulbs.
Today, we learn something else.
Can you imagine that the European Union would prevent Shakespeare from writing Hamlet? Pretty much the same – equivalent – thing happened to Zeman. If Hamlet is one of the main characters that define Shakespeare – so Hamlet's ban is a serious attack on the very identity of William Shakespeare – we should ask what is the main thing that has defined the identity of Miloš Zeman for decades.
Yes, it's Becherovka, a herbal liquor from Carlsbad, Western Bohemia, with 38 percent of alcohol (only 2 people have access to the full recipe today). Zeman would always drink a lot of it. But for nearly a decade, we were told, Zeman would be drinking Slivovice instead (40-55 percent of alcohol). Why did he switch? Why did our Shakespeare has abandoned his Hamlet?
Some people who followed it knew that Zeman probably didn't like the amount of sugar in Becherovka anymore. But only now, we may learn the actual reasons: a decade ago, the European Union would actually rule that liquors have to contain at least XY percent of sugar. Becherovka was forced to transform itself into a sweet lemonade of a sort and it just wasn't good for Zeman anymore!
So he switched to Slivovice. You may see that the European Union is seriously crippling people's lives, even the life of the most important Czech politician at this point. ;-)
Zeman is probably even more shocked by the EU's attempts to regulate smoking. As a passionate smoker, he was once able to convince his "fellow Texan", staunch non-smoker George W. Bush, to be allowed a cigarette somewhere in the White House. Zeman jokingly counts it as some of his most important achievements in the foreign policy. ;-) Of course, unlike Klaus, he smokes at the Prague Castle all the time, too. He must really be scared by the ongoing plans to ban smoking at an increasing fraction of places. During his visit to Slovakia, they kindly allowed him to smoke in the presidential palace and surrounded him with ashtrays but he was later told that his smoking was illegal, anyway. ;-)
As you can imagine, I don't really care about the right of smokers to smoke anywhere – an isolated would-be right of a group I don't love in any elevated way – but whether you want it or not, the smoking bans are just another step to restrict the human freedom, to take their sometimes elementary life decisions from them. And in this more general form, it's just extremely dangerous.
The European Union shouldn't try to intervene into smoking, liquors, and light bulbs, Zeman importantly says. In some sense, he is protecting his own rights and hobbies which makes his defense less morally clear but on the other hand, it makes the negative impact of the EU decisions on actual people more visible and tangible.