Czech Premier Chides President for Spreading Xenophobia, Hatred

Incoming Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka Interview

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.

Photographer: Martin Divsek/Bloomberg
  • Sobotka says his party is upset by president's rally speech
  • Democratic president shouldn't act this way, premier says

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka unusually criticized President Milos Zeman for approving of the spread of hatred in its “most extreme” form by appearing at a rally of a “xenophobic sect” three days ago.

Sobotka, whose Social Democrats backed Zeman’s presidential bid in 2013, told Hospodarske Noviny in an interview on Friday that everyone within the party is “very upset” with the president for speaking at a Nov. 17 rally alongside two parties with strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views. Czechs held various public events that day to mark the start of 1989 Velvet Revolution that led to the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

The spat highlights a divide in Europe among leaders who support granting shelter to the biggest wave of displaced people since World War II and those who argue that the attacks in Paris last week are a reason to turn them away. While the Czech Republic serves mainly as a transit country for migrants on their way to the west, there’s a group of politicians that is fueling fear of migrants instead of trying to find a solution, Sobotka said. Zeman has “unpleasantly surprised” people, he said.

“The worst thing is that he basically legitimizes the spread of xenophobia and hatred in its most extreme form,” Sobotka told the newspaper. “A democratic president should not do that.”

Appearing at a demonstration with the Bloc Against Islam, the president said everyone had the right to express their views and opponents of accepting refugees shouldn’t be labeled as “extremist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, or racist.” Zeman, who used to lead the Social Democrats, rejected the criticism and said the prime minister lacked “adequate information” about the event, according to Hospodarske Noviny.

It would be “good” to have read his speech at the event, because Sobotka “wouldn’t find one Islamophobic, hateful phrase” in it, Zeman told the newspaper.

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