Czech president warns of general strikes, says government’s neoliberal economic ideology is trumping pragmatism

FILE - Former President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner, File)
By Kristýna Čtvrtlíková
5 Min Read

In a wide-ranging interview for the newspaper MF DNES, Czech President Miloš Zeman warns that the deteriorating economic situation could lead to a crisis if the government does not change course.

According to Zeman, the current tension in the Czech government is the result of the souring sentiment of the Czech public. He does not rule out that the demonstrations planned by Czech trade unions in September due to the unfortunate economic situation and low wages may escalate into a general strike.

“This government deservedly has zero media support. It follows a neoliberal ideology that can be accepted in quiet times. However, in times of crisis, this ideology leads to failure. Because of this, the current government is having more and more difficulties,” Zeman said.

According to the president, the government should now reduce employee taxes to their original value, abolish financial support for renewable energy sources, and introduce progressive taxation or taxation of excessive profits.

“I could go on with this list, including capping the prices of some forms of energy. But you will always run into ideological barriers. Either ideology or pragmatism will win. I prefer that pragmatism wins this dispute,” Zeman added.

The president also talked about inflation. According to him, the Czech National Bank‘s steps to moderate it have not helped, and inflation in the country is constantly rising.

Russia, the Green Deal, and the war in Ukraine

Zeman said that although everyone fears a possible cut of gas supplies from Russia, he believes the greater enemy of economic and social stability is the Green Deal. According to him, Czechia should withdraw from this climate plan. He noted that renewable sources form a minority in the Czech energy mix and, in addition, are highly unstable.

He also commented on the current development of the war in Ukraine and what he believes Vladimir Putin’s next move is.

“I don’t think he was very popular in domestic politics, and his popularity was increased by foreign policy, for example, because of the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although he is almost in the position of a dictator, a dictator wants to be loved by his people. In my opinion, the war will be long and tiring. But now I am not only saying my opinion, but also the opinion of many experts I read or discuss the situation with. It will end with a compromise, although we all wish Ukraine to be as successful as possible,” he said.

Education minister is the wrong pick

Zeman also used the interview to express his displeasure with the country’s new education minister, pointing out that he worked as the dean at the controversial law faculty in Pilsen, which accepted bribes in exchange for admitting students who fell short of the required number of admission points. He also mentioned Balaš’ other controversial activities at this university.

“I had a big problem with his appointment. On the other hand, I assumed that about seven respondents refused. Secondly, the Czech Republic will hold the presidency of the European Union starting this Friday, and it is therefore appropriate for the government to be complete. And thirdly, Petr Fiala, whom I respect, is already quite worried about the STAN movement and its constant scandals, so I do not want to complicate his work in this hard situation,” said the president.

Zeman also addressed the upcoming presidential election in the Czech Republic, which will take place in January 2023. Zeman is said to be satisfied if either the head of trade unions, Josef Středula, or former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš wins. However, the latter has not yet officially announced his candidacy. Zeman also revealed that he called on the current prime minister, Petr Fiala, to run for office, but Fiala is not interested.

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