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Czech President attempts to smear opponent as "pro-immigration" - but their views are the same on that issue

20.1.2018 14:51
Czech President Miloš Zeman (left) and second-round challenger Jiří Drahoš (right). (2018).
Czech President Miloš Zeman (left) and second-round challenger Jiří Drahoš (right). (2018).

The "Friends of Miloš Zeman" group has published an advertisement in some Czech dailies supporting the incumbent in the second round of voting and attacking his competitor, Jiří Drahoš, by connecting him with support for immigration and attacking asylum-seekers as well. The advertisement was commissioned by the Euro-Agency firm, which, according to Zeman's transparent campaign accounting had already paid CZK 1.8 million [EUR 70 000] for advertising in the daily press before the first round of voting.

False advertising in support of Zeman appeared in the press five years ago attacking the challenger, Karel Schwarzenberg. The current xenophobic advertisement reads "Stop immigrants and Drahoš. This country is ours!" and urges voters to choose Zeman.

The ads have run in the Deník and Právo dailies, with Deník running a front-page headline in the same edition that included this reaction from Drahoš: "This is exactly the type of disinformation and lies that I have anticipated. This is a run-of-the-mill smear campaign. The only part I agree with is 'Stop immigrants'. Nobody wants waves of immigrants here."

In a commentary, the director of the editorial board of Deník, Roman Gallo, criticizes the advertisement and calls it a "foul" by the President, saying he believes the incumbent knows very well that his opponent has rejected the idea of asylum-seekers being redistributed throughout the EU according to quotas. Drahoš said on 17 January that he agrees with the first part of Zeman's advertisement reading "Stop immigrants...".

"We must stop migration, especially migration in this direction from Africa and such countries," he urged. Europe, in his view, is not capable of solving this problem and must aid people in their home countries to prevent them from fleeing in the first place.

According to Drahoš, it is not possible to support the human smuggling trade and the European Union cannot address migration by opening its borders. "We must protect the Schengen borders, we must and we will cope with that challenge. However, we must deal with it as Europe, we cannot handle it just as the Czech Republic, we cannot wall up our borders and pretend that all is order, waiting to deal with this until there is an overflow across the borders," he said.

On the question of whether he is prepared for the harm to his reputation that the campaign may involve, Drahoš said his opponents could be overdoing it. "I hope that at least the rational people - and I still believe that most of us here are rational - will comprehend that these messages are fabrications and lies," he said.

Supporters of Zeman have been intentionally disseminating untrue information during the campaign, primarily on social networking sites, alleging that Drahoš has abused a young boy, that he has stolen his colleagues' inventions, or that he has been an agent of the communist-era State Security Services (StB). The untrue information about Drahoš is being refuted by a recently-established website.

Zeman is most frequently defended by his spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček. The position of the candidates toward illegal migration and the so-called migration quotas is a frequently-mentioned subject on social networks.

Those in favor of Zeman label his opponent an "optimist" or a "welcomer", which they perceive as a negative. Drahoš said prior to the first round of voting that the solution to economic migration to Europe from Africa is to aid people directly in their countries of origin.

The challenger has also urged controls for the external borders of Europe. For his part, Zeman claims to be seeking re-election without running a campaign of his own.

All over the Czech Republic, however, prior to the first round of voting, a large number of advertising billboards and posters appeared supporting his re-election, as well as advertisements in newspapers. Ovčáček said at the time that Zeman was aware of the advertising being used.

The President had CZK 4.5 million [EUR 177 000] in his transparent account available before the first round of voting. The value of all the advertising done on his behalf, including billboards, has been accounted for as worth CZK 17 million [EUR 670 000] in in-kind donations, mostly from organizations close to Zeman's collaborators, including the "Friends of Miloš Zeman" group and the "Citizens' Rights Party" (SPO), which was established by the President, aided him with collecting signatures for his candidacy, and whose headquarters Zeman uses to hold his press conferences.

SPO chair Jan Veleba was featured on a DVTV broadcast on Wednesday saying that he had never signed off on any campaign costs being borne by the party. He also said that financing was part of the vice-chair's agenda.

When asked whether it was possible that the vice-chair had used party money for Zeman's campaign, Veleba said he did not know. He then left the DVTV studio before the planned time for the interview had elapsed.

Veleba then told the Czech News Agency that the SPO is not planning to conduct an organized campaign for Zeman prior to the second round of voting that would involve any billboards or fliers. During his campaign five years ago during the country's first-ever direct presidential elections, Zeman exploited many lies about the family and the person of his opponent, Karel Schwarzenberg.

The lies were aimed at sensitive subjects around the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the postwar deportation of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia. Just before the second round of voting five years ago, the daily tabloid Blesk ran an anonymous, untruthful advertisement stating that Schwarzenberg was "preparing the ground for the return of assets to the descendants of war criminals" and that he considered the postwar displacement of ethnic Germans to have been unfair.

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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