Prague - The campaign for the run-off presidential election, which takes place on Friday and Saturday between former Prime Minister Milos Zeman and current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, has been stained by anti-German nationalism.
The emotional debate was centered on the so-called Benes Decrees, a series of laws issued by Czechoslovak president Eduard Benes during and after World War Two that legalized the expulsion of the country's three million minority of so-called Sudeten Germans.
Karel Schwarzenberg, a member of Austria's aristocratic family, said on January 17 in a televised duel with his opponent that the post-war expulsion had been legitimized by the immoral principle of collective guilt and that if it had taken place today, Benes would have been tried by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
These remarks prompted an aggressive reaction by the Zeman campaign, which took pains to portray Schwarzenberg as a threat to Czech national interests. Zeman went so far as to say that Schwarzenberg was "speaking like a Sudeten German."
The Zeman campaign's position was supported by outgoing President Vaclav Klaus and his closest family members. "As a Czech, I feel threatened by (Schwarzenberg's remarks)," said Klaus.
Klaus's wife Livia attacked Schwarzenberg's wife Therese for her Austrian origin and lack of knowledge of the Czech language. The outgoing president's son, Vaclav Klaus Jr., also joined the craze by poking fun at Schwarzenberg's singing of the Czech national anthem after the first round of the election.
The foreign minister's statements drew criticism even from Slovakia's left wing Prime Minister Robert Fico, who called them "disturbing" and "destabilizing" in an interview with the Pravo daily.
Most recently, just a few hours before the polls opened today at 2 PM (CET), the Blesk tabloid daily published a one-page ad displaying a picture of Schwarzenberg's face, crossed out with a red slash, with an accompanying text accusing the presidential candidate of being supported by Bernd Posselt, a controversial representative of the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia.
The Zeman campaign distanced itself from the ad.
To a lesser degree, nationalist rhetoric was also used by Schwarzenberg's supporters, who criticized Milos Zeman for his contacts with Russia's big business, namely the Lukoil energy company.
For the last ten years at least, nationalist scaremongering has been virtually nonexistent as a relevant political phenomenon in the Czech Republic. This era probably ended with the developments and remarks of the past few days - regardless of who wins the vote tomorrow.