The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Czech president called a news conference to burn a giant pair of red underwear

Czech President Milos Zeman and his chancellor, Vratislav Mynar, watch as firefighters burn a giant pair of red underwear on June 14 at the Prague Castle. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)
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In 2015, three men dressed as chimney sweeps climbed to the top of the Czech presidential palace and replaced the flag with a giant pair of red underwear.

The absolutely huge boxer shorts, which are a full meter long, were made and installed by members of Ztohoven, an artist collective that said it pulled the prank because President Milos Zeman was “not ashamed of anything.”

Three years later, Zeman called an unexpected news conference and ceremonially burned the underwear. Dressed in a suit and tie, he looked on and smiled as two firefighters dressed in full gear held up the massive underwear and lit them aflame in a fire pit.

“The time of underwear in politics is over,” he said.

Then he told journalists gathered for the event: “I'm sorry to make you look like little idiots; you really don’t deserve it.” Agence France-Presse reported that the whole situation was “bizarre” and that the last-minute nature of the gathering had prompted speculation he might unexpectedly resign.

Instead, he burned a giant pair of red boxers.

The underwear has followed Zeman around in recent years, and as he campaigned for reelection ahead of a January vote, the same artist collective that crafted them in 2015 also made T-shirts and badges and encouraged people to wear them to protest his candidacy.

Zeman is an anti-immigration populist and opposes European Union sanctions against Russia. He has called journalists idiots and said that “many politicians and journalists have inferior intelligence compared to normal people.”

He narrowly won reelection in January, and according to Czech media outlets, he bought the underwear for one Czech crown before lighting them on fire. It was not immediately clear whether they were the same pair that hung from the flagpole atop the presidential palace in 2015.

This isn’t Zeman's first dramatic news conference. Last year, he showed up at a briefing with a toy Kalashnikov rifle that bore a label that said “for journalists.”