PRAGUE — He is against Western sanctions on Russia and recently got a phone call from President-elect Donald Trump with an invitation to the White House in April. He has said there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim,” hates “political correctness” and does not rule out the possibility that the U.S. Embassy in Prague secretly organized a protest against him.
His name is Milos Zeman, the 72-year-old president of the Czech Republic. Formerly a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party, today Zeman is the honorary chairman of the Party of Civic Rights and a contentious leader known for attempting to pump up the powers of the traditionally ceremonial president. He was elected in 2013 and previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002. He sat down Wednesday for an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. From an olive-colored room in Prague Castle, here’s what he had to say, redacted for space.
Q. You’ve been invited by President-elect Donald Trump to visit the White House. How did that come about?
A. I was the single European head of state who publicly supported Trump before the president elections. I stress before, because there are many politicians who admired Trump after the elections, when courage is cheap. . . . My reasons, my arguments for such public support? At first, it is just his courage. Politicians should be courageous and not hesitate . . . and he has courage. Second, he has a similar position [to mine] on the fight against Islamic terrorism and illegal migration. And third, you know the term political correctness, so I will give you one example only. Political correctness is to say “international terrorism.” Courage is to say “Islamic terrorism.” So it will be a pleasure to meet Donald Trump in the White House for those reasons.
Q. When will you be going?
A. The second half of April.
Q. Did Donald Trump’s people call you?
A. Donald Trump called me.
A. Direct line. It was a private discussion. . . . He said that he knows the Czech Republic. He visited the Czech Republic because of his former wife [the Czech-born Ivana]. And that is why he said that the Czech Republic is a very beautiful country. And I have agreed.
Q. Why did an invitation never come from Obama?
A. I disagree with his position toward Israel. . . . I dislike any hesitation in this area. And more than that, the situation in the Middle East. Obama’s policy destroyed practically all the Middle East’s structures and countries.
Q. You have been called pro-Russian. Are you? And do you support an end to the Western sanctions against Russia?
A. This is the standard slogan of my opponents. . . . Do you know why I am against sanctions? Because they represent a lose-lose strategy . . . because I am against the sanctions, they understand me as a pro-Russian politician. That’s all.
Q. Then it is untrue? You are not pro-Russian?
A. I am not financed by Russia . . . no vodka from Russia, no money from Russia. . . . They say that I am even paid by Russians, but in fact I am only an agent of Czechia, the Czech Republic.
Q. One of your top aides, Martin Nejedly, was a former partner with Lukoil, the Russian oil giant, in a Czech subsidiary. Lukoil even paid a large fine for Nejedly’s firm after a failed fuel deal.
A. Probably, yes. It is a problem of the Lukoil company. Not my problem.
Q. An unsubstantiated report from a pro-Kremlin news site emerged claiming that the U.S. Embassy in Prague was behind a 2014 protest against you on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Do you believe it?
A. I don’t know.
Q. So you think it’s possible?
A: Everything is possible.
Q. In 2016, Czech intelligence issued a report stating that the Russians were perpetrating covert infiltration of Czech media for the purposes of spreading propaganda and fake news. Do you agree with their assessment?
A. If you have some views, for instance, Russians have some views and you want to formulate it publicly in the media, it is not misinformation, it is not propaganda. Let us take, for instance, political parties. There are exchanges of arguments, sometimes politician slogans. I understand it is a normal situation because I believe in the common sense of citizens, in the Czech Republic and in America. And more than that, I dislike journalists. Because they understand their view as something superior compared to the views of the rest of the population, probably 99 percent. So if they have some views, please let us argue. But if they declare their superiority, that is a mistake — that’s why I dislike journalists.
Q. The Czech Interior Ministry recently created a new unit to monitor fake news. I hear you are not a fan?
A. Nobody has the monopoly on truth. This part of the Ministry of Interior, approximately 15 people, who not only do not have a monopoly on truth, but they have no qualifications for analysis for what is true and what is false.
Q. Unsubstantiated reports have emerged that Donald Trump adviser Michael Cohen and others from his team met with Russian officials in Prague during the presidential campaign. Donald Trump has denied this. Do you have any knowledge of any such meeting?
A. If this meeting has been realized, what is his name, Michael Cohen, was very impolite, because there was no meeting with me, the president of the Czech Republic! It is very impolite indeed!
Q. So you have no knowledge of any meeting between the Russians and anyone from Donald Trump’s team?
A. No, not at all. I think it is nonsense.
Q. You have said there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. Can you explain?
A. Let me start with Nazi Germany. In the ’30s in the last century, the Germans were decent people. The nation of Goethe and Schiller and so on. In only three years, they became the fanatic Nazis. They all were not victims of this ideology but strong supporters of this ideology. And now, just imagine, you have a Muslim community of approximately 2 billion people. If the Germans were able to be . . . radicalized during three years only, there is a serious danger that those people — you might call them moderate Muslims — might be radicalized by, for instance, Islamist State.
Q. You have also said you do not believe Muslims can assimilate into European cultures.
A. There is a strong difference between American and European culture and Muslim culture. And this is the attitude toward women. For Muslims, the women are, well, inferior, inferior beings. So, this is unacceptable in European culture. I could give you other examples, but I think this concerns a half of the population.