Czech President Miloš Zeman has made headlines again with another of his controversial comments, this time aimed at the transgender community, women’s rights activists and the #MeToo movement. Critics say his words could impact the mental health of members of sexual minorities.
The Czech head of state is known for provocative and divisive comments both on domestic and international affairs, ranging from his criticism of EU sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea to his negative stand on migrants.
Miloš Zeman’s most recent statement was made in an interview on CNN Prima on Sunday, where he said that while he did understand homosexuals, he could not understand transgender people.
"If you undergo a sex-change operation you are basically committing a crime of self-harm," he said, adding that he personally found transgender people repulsive.
Mr. Zeman made the comments in response to a question about a dispute in the EU over a controversial Hungarian law banning LGBT+ references in school materials.
While seventeen EU member states have already expressed disapproval of the Hungarian law, the Czech Republic, along with other post-communist countries, such as Poland and Slovenia, have refused to join in the criticism.
On Sunday President Zeman openly supported the Hungarian prime minister, saying that the Czech Republic had no right to meddle in other country’s internal affairs:
“Viktor Orbán says that he is not against homosexuals. Rather he is against the manipulation not only of parents, but also of children, in sex education.
“I see no reason to disagree with him, because I am completely annoyed by the suffragettes, the Me Too movement and Prague Pride.”
Mr Zeman’s statements have elicited a sharp response from human rights groups in the Czech Republic. Daniel Zikmund is the spokesperson for Prague Pride:
“We were really sad to hear such statement, especially because it has damaging effect to mental health of the LGBT+ in Czech Republic.
“LBGT+ are discriminated not only socially but even through legislation processes. For example, trans people are facing bad discrimination when they need to be sterilised during a transition.
“Our attempt is to establish a society where anyone can be themselves. This just seems to be going backwards and it is not helping at all.”
Although the role of President Zeman is largely ceremonial and he has limited executive powers, the head of state does exert a strong influence on public opinion.
His remarks, as well as similar statements that have been made recently, may also encourage the further spread of hatred, says Mr Zikmund.
For their part, he says, Prague Pride’s organizers will do their utmost to make transgender people and other sexual minorities feel safe during the upcoming Pride Week:
“This is often the only week in the whole year where such people can be safe. We want to ensure everyone that we fight for their rights and try to establish a society where no one has to be afraid and where anyone can be themselves.”