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President under fire for selection of laureates

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Prague, Oct 29 (CTK) – The Czech right-wing opposition has criticised the bestowing of a state award, the Medal of Merit, on Miroslav Toman, former member of a pre-1989 Czechoslovak communist government, by President Milos Zeman on the national holiday on Wednesday.
Toman was agriculture minister in Lubomir Strougal’s cabinet in the 1980s and he was deputy prime minister for a few years. At present, he runs a business in food processing.
“Until Wednesday evening I did not believe that a state decoration, awarded by the democratic Czech Republic, could go to a communist functionary of the normalisation era,” Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman Petr Fiala has written on Twitter, referring to the communist hardliners’ rule following the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of the country.
The criticism was joined by Zeman’s predecessor, former president Vaclav Klaus.
Klaus said the post-Communist tradition had been broken with this.
“This is a breakthrough in one of the post-Communist traditions. A minister for the former Communist government received a decoration, which simply had not happened before,” he added.
“When hearing this, I just rolled my eyes,” Klaus said.
The awarding of Toman amounts to “a small October dismantling of the November,” Fiala wrote, alluding to the October 1917 communist coup in Russia and the November 1989 fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.
Similarly, TOP 09 deputy chairman Miroslav Kalousek wrote on Facebook that he “shuddered” when watching the “orgy of bolshevik insolence” that culminated with the state award going to Toman.
He ironically says he wonders whom Zeman will decorate next time, whether the communist long-standing PM Strougal or the last communist secret police (StB) head Alojz Lorenc.
The deputy prime ministers, Pavel Belobradek (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) and Andrej Babis (ANO), said they would not comment on the decorated personalities who were chosen by Zeman.
“I personally would not decorate some of them, but I’m not president,” Belobradek said.
He praised Zeman for presenting, in his speech at the ceremonial assembly, positive heroes instead of speaking of politics.
Babis said it is not appropriate for him to assess Zeman’s choice of the decorated personalities.
Lower house chairman Jan Hamacek (Social Democrats, CSSD) appreciated the fact that in several cases, Zeman took into account the proposals submitted to him by the two houses of parliament.
Apart from Toman, the 35 decorated personalities include actress Jitka Frantova Pelikanova, whose nomination met with protests over her alleged cooperation with the StB before 1989. She dismissed having cooperated with the StB.
Some media have also criticised the nomination of other personalities such as pop singer Frantisek Ringo Cech and pop composer Ladislav Staidl, also a prominent of the previous regime.
Other commentators, on the other hand, assess the list of the personalities as balanced and highlight the indisputable merits of most of them, such as Josef Frantisek, Czechoslovak pilot and hero of the Battle of Britain, Petr Vejvoda, who lost his life when protecting his classmate from an aggressive mentally deranged woman, Karel Weirich, former CTK correspondent in Italy who saved the lives of several hundreds of Czechoslovak Jews, and former politician Frantisek Kriegel, who was the only Czechoslovak representatives at Moscow negotiations in 1968 who refused to sign a document legalising the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia.

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