Zeman's Choice of Ministers: Sexist or More than So?
When Miloš Zeman presented his cabinet, both Czechs and the world were surprised that no women were included. This goes against the trend among West European social democratic parties to promote greater gender equality. For example, in Sweden half of the ministers in the social democratic cabinet are women. It has not led to any complaints about a drop in quality. On the contrary, the female ministers are generally more popular than the male ministers. In fact there was a joke about the highly unpopular minister of education, that he was merely chosen so that there would be an equal number of men.
Zeman's claim that he wanted to "protect" the party's women from the "suicide government" have not convinced anyone. Many commentators have already pointed out that women are just as capable as men of committing suicide. Moreover, the special treatment of women certainly meets any definition of sexism.
Buzková's fate is even more surprising, since she has long been one of the country's most popular politicians and she featured so prominently in the party's election campaign. In contrast to the ODS election posters, which again made it clear that Klaus is the party, the CSSD posters showed Zeman sandwiched between Gros and Buzková. Since these two young people played such important roles it is puzzling that there were included in the cabinet. There were probably many social democratic voters, who voted for the party because of these two young bread slices than for the thick Zemanite filling on the inside. On the other hand, the fact that Gros was not either included in the cabinet shows that it was not merely sexism that kept Buzková outside of the decision-making center.
What could the reason be for Zeman's decision to keep Gros and Buzková outside? Judging from his comments on the suicidal government, he expects the present government to become unpopular and thus, he wants to save the younger generation from the wrath of voters in future elections. This is an extremely unwise strategy. It means that Buzková and Gros risk being marginalized and forgotten by the voters. In addition, their biggest problem among the voters is their lack of experience. Usually, the voters' biggest fear when voting for a change of government, is that the future ministers will not have the experience necessary for running their posts. One of the reasons why the Germans voted for a red-green majority was that the future green ministers have all been ministers at the provincial (Bundesland) level and, thus, shown that they are capable of taking responsibility and administering the state bureaucracy. If the social democrats become unpopular, as Zeman apparently expects them to be, and they lose the next elections, there will not be a new generation of experienced social democratic ministers waiting to retake power.
The best solution for the social democrats had been to make Gros and especially the country's most popular women, Buzková, both ministers in the government, but to give them uncontroversial posts. Zeman probably expects the government to fail because it will not be able to get a parliamentary majority for its economic program. It will also face the negative consequences of presiding over an economy that had already begun deteriorating before they came to power. For example, recently reports came out that predicted that unemployment will reach 9%. So it would be logical to expect the ministers of finance and labor to become unpopular. But what about, for instance, the cultural minister? As long as she does not reinstate communist-type censorship, Buzková could remain popular and appear often in the media by attending cultural events, presiding over the opening of new theaters, etc. Even if the social democratic economic policy fails, she could remained unscathed.
Is Zeman so incapable of understanding sound political tactics that he never thought of this possibility or are there other motives behind his behavior? I do not know that answer to this. My worst fear is that Zeman wants to be another Yeltsin, who fires his ministers as soon as he runs into trouble. He could then blame the ministers for all the country's ills and replace them with members of the younger generation, such as Buzková and Gros. Another possibility is that he is afraid of these two persons' popularity. He would rather have a weaker government that he controls than a stronger one in which he is overshadowed by the younger stars. These two alternatives are both possible, but it does not make sense. If Zeman was willing to let Lux become prime minister, why would he be afraid of Buzková and Gros and how could he have Yeltsin as his role model? So perhaps, it is a simple case of stupidity combined with a touch of sexism?