Former Czech PM withdraws from poll over remarks

 

FORMER CZECH prime minister Mirek Topolanek has stepped down as his party’s top candidate for a May general election after making derisive remarks about gays, Jews and the church.

It was only the latest embarrassment for the gaffe-prone Mr Topolanek, who said he would now consider his future as chairman of the centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) after its executive council urged him to resign.

During an interview and photo shoot for a gay magazine, Mr Topolanek talked about reportedly homosexual transport minister Gustav Slamecka and prime minister Jan Fischer, who replaced the outspoken ODS leader as premier when his government collapsed last year.

“When things really get tough, really tough, then I have the feeling that Slamecka, as a minister, gives way. And that Fischer is simply a Jew, not a gay, and he gives way earlier still. That’s got nothing to do with his being gay, that’s a matter of character,” Mr Topolanek said.

He is also reported to have said the church “has got control of people by means of brainwashing” and to have mocked supporters of the centre-left Social Democrats – who are expected to win the May ballot.

Mr Topolanek insisted his remarks had been taken out of context but did issue an apology.

“I apologise to the gays, to my friends and to all others. I apologise to the members of churches – to those I know as well as to those whom I do not know. I apologise to Jews – those in politics as well as outside it. I apologise to the citizens,” he said. He also said he regretted being caught off-guard, but would not change a blunt style that has won him ardent admirers and bitter enemies.

“I will not use empty sentences or express myself in a roundabout way or vaguely,” he said, vowing “to never be a stilted politician who would change his opinions according to the recommendations of his PR advisers”.

Mr Topolanek said he had written SMS apologies to Mr Slamecka and Mr Fischer – although he restated his belief the current prime minister is a weak leader. While Mr Slamecka brushed off the remarks and said he was not a homophobe or anti-Semite, Mr Fischer called his remarks “stupid, offensive and misleading”.

“I know about his apology. My task, however, is not to judge Mirek Topolanek or to give him absolution. I will restrict our future communication to the necessary working minimum,” he added.

Mr Topolanek is no stranger to controversy, having slapped a photographer taking pictures of his baby son; described the original, doomed EU constitution as “shit”; and raised his middle finger to opponents in a parliamentary debate. Last year, as well as enduring the ignominy of seeing his government fall during the Czech Republic’s tenure as EU presidency-holder, he grabbed headlines by calling US president Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan “the road to hell” and being photographed sunbathing naked at Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi’s villa.