PRAGUE (AP) — Was he or wasn't he? The video footage shows the new Czech president clearly worse for wear, propping himself up against a wall at a public event, struggling to negotiate a step and being aided by a cardinal.
Milos Zeman makes no secret of his drinking. But on this occasion — a rare and highly-ceremonial public display of the Czech crown jewels last week — his office insisted he simply had a virus and subsequently needed a day or two of rest.
Since then, the video has prompted a storm of social media gags. Czechs — by far the biggest beer drinkers in the world per capita — have been posting pictures of themselves in bars getting drunk with slogans like, 'Here I am getting a virus,' or 'Heading out for a virus.'
Zeman, 68, a chain smoker and lover of fatty foods, often extols the virtues of booze. On one occasion, he praised Winston Churchill for his love of whisky and pointed out that Adolf Hitler was a teetotaler and vegetarian — "and you know how he ended up."
During a 1996 election campaign Zeman said his campaign bus "drove on gas and Becherovka," a popular Czech liquor. Two years later he became prime minister.
And a tabloid in the Czech Republic once claimed he told the paper he would drink on average six glasses of wine — plus three shots — on any given day.
His unsuccessful rival in this year's presidential election, the nobleman Karel Schwarzenberg, couldn't help but take a swipe at his opponent's taste for alcohol.
"Milos Zeman was in my opinion one of the most intelligent prime ministers this country has ever had," Schwarzenberg said during the campaign, "and had he not drunk so much he'd have been a really good prime minister."
Zeman insists he's so used to drinking that it never has any ill effects, and he has openly challenged anyone to prove otherwise. "If anyone has ever seen me drunk in my life, tell me when," he said during the presidential election campaign.
Miroslava Nemcova, the speaker for Parliament's lower house and one of seven holders of the keys to the Czech crown jewels, was the only person at last week's event to comment on Zeman's appearance.
"I saw what you saw," she was quoted as saying on the Lidove Noviny daily's website Friday. "Judge for yourself."