Why the Czech presidential election is one to watch

Czech President Milos Zeman and independent challenger Jiri Drahos.

(CNN)Czech voters go to the polls this weekend in an election that pits the country's pro-Russia President against a europhile challenger who has given the incumbent a run for his money that few were expecting.

The vote, a second-round runoff between hardline anti-migrant President Milos Zeman, and soft-spoken academic Jiri Drahos, comes as other European countries grapple with populist movements and their future within the EU.
"This is a vote between moving towards a more modern outlook, which is represented by Drahos, and for staying with views which are still influenced by our communist past, which is represented by Zeman," said Jiri Pehe, director of New York University in Prague.
    "So that's what's at stake here, whether we will manage to make that step beyond the post-communist era, or whether we will remain mentally rooted in it."

    Who's in the running?

    Milos Zeman
    Milos Zeman was long-time leader of the center-left Social Democrats, before founding the populist Party of Civic Rights in 2009.
    The tough-talking 73-year-old Zeman, known for his inflammatory remarks against the EU, immigrants, Islam, the media and urban elites, was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002 before being elected President in 2013.
    Zeman has campaigned for closer ties with Russia and China, appealing to "older people, those from small towns and villages, and those who still show some nostalgia for the former communist regime and are afraid of modern trends and globalization," according to Pehe.
    Zeman, an admirer of US President Donald Trump, is also known for his inflammatory style. "He's always been a provocateur," said Pehe, adding "he's probably openly the most anti-immigration and anti-Muslim top politician in Europe."
    The Czech Republic is the only EU state to have joined the US in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, though Hungary did block an EU resolution condemning the American decision last year.
    Jiri Drahos