(Bloomberg) -- Czech President Milos Zeman took on the transgender community, calling them “utterly disgusting” as vitriolic sentiment toward sexual minorities by political leaders in the European Union’s eastern wing increases.

Zeman, whose role is largely ceremonial and without executive powers, criticized feminist activists, the Me Too movement and Pride Month events as he sought to defend Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in his conflict with the EU over LGBTQ rights.

Zeman said in a TV interview he “can understand homosexuals and lesbians,” but a change in gender amounted to the crime of self-harm.

“Every surgical operation is a risk,” he said on Prima TV on Sunday. “And to me, transgenders are utterly disgusting.”

Read more: Here’s Why EU Is Taking Action Against Hungary Over LGBTQ Law

The EU Commission has triggered legal proceedings against Hungarian legislation outlawing content for children that can be deemed to “promote homosexuality.” The bill, which pairs the LGBTQ community with pedophilia, extended a law adopted last year that effectively bans same-sex marriages and prevents these couples from adopting children.

In Poland, another post-communist EU member clashing with Brussels over the rule of law, President Andrzej Duda made his opposition on gay rights a key theme of his re-election last year.

Zeman, who won his second and final five-year term in 2018, is a divisive figure in the Central European nation of 10.7 million. During Europe’s migration crisis, Zeman campaigned against letting Muslim refugees into the country by saying they will bring terrorism and impose Sharia law.

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