'Atmospheric disturbance' possible but no storms ahead for Czech-German relations

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK

The final days of campaigning before the weekend's presidential election were marked by a bitter row over the postwar Benes decrees that legitimised the expulsion of three and a half million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia. Certainly 'the German card' appears to have played a role, if not a decisive one, in the election of Milos Zeman over Karel Schwarzenberg - an aristocrat who spent four decades living in Austria and whose Austrian wife doesn't speak Czech. Mr Zeman's campaign rhetoric has upset some in neighbouring Germany and Austria - but what impact will this have on relations between Czechs and their German-speaking neighbours? Peter Brod is a Prague-born journalist who spent many years living in Bavaria.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
"I don't think this sort of row will have any lasting impact on relations between the Czech Republic and Germany or Austria. There may be some atmospheric disturbance at the beginning of the Zeman presidency, but it has to be said that the foreign policy is laid down by the government in the Czech Republic. The president, although his role is now disputed in the constitutional sense, because he now has a direct mandate from the people, certainly does not have a mandate to formulate foreign policy. And I think most of the people in Germany and Austria who have been following this debate in the Czech Republic realise that it's largely an internal debate, that it has no real impact on the relationship between the states, at the inter-state level."

But of course the president has a degree of wiggle room when he goes abroad and speaks in seminars and official meetings and speaks to journalists. Certainly Mr Klaus was quite creative with his loosely-defined role in Czech foreign policy. Do you think Milos Zeman will pay attention to what the government tells him to say and do abroad? Or will he be a bit more creative as well?

"Well I think if you look ahead at the upcoming presidency of Milos Zeman, there won't be the element of anti-European scepticism that was brought into Czech politics by Vaclav Klaus. Milos Zeman is known to be a European integrationist or federalist if you want, and he's somebody who's in favour of European integration. Also, Mr Zeman - a leftist - is of a different political persuasion than the centre-right government, so there will be a certain tension between President Zeman and the government. But here the constitution comes into play, and that as I have said gives the guidelines of foreign policy into the hands of the government, not the president."

As I'm sure you're aware there was an editorial in Die Welt newspaper calling on the German government not to invite Mr Zeman to Berlin. Obviously it's an influential newspaper, do you think editorials of that type have any influence at all on German policy or will they simply be ignored?

Bundestag,  Berlin,  photo: Klára Stejskalová
"I think they're taken into account but they're largely ignored in terms of what the actual government policy is. Berlin will invite Milos Zeman - they have no reason not to - he has not in fact engaged in any actual anti-German rhetoric, as has been insinuated by both the article in Die Welt which you've mentioned and in another article in Die Presse of Vienna, also an influential newspaper. No, he was careful not to attack Germany, and he has no reason to attack Germany. After all, he was on very good terms for example with German Social Democratic chancellors, and he has no reason to attack the current state of official Czech-German relations, because both governments maintain they're at the best level ever. I think Milos Zeman will not depart from that line, despite his views of certain historical phenomena, like the Benes decrees and the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans after the second world war."