Czech - Austrian relations at freezing point

Prime Minister Milos Zeman, photo CTK

In an interview for Monday's edition of the Austrian weekly Profil, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman compared all Austrians who have signed a petition against the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia to idiots. Alena Skodova has the details:

Prime Minister Milos Zeman, photo CTK
The interview, during which Prime Minister Zeman further said that Austria was not the first victim of Hitler, but his ally, has stirred-up very negative reactions in Austria. The Austrian President Thomas Klestil spoke on the phone with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel on Sunday and complained about Mr. Zeman's words. Mr. Zeman and the former leader of the Austrian far-right Freedom Party, Joerg Haider have been exchanging insults since last week, both saying that the other one does not belong to Europe. This at a time when the signing of a Freedom Party-sponsored petition which calls for the shutting down of the Temelin nuclear power plant is coming to an end.

I asked David Zelinger from Austria's ORF radio station if mutual Czech-Austrian relations might be burdened by a long common history and reach back to the time when the Czech Lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy?

"Yes, of course, there's a very long common history but there a kind of complex, too, based on the common experience of both nations that they had made in the past. Many Austrians are still blaming Czechs for destroying the monarchy before and during the First World War, and some Austrians are also blaming Czechs for expelling the Germans from the so-called Sudeten Land after WW II. And there's still a feeling of Czechs being arrogant, but on the other hand, this is - according to some experts - part of some kind of inferiority complex on both sides."

Mr. Zelinger has lived in Austria for many years - what were Vienna's relations with Prague like during the Cold War?

Petition against the Temelin nuclear power plant, photo CTK
"I think that the relationship between Prague and Vienna was much better than that between for instance Prague and West Germany, but on the other side there were problems from the common history, especially the problem of the expelled Germans. The majority of them moved to Germany but there are still some 200,000 of those who were born on the present Czech territory and have lived in Austria, and they are still blaming the government in Prague that it is not ready to apologize for the expulsion."

So it seems the Temelin nuclear power plant is not the only problem. Monday's Czech newspapers write, though, that relations between the two countries are currently at a very low ebb. Is there any chance relations could improve in the near future?

"I hope there is a chance, but on the other hand you have to realize that only one fourth of the Austrian population voted for the Freedom Party and its former leader Joerg Haider, but now the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman is blaming all Austrians, the whole population of being in favour of Haider's Freedom Party, and I would say the majority of Austrians feel to be attacked."