Czech culture minister tells China it is damaging bilateral ties

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

Czech Culture Minister Lubomír Zaorálek has brought out into the open a deepening feud between the mayor of Prague and Beijing, which has resulted in the cancellation of several cultural events involving Prague ensembles in China. In the sharpest rebuke yet, Minister Zaorálek told the Chinese ambassador there would be no cultural exchange if Beijing continued with this practice.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
The Prague leadership is a big thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities. Not only is Mayor Zděnek Hřib from the Pirate Party a vocal advocate of Taiwan and Tibet, he is also seeking to revise the so-called “sister-city” agreement with Beijing and remove any mention of the Czech capital’s recognition of the “One China” policy.

In what is widely seen as a punitive action, Beijing has cancelled or indefinitely postponed cultural events by leading Prague ensembles in China, among them a series of concerts by the Prague Philharmonic, the Prague Quartet and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The newly-appointed head of the art portfolio Lubomír Zaorálek, who previously served as foreign minister, on Monday slammed this policy as totally unacceptable, saying bilateral cooperation could only be based on mutual respect, and noting that China’s words did not match its actions. The minister said he was horrified by the lengths to which China was willing to go to enforce its political views.

“I told the ambassador that, the way things are going, I soon expect to hear that the works of Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák will be banned in China because the composers resided for too long in Prague.”

Minister Zaorálek said much had been done in the past years to develop Czech-Chinese relations in all areas, including culture. The most recent developments damaged and undermined those efforts, Zaorálek said, adding that he was ready to talk about cooperation as soon as China desisted with this damaging policy.

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra,  photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
Ambassador Zhang Jianmin denied political connotations, arguing that Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra had itself requested a postponement of the original term in October when it was due to give a concert tour in China, because a later arrangement would present the opportunity to visit more cities.

Czech Radio’s spokesman Jiří Hošek promptly denied the claim, saying that Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra had unexpectedly failed to gain permission to perform in China.

“That’s nonsense. We planned the tour, but it was impossible to realize it because we did not get the necessary permits from the Chinese side.”

Pianist Ivan Klánský from Guarneri Trio Prague, another ensemble whose tour of China was unexpectedly scrapped, told Czech Television he has no doubts it was because Prague is featured in the ensemble’s name. He says the artists are taking it in their stride “We are not about to rename ourselves in order to play in China, life goes on and we’ll find appreciative audiences elsewhere”.