Czech official on Czech-German relations : we are not just neigbours, we are willing partners who are coming to understand each other’s sense of humor

Tomáš Kafka, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Twenty years ago the Czech Republic and Germany signed a joint declaration pledging not to burden bilateral relations with controversial issues from the past so as to enable the neighbouring states to look forward and fully develop the existing potential for cooperation. How far have they come along that road, what divides them today and how do Czechs and Germans view each other? To find out I spoke to Tomas Kafka, from the Department for Central Europe at the Czech Foreign Ministry, and first asked him to assess how successful the Czech-German declaration was in meeting its goal.

Tomáš Kafka,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
”In the past, history was occasionally seen as a kind of weapon, that could, at any time, be used against the other side. The declaration tried to stop this; to bury this and instead to create an atmosphere of common trust where Czechs and Germans could cooperate not just as inevitable neighbours but as willing partners. And from time to time you may hear from Germany an evaluation of this process of reconciliation - that it is a kind of miracle. That is a nice label for it, but I would add that a lot of work went into this process of reconciliation. The declaration was just the start but then there was a lot of work done by people on both sides of the border and they should be thanked for their positive understanding of what the declaration was about.”

Germany is the Czech Republic’s biggest economic partner, but have we really made full use of the potential for cooperation at all levels? Do you feel that we are good neighbours or that we are just living side-by-side?

“Thanks to the track record of the Czech-German Fund for the Future and the close to ten thousand projects which have already been supported by this fund I can say that for me it is a very satisfying picture of the Czech-German neighbourhood –it is not just a neighbourhood, but a committed partnership.”

One thing that Czechs and Germans do not see eye-to-eye on is the question of migration. Is this proving a serious setback in relations?

“Migration is nowadays seen as one of the most serious topics and challenges that we face. But I would say it is a general challenge –whether the European family – of which the Czech Republic and Germany are an indelible part - is more optimistic in coming to terms with this challenge or not. And the Germans are much more optimistic than the Czechs at this moment, but I hope at least that we have succeeded in making it clear to our German partners that our doubts and concerns are serious, that it is not just something that we made up, and that we are trying to find a positive way how to contribute, how to be good partners also in this regard, even though we are not on the same page.”

Finally on a lighter note, how do the Germans and Czechs view one another, as people?

Helmut Kohl and Václav Klaus sign joint declaration in 1997,  photo: Czech Television
“It is difficult to say, because there are some prejudices and also some stereotypes –for instance that the Czechs are champions of improvisation, while the Germans are very sincere, but also very rigid. So I am not sure whether there is still this classic “model” of a German and a Czech, but what is for me a very positive aspect of our collaboration is that we are finally learning to understand each other’s sense of humor. In the 1990s we did not dare to even think about it, in view of our relationship and how our words might be interpreted, nowadays we are able to speak not only metaphorically, but very directly about the most serious and demanding issues in a light manner and we are able to be serious when it is important to be serious. So this is a breakthrough, we are overcoming the old stereotypes where the Germans were the serious guys and the Czechs were the funny guys.”