Czech political scene split over Georgia

Condoleezza Rice and Michail Saakasvili, photo: CTK

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbours, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it. Things have changed," US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said ahead of her trip to Georgia. She is not the only politician to have drawn that comparison. In an exclusive interview for Czech Radio on Thursday President Klaus publicly rejected it, saying that both sides were equally to blame in the conflict over South Ossetia.

Condoleezza Rice and Michail Saakasvili,  photo: CTK
Once again a burning foreign policy issue has split the Czech political scene down the middle. While the Czech Foreign Ministry released a statement fully supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and indirectly blaming Russia for causing the crisis, the Speaker of the Lower House Miloslav Vlček lays the blame at the door of Georgian President Michail Saakasvili and, indirectly those countries which acknowledged the independence of another breakaway province – Kosovo – earlier this year, setting what he calls a dangerous precedent. After several days of silence, during which he was criticized for not taking a stand, President Klaus made his views clear in an interview for Czech Radio:

“Once again people are closing their eyes to the reality – and creating myths. I did not make a strong statement because I refuse to accept this widespread, simplified interpretation which paints the Georgians as the victims and the Russians as the villains. That is a gross oversimplification of the situation and I would have to write a lengthy article to explain why I do not share this view”

Václav Klaus
Mr. Klaus said further that in 1968 Czechoslovakia did not attack Subcarpathian Ruthenia and in his view the pro-reform Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubček did not resemble President Saakashvili in word or deed.

The Czech head of state who strongly advised caution over the matter of acknowledging Kosovo’s independence said that the situation in Georgia had been crucially influenced by the separation of Kosovo from Serbia in February of this year, and that with the separation of Kosovo, Russia had obtained a strong justification for its action. He said he did not share the view of Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states that Georgia should be given entry to NATO to prevent further attacks from Russia. Mr. Klaus indicated that this would only further aggravate an already complicated situation.

Photo: CTK
The fact that the country’s leading politicians have once again taken opposing stands on a key foreign policy issue has commentators asking how this could effect the Czech Republics upcoming EU presidency. Political analyst Jiri Pehe says something needs to be done for a better coordination of the country’s foreign policy.

“This is a long-term problem in the country’s foreign policy and unfortunately it does not come as a surprise. Czech foreign policy suffers from a lack of coordination especially in times of big international crisis when different politicians and institutions in the country speak with different voices. We can, of course, argue about which stance is correct in this particular situation, but at the same time I think that the Czech Republic should have a mechanism which would allow it to reach a unified stance on crises such as this one.”

What kind of mechanism do you have in mind?

“I think that the prime minister, the president and the speakers of both houses should meet before any official statement is issued and perhaps that would help to modify some of the extreme positions that the Czech Republic may take.”