Czech president reiterates positions on nuclear power, Beneš decrees during Austrian visit

Heinz Fischer, Václav Klaus, photo: CTK

President Václav Klaus on Thursday concludes a three-day state visit to Austria. During his trip, the Czech president met with the Austrian president and prime minister, launched a Czech-Austrian business forum and visited the Austrian Parliament. But his last visit to the neighbouring country as the Czech head of state did little to improve the strained relations between the two countries.

Heinz Fischer,  Václav Klaus,  photo: CTK
The Austrian Alps are Mr Klaus’ favourite holiday destination but this was only his second official visit to the neighbouring country since he became Czech president in 2003.

Relations between the two countries have long been burdened by issues such as nuclear power, the EU, and so-called Beneš decrees which led to the post-war expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking population. During his visit, Mr Klaus has shown little understanding for the views of his Austrian hosts.

At a meeting with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Václav Klaus reiterated his support for nuclear power, and said the Czech Republic was going ahead with the plan to extend the nuclear power plant in Temelín. This has long been a concern for many Austrians, who more than 30 year ago rejected nuclear power in a popular vote.

When the Czech president visited the Austrian Parliament on Tuesday, several MPs for the Austrian Green Party criticized Mr Klaus’s views in a way that he said would be unacceptable in Prague.

Temelín nuclear power plant,  photo: CzechTourism
“I have to say though that the debate in Parliament was a bit rough. The Green Party was being so aggressive; I nearly forgot that something like this was possible at all. I don’t think that in the Czech Parliament, members of any party would talk so aggressively to the president of another country.”

The Czech President also came in for criticism from an association representing German-speaking citizens of Czechoslovakia who were expelled in the wake of WWII. The Czech president believes the expulsion of around three million people was a consequence of Nazi atrocities.

But the head of the association, Gerhard Zeihsel, accused Mr Klaus of defending the principle of collective guilt. Václav Klaus said he was irritated by the continued debate about the expulsions, and expressed concern that when he steps down as president next year, there will be no one to defend the Czech interests.

“Many people have been saying this to me and I didn’t agree. But I now ask myself, who will come out so strong to protect our interests after March 2013? That’s becoming a real concern for me.”

Kondrad Kramar is a foreign news editor for the Austrian newspaper Kurier. He says Mr Klaus’s comments come as no surprise – there was little expectation in Vienna that the state visit would set a new course in Czech-Austrian relations.

The expulsion of Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking population after WWII,  photo: Bundesarchiv
“There is a close relation but it’s not a friendly one, and that has not changed during the Klaus era. Mr Klaus is very strict in his views on issues that are important to Austria, such as Temelín and nuclear power, and of course the issues of WWII and the things that came out of it.”

In one area, however, the Czech president’s views have perhaps struck a chord in Austria. Mr Kramar says that as one of the most prominent critics of the European Union, Mr Klaus has gained popularity among the increasingly eurosceptic Austrians, many of whom do not share the pro-EU position of their government.