Czech President seeks to rebuild old ties with Central Asia

President Vaclav Klaus in Kazakhstan, photo: Dan Materna, MFDnes, 9.9.2004

The Czech president Vaclav Klaus is on a state visit to the countries of Central Asia. After visiting the huge, mineral-rich, but sparsely populated Kazakhstan, he moved on to Kyrgyzstan, and before returning next Wednesday, will also visit Uzbekistan. According to president's spokesman, Jiri Hajek, the visit is both politically and economically very important to the Czech Republic. He points to ties going back to communist days, which the president is keen to renew. So how deep are the links between the Czech Republic and Central Asia, and how can they benefit one another? To find out more Martin Mikule talked to Merchat Sharibgan from the Kazakh Section of Radio Free Europe.

"During the socialism period, during the Soviet Union time, the Central European specialists were very actively involved in some projects in Kazakhstan (what was then part of the Soviet Union) especially in the natural gas and oil infrastructure complexes in Kazakhstan's west. That's in terms of the economy. In terms of history, we know that there are many buildings in Kazakhstan built by Czechs. After the World War I there were lots of captured Czech military personal by the Russian Empire. There is some Czech population in the Western Kazakhstan, not very big, I don't remember the exact numbers, but several thousands."

Do you know how they got there? How they came to Kazakhstan and when that was?

"I think it was long ago during the Russian Empire - tsar's regime. You know that there were about one million Germans in Kazakhstan. Currently there are about 300 thousand Germans left. I think the first wave of Czechs who came to Siberia and than to Kazakhstan was the same time when Germans came, which is during the reign of tsarina Ekaterina who was inviting specialists from Holland, from Germany and probably from Austria. And Czechs came there too. She was giving the new land for free in order to develop it."

Vaclav Klaus in Voznensk's cathedral in Kazakhstan,  photo: CTK
Let's say also something about the other Central Asian countries like e.g. Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. What do they have to offer to the Czech Republic?

"Well Uzbekistan is very different than Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan has something similar, but still is different....The economic potential of Kyrgyzstan is very small; there are not so many mineral resources. I don't think that Kyrgyzstan can offer something to the Czech Republic or other Central European countries in terms of business, but it can be interesting as a holiday resort area. Czechs can go and have a rest there, the same - the tourism issue is very important in Uzbekistan as well."

And on the other hand, what does have the Czech Republic to offer to those countries?

Vaclav Klaus with his wife Livia in Kazakhstan,  photo: CTK
"Well I've mentioned also the plan to start assembling the Skoda cars in Kazakhstan. I know that this is very good potential not only for Kazakhstan, but for Uzbekistan as well, which already has some lines and they assemble Daewoo - the South Korean cars there. Of course, for Kazakhstanies, the most important thing when you say the Czech Republic is first of all beer. The Czech beer is very popular and very available there in big cities in Kazakhstan, Skoda car, Karlovy Vary...I know that the Kazakhstan's elite go to Karlovy Vary very, very frequently."

President Vaclav Klaus has met the Kyrgyz President Askar Akajev on Friday morning and said that it is a pity that the Czech Republic has neglected relations with Central Asia while focusing on its membership in the EU. He also praised the Kyrgyz President for political stability of his country.