Czech Republic asks ex-pats in US to help abolish visas for Czechs

This week hundreds of thousands of Czech Americans will open envelopes from the Czech Embassy in Washington asking them to join a campaign to abolish US visas for Czech citizens. For years the Czech Republic has striven to be included in the US waiver programme, which would put relations on an equal footing, but so far in vain. Now it is asking Czech ex-pats in the United States to bring the matter to the attention of their congressmen. Jakub Skalinik of the Czech Foreign Ministry explains what the campaign aims to achieve:

"The main purpose of the campaign is to spread the information that the Czech Republic which has been a very dependable ally of the United States, which is a fully fledged democracy, a member of NATO and the European Union is still not an equal partner in terms of freedom of traveling from the Czech Republic to the United States. That, I would say, is the main purpose and we want to mobilize not only Americans of Czech ancestry but also every person in America who is somehow related to the Czech Republic, who is doing business with the Czech Republic to approach their US congress representatives with the initiative to change the situation which we see as unfair and unjust because there is no reason that the Czech Republic should not be included in the visa-waiver programme."

Are you confident about a positive response? Has this ever been done before?

"In the past this kind of campaigning was used with regard to the country's accession to NATO. It was very successful and we believe that likewise this campaign should help to promote our cause and that in the foreseeable future the Czech Republic will be included in the US visa-waiver programme."

The Czech Republic is making a concerted effort to change this - this is just a small part of the effort - is it moving on other fronts as well?

"Yes, definitely. We are cooperating closely with other central and east European states which find themselves in the same position - Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Baltic states. So it is a coordinated effort and I am proud to say that the Czech Republic has taken the lead in this initiative. So this is one area where we are working hard to reach our goal. We also use every occasion, every opportunity to discuss this with US representatives and we always stress that this is the only cloud hanging over the otherwise very good Czech-US relations and we see it as the last remnant of the Cold War."

I understand that the European Union is also ready to help. It has, I believe, threatened to introduce visas for American diplomats if the situation does not change soon. How do you feel about that - would you approve of such a step?

"Nothing official has been released on this matter. We do have some information from Brussels that this could be among the measures proposed by the European Commission. We don't see it as something which could dramatically change the situation because our goal is not to impose visas on US citizens - be it diplomats or US citizens as such. Our goal is to achieve full reciprocity. We know that the EU - and the European Commission in particular - is pulling its weight for us in this matter- but as I said we do not want anyone burdened by visa requirements."