Czech Republic to repatriate ethnic Czechs from eastern Ukraine

A destroyed Ukrainian army tank near the village of Lebedynske, Ukraine, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic will repatriate between 30 and 50 ethnic Czechs from eastern Ukraine, the daily Lidové noviny reported on Monday quoting government sources. The paper says that the Interior Ministry has started verifying the identity of people from the conflict-ridden Donbas region who have applied for repatriation; if their Czech ancestry is confirmed, they could be repatriated over the next several months. The move comes after months of debates on how many, if any at all, ethnic Czechs from Ukraine could relocate to the Czech Republic. I discussed the latest plan with Lidové noviny reporter Kateřina Šafaříková.

A destroyed Ukrainian army tank near the village of Lebedynske,  Ukraine,  photo: CTK
“Czech President Miloš Zeman initially aimed to repatriate dozens if not hundreds of Czechs from Ukraine. But it soon became obvious that non everybody in the coalition government would agree with that because most ethnic Czechs live in western Ukraine where there is no fighting going on.

“Interior Minister Milan Chovanec and Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek therefore decided – in coordination with the president’s office – to limit the area from which the people could repatriate. That is now the Donbass area, specifically Donetsk, which is under the control of pro-Russian separatists and fighting there continues.”

That seems like an elegant solution because the issue of whether the Czech Republic should accept expats from Ukraine has been discussed for months now. The government argued that repatriating large numbers of Czechs would suggest the government believes they are indeed at risk there. What do you think?

“It is indeed a very elegant and savvy solution, I would agree with that. The thing is that the president wanted to use his initiative to assist the ethnic Czech in Ukraine to punish somehow the foreign minister for not being on the same page with him on foreign policy.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
“But when the president began talking about helping Czechs living in western Ukraine, it raised many eyebrows and sparked an intensive debate among the coalition parties. So as far as I know, the president’s office reached a limited deal with the ministries of interior and foreign affairs that could get backed by everyone would not generate negative media coverage.

“They believe that helping not hundreds but rather tens of ethnic Czechs living in a war-zone rather than hundreds of them is something appropriate for the government to do. We are talking about 30 or maximum 50 people which is easier to sell, if you will, to the media, to the public opinion and to the opposition, too.”