Czechs celebrate 20 years of NATO membership

The Czech Republic is marking the 20th anniversary of its entry into NATO on March 12th, 1999. It joined the alliance together with Poland and Hungary in NATO’s first expansion eastwards after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The celebrations, which include gatherings, debates and exhibitions, are culminating at Prague Castle where President Miloš Zeman is hosting heads of state, NATO representatives and foreign guests.

Foreign visitors, government officials and NATO representatives have been addressing a security conference held to mark the anniversary. In his speech, Prime Minister Andrej Babis highlighted the fact that NATO membership is in the Czech Republic’s vested interest since it provides a guarantee of security. He said the Czech Republic would meet its commitment to spend two percent of the country’s GDP on defence by 2024.

Speakers addressing the conference cited international terrorism, Russia’s expansionist ambitions and cyber warfare as the main threats facing NATO today.

Among the VIP guests attending the celebrations are the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright who was a leading voice in advocating for expansion of the military alliance to central Europe. She is among 14 people who will receive the Medal of Merit Award for Diplomacy from Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček.