Foreign minister hands out medals of merit to those who assisted Czech entry to NATO

Photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

At a ceremony marking the Czech Republic’s entry to NATO twenty years ago, Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček handed out medals of merit to 14 people who assisted the country in preparing for membership and meeting its new obligations. The laureates included key players on the international scene at the time as well as Czech diplomats and military officials who worked hard to make it happen.

Madeleine Albright,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
It was the culmination of celebrations marking 20 years of Czech membership in NATO - a big “thank you” to those who helped open NATO’s doors to the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and those who helped ready the country for the challenge.

Czech-born Madeleine Albright was former US secretary of state at the time and a vocal supporter of NATO’s expansion eastward, despite fears that some people had of admitting former Warsaw Pact members into the alliance.

“President Clinton knew far more about this region than the average American and when the decision to invite new members was first made he argued that a larger NATO would make a safer America, our Alliance stronger and Europe more peaceful and united. Twenty years later history has proven him right. In the years that passed since 1999 NATO has opened its doors to ten new members. It has expended its reach to ensure the safety of 900 million people and the sanctity of the civic systems in which those millions breathe life.”

Photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
Another recipient of the foreign ministry’s Medal of Merit awards was former NATO secretary general George Robertson who responded on a personal note, recalling the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“It is with real emotion that I recall standing in the kitchen in a student flat listening to the BBC and hearing the news that Soviet tanks had entered Prague. That is engraved in my memory –what happened that day and my resolution at the time that this was not the end of a story but hopefully the beginning of another. If anybody had said in 1968 that this country would once be a full member of NATO and a full member of the EU they would have been considered mad, as would those who would have told me that I was going to be the secretary general of NATO in 1999. And so as the old saying goes the impossible became the inevitable.”

Like other speakers before him, Lord Robertson emphasized that NATO was much more than a military alliance.

Tomáš Petříček,  George Robertson,  photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt
“Those who simply think about us in military terms make a grave mistake. Membership in NATO is not simply a matter of military hardware, it is an attitude, a frame of mind, to do with the values that we stand for. And our towering strength in NATO is that strength of will about the values we stand for: values of freedom, values of democracy, values of choice, it’s about the rule of law, it’s about a free press, about free speech, it’s about private property, about a mixed economy. These are the values on which we stand and on which we will be judged. These are the values that give NATO the strength that it has internally and make it widely respected from outside.”

On the home scene, the awards went to the former foreign ministers Jaroslav Šedivý, Jan Kavan and Karel Schwarzenberg, former defence ministers Vladimír Vetchý, Alexandr Vondra and Luboš Dobrovský as well as former army chiefs of staff Jiří Nekvasil and Jiří Šedivý.

On the occasion of the anniversary, the Czech Foreign Ministry has promoted the # We Are NATO.