Freedom Party furious over Zeman "post-fascist" gibe

Joschka Fischer and Benita Ferrero-Waldnerova, photo CTK

Remarks on Tuesday by the Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, have added fuel to the flames of a dispute with Austria's far-right Freedom Party over the Temelin nuclear power plant. The party launched a nation-wide petition on Monday, calling for Austria's to veto the Czech Republic's membership of the European Union if the country refuses to shut down the plant. Mr Zeman reacted in typical feisty style - he described the former leader of the Freedom Party, Joerg Haider, as a "post-fascist," and said Austria should get rid of him as soon as possible. Dita Asiedu has more.

Joschka Fischer and Benita Ferrero-Waldnerova, photo CTK
The Freedom Party is outraged by Mr Zeman's remarks, and senior Freedom Party official Peter Westenhaler has called on the Austrian authorities and representatives of all Austrian political parties to react. The Freedom Party's new leader, Austria's Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, said Mr Zeman was democratically immature, adding that his comments proved he was neither ready for Europe nor democracy. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has also criticised Mr Zeman's statement. Radio Prague spoke to the spokesman of the Czech Embassy in Vienna, Tomas Podivinsky about the affair:

Mr Podivinsky said the Czech ambassador to Vienna, Jiri Grusa, was told on Tuesday evening that Mrs Ferrero Waldner has asked the Austrian ambassador to Prague to protest against what she says is interference in Austrian internal affairs. He added, however, that neither government had issued either an official or unofficial statement on the matter.

The Czech government spokesman, Libor Roucek, told Czech Radio that it was not the Czech Republic that was interfering with the affairs of other countries:

"As far as interference is concerned, one can say that Austria is interfering with Czech affairs with the petition that is being organised by the Freedom Party."

During a trip to Vienna on Tuesday, the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer told journalists it was important that the Temelin dispute does not hamper the process of EU enlargement. He added that he could not comment on the nation-wide petition itself as this was Austria's internal affair.

Although the petition has received no support from other parties in the country, many Austrian citizens are adding their signatures. The petition will have no immediate effect on Austria's international commitments on Temelin - it is not legally binding and will merely have to be discussed by the Austrian Parliament if more than 100,000 people sign it. Austrian journalist Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, however, points out that many Austrians don't really know what they are signing.

"The petition goes under the motto "yes to life, no to Temelin", and many Austrians who are against nuclear power but have nothing against the Czechs and may not even be Freedom Party followers, are being told to sign this petition. They probably will sign it - without knowing that in reality they are signing a petition that is solely against the Czech Republic and Europe. There are a number of people who are protesting at this deceit and we have launched a campaign called "Voices for Europe - veto no thank you" to try to explain to people that they should not sign the petition because it will not result in nuclear reactors being closed down."