Likely next finance minister warns criticising Russia and China could cost jobs

Ян Младек (Фото: Филип Яндоурек, Чешское Радио)

The person most likely to become the Czech Republic’s next finance minister has set off a debate about the country’s foreign policy priorities. Speaking at an economic forum, Jan Mládek of the Social Democrats said criticism of Russia and China could cost thousands of Czech jobs. Critics say human rights have to come before exports.

Jan Mládek, photo: Filip Jandourek
The Social Democrats are widely expected to form the next government, following elections at the end of next week. And, as the party’s finance spokesman, Jan Mládek, can expect to pick up the finance portfolio in the new cabinet.

Giving a hint of what we might be able to expect from his tenure, he told an economics forum in Prague on Tuesday that the Czech Republic should be aiming to export its products beyond the European Union, and in particular to Russia and China.

Therefore, Mr. Mládek went on, the country’s representatives ought to refrain from excessive criticism of the human rights situation or quality of democracy in those states.

Prague should certainly not support authoritarian regimes, he said. However, it should recognise the size and importance of the two countries. And what he called exhibitionists should not play at being a superpower, costing the Czech Republic tens of thousands of jobs.

Some have questioned how Mr. Mládek arrived at that figure, while TOP 09’s Miroslav Kalousek said human rights were not a saleable commodity.

Jakub Janda, photo: Czech Television
Jakub Janda from the think tank European Values says the debate reflects a long-term division on foreign policy, pointing out that the last elected Czech leader had knocked those who supported the Dalai Lama or Pussy Riot.

“Former prime minister Petr Nečas was advocating that we shouldn’t publicly support human rights activists in foreign states, because, as he said, it would hurt our exports to those countries.

“And the other side, supported by [former TOP 09 foreign minister] Karel Schwarzenberg was saying that we have to do it, because it that’s the only way that Czech foreign policy could be on the side of right.

“We might be supporting some values that we have fought for, such as when Václav Havel was supported by French or American politicians before 1989.”

According to Jakub Janda, the Social Democrats’ Lubomír Zaorálek, who might be expected to take the foreign affairs portfolio in the next government, leans towards the latter approach. However, if he gets the post he could leave it next year for the European Commission, paving the way for a more “practical” minister, says the pundit.

Photo: Hafiz343, CC BY-SA 3.0
“Therefore, the, let’s say, pragmatic part of the party supported by Jan Mládek could become strong in that government and as a result we might see a policy shift towards a pragmatic foreign policy in which most Czech foreign policy would only be seen as supporting Czech exports.”

Some would contend that when it comes to supporting human rights, the country has in any case done little in recent years. Others have suggested, meanwhile, that such activities ultimately have a negligible impact on exports.