Moscow's nomination of Czech banker for top IMF post angers Prague

Josef Tosovsky, photo: CTK

It is not often that a Czech official is nominated to head a major international organisation. However, the news that Russia is putting forward former Czech prime minister Josef Tosovsky for the top job at the International Monetary Fund has not been greeted with joy in the Czech Republic. On the contrary, Mr Tosovsky's candidature has left Prague angry and embarrassed.

Josef Tosovsky, photo: CTK
Under an unwritten rule, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund is always from Europe, while the United States gets to choose the president of the World Bank.

The selection of the IMF top man is very much in the hands of the major EU states, and the Union has already announced its candidate, the French politician and economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

So it is rather unlikely that October's appointment will go to Russia's nomination, Josef Tosovsky; he was for several years governor of the Czech National Bank and for six months in 1998 prime minister of a Czech caretaker government. Despite his slim chances, the banker says it is a "great honour" to be considered for such an important post.

The Czech government, however, has taken a rather dimmer view. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek made the following statement at a news conference on Wednesday:

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
"Mr Tosovsky has not been and is not the Czech Republic's candidate. We've coordinated our position on the new managing director of the IMF within the framework of the European Union. The candidate supported by the EU and therefore by the Czech Republic is Strauss-Kahn. We would not regard it as honorable to change that now."

It seems Mr Topolanek and his government had known nothing in advance about Mr Tosovsky's candidature - neither he nor Russian representatives had discussed the matter with Prague. That has raised hackles, as has the very fact that the Czech banker accepted Moscow's offer.

The story has received some attention in Mr Strauss-Kahn's France, with Le Figaro saying it has put Prague in an embarrassing situation. Thursday's Czech papers, meanwhile, feature several voices suggesting Moscow's evidently doomed move is nothing more than an attempt to show its influence, and is primarily intended for domestic consumption.