No let up in Zeman-Schwarzenberg spat over embassy posts

Karel Schwarzenberg, Miloš Zeman, photo: Kateřina Šůlová

The dispute between President Miloš Zeman and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg over who should fill a number of vacant ambassadorial posts shows no sign of abating. On Thursday President Zeman accused Mr Schwarzenberg of ‘amateurism’ after the foreign minister criticised Mr Zeman’s suggestion that Livia Klausová, the wife of his predecessor, should become ambassador to Slovakia.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: CTK
Slovakia’s president Ivan Gasparovič welcomed his Czech counterpart Miloš Zeman on his first official visit to Bratislava this week – traditionally the first port of call for newly elected Czech presidents. One of the tasks in Mr Zeman’s in-tray is appointing a new ambassador to the country.

In theory the foreign ministry suggests appointments, the cabinet approves them and the president rubber stamps them, but in practice it’s a three-way tussle involving much horse-trading. Usually the tussle is decided behind closed doors before the candidates’ names are made public, lending the process an air of dignity. But sometimes, such as now, the process grinds to a halt due to political differences and personal animosity and it all spills out into the media.

Last week President Zeman caused consternation by openly suggesting that Livia Klausová, the Slovak-born wife of his predecessor Václav Klaus, become the new ambassador to Bratislava. Mr Zeman defeated Karel Schwarzenberg in the second round of January’s presidential election, thanks at least in part to the support of both Mr Klaus and his wife, and to some the suggestion looked like payback.

Livia Klausová,  photo: Petra Sklenářová
The Foreign Ministry, unsurprisingly, said the choice was unacceptable; Mr Schwarzenberg argued that Mrs Klausová had no diplomatic experience, and anyway, the ministry already had a candidate lined up. Asked to respond to the comments in Bratislava, President Zeman gave the following response.

“Allow me to begin by quoting the prime minister, Petr Nečas, who rightly pointed out that only an amateur would publicly comment on an ambassadorial appointment before negotiations on it had been concluded. As is well known, I have refused to make any comment on the foreign minister’s remarks. Mr Schwarzenberg, however, has issued public statements on the matter every day; most recently today. So let’s judge the level of amateurism or professionalism in this matter according to what you might call the Nečas criteria.”

Some, including Czech Radio commentator Petr Nováček, have pointed out that it was actually Miloš Zeman who first publicly mooted the idea of sending Mrs Klausová to Bratislava; Karel Schwarzenberg merely responded to it.

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: Filip Jandourek
For his part Mr Schwarzenberg told Pravo newspaper that relations between Černín Palace – seat of the Foreign Ministry – and Prague Castle, the presidential palace – were now below freezing point, and he would seek one-on-one talks with Mr Zeman to resolve the matter. A lot is at stake – Mr Zeman is reported to be blocking appointments to Austria and Canada. Meanwhile the president wants former cosmonaut and Communist MEP Vladimír Remek to become ambassador to Moscow, something Mr Schwarzenberg opposes.