Pehe: Gender focus in Czech Istanbul Convention debate aids Russia

Czech Senate - only 34 out of 71 senators were in favor of the Istanbul Convention ratification

The Czech Senate rejected ratification of the Istanbul Convention in a hotly contested vote Wednesday night. The treaty, which Czechia formally signed in 2016, seeks to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence. So why have Czech politicians rejected it? I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio

“I think part of the decision of the Senate is tied to what I would basically call disinformation.

“There have been a lot of attempts by people who defend the so-called traditional family, and traditional values, to depict the Istanbul Convention as something that could affect the standing of the family, traditional values and so on in the Czech Republic.

“Unfortunately it seems that a critical mass of senators decided to support this.

“They ignored the fact that the Istanbul Convention is already ratified in most Western European countries and that the Czech lawmakers will not find anything new there.

“But unfortunately finding new things that others in Europe have not noticed is a Czech political hobby, and I’m afraid this is in the end one of the reasons why it was not approved.”

Voting in the Senate | Photo: Czech Senate

Some of the opponents of the convention focused on so-called gender ideology. Does that simply show that conservatism is just as strong in Czechia as it is in many other countries, and that we also have the culture wars here?

“Yes. I’m afraid that the Czech Republic is open to culture wars. A lot of discussion was focused on the question of gender, so to speak.

“Unfortunately this plays in geopolitical terms into the hands of those that the Czech Republic is trying to fight against at the government level, and that is Russia and countries of that kind, who are basically waging war against liberal democracy, with the slogans of defending traditional values.”

Martin Dvořák | Photo: Vít Pohanka,  Radio Prague International

The minister for European affairs, Martin Dvořák, called this vote last night in the Senate an “international disgrace”. Is it?

“Yes. I think that this is unfortunately a disgrace. I have to agree with Minister Dvořák, because there was absolutely no reason to reject this treaty.

“President Petr Pavel has said that the Czech Republic should have approved or ratified this convention a long time ago.

“The fact that it didn’t do so, now, in my opinion shows that maybe democracy in the Czech Republic is still struggling – and this will be noticed certainly in Moscow, where they look for weak spots in Europe.

“So with this decision I think the Czech Republic to some extent moved closer to countries like Slovakia or Hungary. And definitely it will be seen as such in both Western Europe and Russia.”

President Petr Pavel in the Senate | Photo: Czech Senate