Prague and Paris seek to mend strained relations
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg appears to have mended some fences with France on a just completed official visit. After veiled criticism from Mr. Schwarzenberg of French expulsions of Roma, this was set to be an awkward meeting but it seems to have ended with a desire to put future relations between Prague and Paris on a better footing.
However veiled the criticism, it touched a raw nerve as the French government came under fire from within the country and outside for its controversial actions. So it was no surprise that the Czech Foreign Minister was repeatedly quizzed about those comments when he arrived in Paris on Monday to meet with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign relations expert.
On Monday, Mr. Schwarzenberg repeated, explained and defended some of his earlier comments, adding that the Czech Republic too had been on the receiving end of steps taken by Canada after members of its Roma population sought asylum across the North Atlantic.
But Mr. Schwarzenberg also admitted he had personal reasons why the Roma issue is a sensitive one. As a child growing up in Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia, one of camps aimed at dealing with the so-called Roma problem was set up just five miles from the Schwarzenberg family home at Lety. Memories of that camp, where around 360 died and hundreds more were sent to their deaths in the extermination camp at Auschwitz remained with him.
“The prisoners were working there, guarded by the gendarmerie with a gun and bayonet. I had a very strange experience at this very place as a child. I am, I admit, in this respect concerning Roma discrimination maybe more touchy than anybody else.”