Prague expat conference highlights importance of postal voting

Conference for Czechs Living Abroad

Dozens of Czechs resident overseas gathered in Prague on Thursday for the annual Conference for Czechs Living Abroad, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the main issues addressed was postal voting, which still hasn’t been approved in the Czech Republic. As a result, many Czechs abroad are not able to cast their ballots in the current general elections.

Petr Bísek | Photo:  American Friends of the Czech Republic

The second day of the conference, taking place in the Senate’s Wallenstein Palace, started with the presentation of awards to Czechs living abroad for their long-term contribution to expat communities.

Among the recipients was Petr Bísek, a long-time publisher of the Czech and Slovak newspaper in the US, Americké listy, and a former president of the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society:

“Right after the Velvet Revolution there were several huge problems, such as the restitution of property stolen by the communist regime, the right to have a dual citizenship and also the right to vote.

“Through Americké listy, I was trying to really gently but persuasively rebuild a bridge between Czechs living abroad and the Czech Republic, which was quite difficult due to the post-communist sentiment.

Illustrative photo: pjedrzejczyk,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

“Only lately, it looks like its opening up and some of those old problems have been solved. But we still have absentee ballots and it’s quite embarrassing.

“So that’s why I am here and in my speech today I am going to emphasize that the Czech Republic is really one of the last countries in Europe that doesn’t have postal voting.”

Among the speakers addressing the issue of correspondence voting was also Senator Tomáš Czernin, chairman of the Senate Committee for Compatriots Living Abroad, who has long been calling for its introduction:

“It is obvious that a large part of MPs are afraid of the postal vote because our citizens who are abroad are courageous, thoughtful, mostly educated people, who simply do not vote for the parties that have had a majority in the Chamber of Deputies so far.

Tomáš Czernin  (left) and Miroslav Krupička  (right) | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

“I believe that after the parliamentary elections this attitude will change. Because this is a really important group of our citizens, who make a good name for us, who are our ambassadors and, last but not least, they are sending a large sum of money to the Czech Republic.”

Miroslav Krupička, chairman of the International Coordination Committee of Foreign Czechs in Prague, agrees that postal voting has become the most pressing issue of this year’s event, but also highlights its main aim, which is bilateral relations between expat communities and Czechia:

Conference for Czechs Living Abroad | Photo: Klára Stejskalová,  Radio Prague International

“They live at different places, it’s a different number of people in each country. Some of them are people who were exiled in the 1960, 70s and 80s, while some of them have been living abroad for 100 or 200 years, and they have all get special needs.

“So we want to hear from them to find out what they need and also how they can contribute to our mutual relations. So it’s going to be an interesting discussion to see all those views of people from the different places.”