President tries to defuse situation ahead of upcoming state awards

Miloš Zeman, photo: archive of the Office of the President

The Czech president’s spokesman has confirmed the head of state is considering presenting Auschwitz survivor George Brady not with a state honour but a separate award as a “gesture of good will”. The move is an attempt to defuse a widening scandal after the culture minister charged that Brady, his uncle, was struck off the list of this year’s award recipients as punishment for the minister’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Miloš Zeman, photo: archive of the Office of the President
The president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček made clear on Tuesday that no potential witnesses (two ministers and a diplomat) had corroborated Culture Minister Daniel Herman’s claim he was warned by the president not to meet with the Dalai Lama or his uncle, George Brady, would be struck from a list of recipients of this year’s state honours.

That claim was denied outright by the Office of the President but Tuesday both his spokesman and the head of protocol at Prague Castle, Jindřich Forejt, explained that only an official letter – not phone calls – would have been proof of Mr Brady’s selection. Both stated that no such letter was ever sent. Jindřich Forejt:

“These are the facts: anyone due to receive an award receives a letter weeks in advance confirming they will receive an honour. In the case of foreign nationals or in the case of those with dual citizenship we also notify ambassadors and embassies to make sure that person has permission to accept honours from another country. These are the facts.”

Jiří Ovčáček, Jindřich Forejt, photo: CTK
The president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček summed up the situation similarly saying outright Mr Brady had received no such letter. But to those on the political spectrum who have cried foul he voiced an offer on the part of the president.

“The list of recipients this year is closed and was counter-signed by the prime minister. But to show that he has no political reason not to honour Mr Brady, the president will consider the option of presenting him with an award at an appropriate time, as a gesture of good will.”

Mr Brady, who is 88, had maintained he was to receive one of the country’s highest honours, the Order of T.G. Masaryk. Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, he made clear he was no longer interested in accepting an award from the head of state.

“I don’t need an award from anyone who didn’t feel like giving it – or had some reason not to give it to me.”

Daniel Herman, George Brady, photo: CTK
It is unclear whether Tuesday’s announcement will do anything to improve the mood ahead of this year’s celebrations or change any lawmakers’ minds; many told Czech TV earlier they would not to attend. George Brady, meanwhile, is ready to accept recognition in other circles: he is to receive a key from the city from Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová, according to reports, and made clear he would be happy to accept an honour for his life’s work from Palácký University in Olomouc.