President’s spokesman lashes out at culture minister for meeting with Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama, photo: CTK

A visit by the Tibet’s Dalai Lama to Prague to attend the 20th annual Forum 2000, has revealed fault lines between some members of the government and Prague Castle. The president’s spokesman lashed out at the culture minister for meeting with the spiritual leader.

Dalai Lama,  photo: CTK
Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is no stranger to the Czech capital, a close friend to former president Václav Havel, travelling here on numerous occasions, the last time shortly before Mr Havel’s death in 2011. On Monday, the Dalai Lama arrived in Prague from Slovakia where he met with President Andrej Kiska at the weekend. He will not meet with the president here. In the past, still as a candidate, the current head of state Miloš Zeman made clear he saw no reason to meet with the spiritual leader, indicating at the time things would be different if the Dalai Lama was a big investor. Instead, since assuming office, the president has pursued and promoted increased economic ties with China, and was criticised early into his presidency for what was widely seen as a remarkably slavish approach.

In fact, official invitations to Prague dried up with Mr Havel; his immediate successor, Václav Klaus, saw no reason to invite the Dalai Lama, either. That is not to say the spiritual leader is not welcome by others in the Czech Republic, not least those close to the late Havel or supporters in favour of Tibet: he was greeted by a crowd in Prague on Monday who came to hear his message, many waving Tibetan flags and lifting banners in support.

Dalai Lama,  Daniel Herman,  photo: CTK
“Brothers and sisters… I am extremely happy to come here and meet you.”

Later, the Dalai Lama told Czech TV that countries which met with China discussed primarily economic questions and that human rights came only far down the list. In his view, economic issues are not enough. The Dalai Lama again:

“More economic prosperity, more development, brings temporary good. But for the long term, the economy alone is no guarantee of inner peace.”

In an interview recalling Mr Havel, the Dalai Lama expressed the view that the late president’s ideas and ideals had survived his death and would live on well into the future. On Monday, he also met with Mr Havel’s widow and former First lady, Dagmar.

Jiří Ovčáček,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama then met with Culture Minister Daniel Herman in what was labelled ahead of time a private event – presumably not to raise the ire of Chinese representatives who, for example, protested the Dalai Lana’s meeting in Slovakia with President Kiska. That did not shield Minister Herman from criticism by the Czech president’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček, however. He tweeted that, in meeting with the Dalai Lama, the “minister of culture had chosen media fame ahead of the interests of the Czech Republic and its citizens”. By contrast, the culture minister told the Dalai Lama himself it was “a great honour to meet and to be able to discuss spiritual values”.