Prime Minister Sobotka endorses Havel legacy on US visit

Joe Biden, Bohuslav Sobotka (second from right), photo: CTK

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s ongoing visit to the United States has been marked by efforts to boost his country’s standing with the US administration. The country’s reputation in Washington has suffered after several senior Czech officials signalled the abandonment of a human-rights driven foreign policy shaped during the presidency of Václav Havel.

Joe Biden, Bohuslav Sobotka (second from right), photo: CTK
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka arrived in Washington DC just hours after he commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in the streets of Prague on Monday.

He is scheduled to attend the ceremonial unveiling of a bust of Václav Havel in the US Capitol later on Wednesday. But the highlight of his trip came when he met with the US vice president, Joe Biden on Tuesday.

After spending an hour and 15 minutes with Mr Biden, the Czech prime minister told reporters the meeting had confirmed the good relations between their countries.

“I came not only to attend this unveiling ceremony but also to subscribe to the principles that Václav Havel as president promoted in Czech foreign policy.

“Vice President Biden paid tribute to the Czech Republic’s activities in promoting human rights. To use his own words, he said that the Czech Republic was punching above its weight.”

Miloš Zeman, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Sobotka was initially hoping he would meet with US President Barack Obama. But according to media reports, the meeting did not happen because of the positions of Czech officials on the crisis in Ukraine and other issues.

Czech President Miloš Zeman has repeatedly denied knowledge of Russia’s influence in the conflict, contradicting the view of NATO leaders and other allies. His recent visit to China has also raised eyebrows.

Some officials at the Czech Foreign Ministry have meanwhile suggested the country should steer its foreign policy away from the human rights emphasis it has pursued since the presidency of Václav Havel.

In an effort to undo the damage, Prime Minister Sobotka publicly endorsed Václav Havel’s legacy before leaving Prague. But commentator Erik Best doubts this alone will convince Washington that the Czechs remain reliable allies.

“I think the US would like to believe that the Czechs still subscribe to the policies put forward by Václav Havel that human rights play an important role in their foreign policy. For instance, the US ambassador put on twitter a very positive comment about a very strong alliance.

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek
“But privately, they will be watching for every sign that Mr Sobotka was merely looking for a photo-op, and that he was revert to some of his more pro-Russian comments because he too has taken a stance that could be deemed somewhat pro-Russian.”

After Washington, the Czech delegation headed by Mr. Sobotka will move to Texas to meet with members of the state’s Czech community.