Three months after sacking of Karolína Peake, General Vlastimil Picek to be named Czech defence minister

Vlastimil Picek, photo: archive of the Czech Army

Almost three months after the swift sacking of Karolína Peake, the Czech Republic is finally getting a new minister of defence in the form of career soldier General Vlastimil Picek. General Picek is currently deputy minister and has a good deal of experience, having also served as chief of the general staff of the Czech Army for five years.

Vlastimil Picek, photo: CTK
LIDEM’s Karolína Peake was fired as defence minister just before Christmas – only a week after being appointed in the first place. Since then the prime minister, Petr Nečas, has also held the defence portfolio.

The PM is said, however, to have been unable to devote any time to the job. Moreover, his government has only a year and a quarter left in office and is unlikely to win re-election, meaning the post of defence minister is not particularly attractive.

The weekly Respekt has reported that at least five people turned it down; most were diplomats fearful that a short spell at the ministry would cost them their careers as envoys.

As we recorded our show, Mr. Nečas had not officially announced General Vlastimil Picek’s appointment, but it has been widely reported and evidently only awaits confirmation. Ironically, it was the officer’s immediate dismissal as deputy minister by Ms. Peake that precipitated her own swift sacking. He was reinstated by the prime minister.

General Picek, who has an air force background, comes with bags of experience. As well as serving as deputy minister, he was chief of the general staff of the Czech Army from 2007 to 2012. A previous occupant of that post, General Jiří Šedivý, welcomes his appointment.

Karolína Peake, photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think that the main thing is that it ends a period of uncertainty as to who would be defence minister. General Picek is someone who can guarantee the calming of the whole situation…In my view, he is somebody who doesn’t succumb to stressful situations of various kinds. I know him personally, and he has great self control and can lead a collective.”

However, the news has ruffled some feathers. Karolína Peake learned about the general’s selection from the media and says the prime minister’s failure to discuss the matter with the cabinet breaches the coalition agreement.

TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg had previously said the job should go to a civilian, as installing an officer would make the Czech Republic “like Guatemala”. On top of that, he objected to General Picek’s perceived closeness to the prime minister’s Civic Democrats.

However, Mr. Schwarzenberg has since softened and gave his backing to the appointment. But was he right to suggest the minister of defence ought not to be a member of the army? General Šedivý doesn’t think so.

General Jiří Šedivý, photo: Kristýna Maková
“He will have to forget that he was a general and he’ll have to change somewhat the style of conduct that’s common for career soldiers and senior officers. But I think General Picek has up to now managed to do that as first deputy minister of defence.”

The Social Democrats’ shadow defence minister, Jan Hamáček, has described the news that the general is to take the top job as logical, saying he has in effect been running things for three months anyway. But he added that the length of time it took to fill the post highlighted the government’s “personnel depletion”.