Vladimír Remek is the only Czech to have flown in space, as a crew member on the Soviet Soyuz 28 mission in 1978. Thirty-five years later, Mr. Remek, currently an MEP for the Communist Party, is returning to Russia, with the news on Wednesday that the Czech president has signed the document required to make him ambassador to Moscow.
But what does his appointment say about Czech-Russian relations today? And how is the one-time cosmonaut perceived in Moscow? Those are questions I discussed with Jaroslav Šimov, who covers Russia for the Prague-based Radio Free Europe.
“Mr. Remek was, as we know, the first Czech or Czechoslovak cosmonaut, so he has some friends and contacts from that time in Russia.
“He is perceived as a person who has a good, friendly attitude to Russia. So from the point of view of the Russian authorities, he would be welcome of course.”
People say that Mr. Remek has good business contacts in Moscow [he represented a Czech company there and was a commercial officer at the embassy]. But will he bring anything else to the job, apart from that business side?
“I think that’s a question concerning the Czech attitude, the attitude of the Czech Republic and the priorities of Czech foreign policy.
“That is an attitude quite to the contrary of that of the previous government. So there would be no accent on human rights questions and some political problems in Russia. Instead, their priority would be strengthening economic ties and that would be one of the new ambassador’s main tasks.
“But maybe as a to some extent symbolic, political figure, like every ambassador, Mr. Remek will take part in other, I don’t know, cultural and political events in Russia that will make an impression of strengthening political and – how to say? – social and human contacts between the two countries.”
What does this appointment say about Czech-Russian relations in general right now? Perhaps in the 1990s such an appointment, of a Communist, wouldn’t have happened.
“Sure. I think it speaks more about changes in Czech politics. Some kind of turn to the left is now taking place here in the Czech Republic and of course…”
But is there also a turn to the East?
“To some extent. Some experts think so. I think it’s not a turn to the East in the political sense, because nobody speaks seriously about the Czech Republic going out of NATO or the European Union.
“But nevertheless it is a more positive view of, first of all, the economic possibilities of the Russian and Chinese markets, and of all those lands to the East.
“And less attention is paid to political and human rights questions which were so important to, for example, President Havel and to former foreign minister Schwarzenberg.”