Amidst growing concern over mounting street violence in Ukraine, the Czech Republic has urged President Yanukovych to de-escalate the stand-off, release detained activists and establish a genuine dialogue with the opposition.
Prague has been watching the situation in Kiev with growing concern as what first resembled Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution turned ugly. While the Czech Foreign Ministry recently spearheaded talks leading up to an EU stand on the matter, news that several people were killed in the street fighting on Wednesday led the outgoing foreign minister Jan Kohout to issue a strong statement on behalf of the Czech Republic expressing shock over the loss of lives and calling on President Yanukovych to end the violence and enter into a genuine dialogue with the opposition. He also urged the Ukrainian authorities to do away with legislation restricting freedom of speech and assembly, rammed through Parliament by Yanukovych-loyal MPS last week.
Although matters in Prague are currently complicated by a change of administration there is general agreement that the Czech Republic should make itself heard on the issue. The head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house, former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg welcomed the government’s statement, saying the Czech Republic was obliged to try and help.
“We should definitely make an effort. Unlike western countries we have a similar history with the Ukraine, we share the same experience and that gives us greater insight and understanding. We should not forget that there are 150 thousand Ukrainians living and working in the Czech Republic today, there are a considerable number of Czechs in Ukraine –sub Carpathian Ruthenia was once part of Czechoslovakia. There are many ties that bind us and we cannot act as if this is not our concern.”
Despite talks between President Yanukovych and the opposition, street violence spread from Kiev to other cities on Thursday. In an interview for Czech Radio on Friday morning the Czech ambassador to Ukraine Ivan Pocuch expressed fears the situation could deteriorate further.
“The situation remains extremely strained even after a second round of late-night negotiations between the president and the opposition. It is not clear if any significant progress was made, and the situation remains very polarized, very explosive. Unrest is spreading and I think that increasingly foreign leaders are coming to realize that this could develop into a serious pan-European problem. As I see it the two sides have not managed to establish a dialogue that would de-escalate the crisis. ”
International pressure has been mounting on the Ukrainian leadership for it to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis. The Visegrad Group on Friday issued a statement asking the Ukrainian leadership and the opposition to maintain a “meaningful and credible dialogue” which would help find a solution acceptable for the whole nation.
The head of the lower houses’ foreign affairs committee Karel Schwarzenberg says that even if the worst is averted and further bloodshed is stemmed, finding a compromise solution will not be easy.
“Ukraine’s great disadvantage in this respect is that the opposition has been unable to rally around one man. We Czechs can be a quarrelsome lot, but we rallied without question around Vaclav Havel during the Velvet Revolution, as the Poles rallied around Lech Walesa. The fact that Ukraine has been unable to do that gives me great cause for concern.”
Prague has made it clear that communication channels with both sides remain open. President Yanukovych has an invitation to visit Prague for the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in the autumn of this year and the country’s incoming foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek has said he would invite opposition leader Vitali Klitscko and possibly others to Prague for talks.