On Wednesday, the Czech parliament adopted a resolution distancing itself from a controversial visit by the leader of the Czech communist party, Vojtěch Filip, to Russia. While the communist leader insists he is visiting Moscow to foster dialogue, non-communist Czech MPs from across the political spectrum have accused the party leader of undermining Czech foreign policy interests and even providing the Kremlin with useful propaganda. I spoke with Jakub Janda of the European Values think-tank, and began by asking why Mr. Filip is taking this controversial trip.
“Well, he claims that he has been invited by officials in the Russian parliament so as to continue in a dialogue with the Russian side, as he is saying that this dialogue has essentially stopped. So that is Filip’s explanation. But he has been heavily criticized for taking this trip to the Duma and speaking to Russian officials. Especially as some of the officials are on the EU and US sanction lists, as they are believed to share responsibility for the annexation and occupation of Crimea.”
And specifically Mr. Filip is set to meet with Sergei Zheleznyak, who is the deputy speaker of the Duma. And he is one of those people on these sanctions lists that you mentioned. So is this an effort by the regime in Russia to find cracks in the opposition to their Ukrainian policy, among the ranks, for example, of the Czech communist party?
“Definitely. Because the Czech communists are pretty well on the same side as the Kremlin propaganda. So the Czech communists are merely following and repeating what the Russian – or Putin’s – propaganda is saying. So this is a pretty logical move [for them] one could say, as they are trying to get some EU officials, and Mr. Filip is the deputy speaker of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, so he is pretty high-ranking. And that is the reason why they are inviting him and trying to have pictures taken with him and then be able to say that there are some people in the EU, who don’t support the official policy, including the sanctions against Russia. And I would say that Filip is pretty much doing the same thing as our president Miloš Zeman, who made similar statements [criticising the sanctions] at the Rhodos Forum conference several weeks ago.”
And the Czech parliament has just passed a resolution in which it is declared that Mr. Filip in no way represents the Czech state in his visit to Russia. So that is a pretty swift reaction, is it not?
“The parliamentarians had pretty well learned about this visit on-the-go, because nobody knew about it except the Speaker of the House Jan Hamáček, who allowed the deputy speaker Mr. Filip to go. So he gave his permission, and then the whole House learned about it on Wednesday, I believe. So they were pretty swift and strong about the denial of Mr. Filip’s mandate. And I believe that is good because now when the propagandist Russian media will talk about Mr. Filip’s visit, they will be forced to add that he is acting on his own and not as an official representative of the Czech state.”
Finally, what has Mr. Filip said himself in defence of criticism regarding this visit?
“Well, he is saying that he is trying to continue with some dialogue with Russia officials, as this has stopped since the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. So he essentially talking about dialogue with officials at the Kremlin. But this is not the official policy of the Czech state, so that is why he has been so strongly criticised by the government officials in the Czech Republic and by the opposition in parliament as well, except the communists, of course, because they are on the same side.”