Is the Czech president a populist and demagogue who uses arguments comparable to those of Islamic State? What is the Czech stand on continuing EU sanctions against Russia and what are the Foreign Ministry’s plans for Czech cultural centres abroad? Those are some of the questions addressed in an interview Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek gave to Czech Radio on Wednesday.
When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein attacked President Miloš Zeman earlier this week, labelling him as one of the world’s demagogues who, like Geert Wilders, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and Marie Le Pen, used arguments comparable to those of Islamic State - the Czech foreign minister expressed serious reservations regarding the validity of such a comparison. Czech Radio asked him to elaborate:
“As I see it, making a comparison between an extremist, terrorist organization which presents a threat to us all and a democratically elected politician is simply unacceptable and to me it is incomprehensible. As regards the use of half-truths then you could say that many politicians both in the US and Europe are guilty of that in election campaigns but this does not merit throwing them all into one bag with a terrorist organization like Islamic State. That is what fails to make sense to me.”
The Czech Foreign Minister also clarified the Czech position on the extension of EU sanctions against Russia over the annexation of Crimea, in view of the fact that President Zeman and the chairman of the Senate Milan Štech recently called for sanctions against Russia to be lifted, arguing that they have proved ineffective. Mr. Zaorálek said the sanctions were not introduced solely to hurt the Russian economy.
“The sanctions were not intended primarily to devastate the Russian economy. They were introduced as a form of protest against the annexation of Crimea. A military response would have been an enormous risk. But we could not remain passive because that would have suggested condoning Russia’s policy in Ukraine. The sanctions were instrumental in showing Russia that the annexation of Crimea is unacceptable and that we do not agree with what is happening.”
Another development that has made headlines in the Czech Republic in recent days is the foreign ministry’s alleged plan to bring approximately half of the Czech cultural centres abroad under the management of Czech embassies, which in many cases would mean them giving up their headquarters and residing on the respective embassy’s premises. Minister Zaorálek said the extent of the reorganization had not yet been decided but the general aim was to improve the centres’ performance.
“I can only confirm that the network of Czech cultural centres abroad has a new management and the reason for that is that I would like the centres to be more active and for the embassies and centres to better coordinate their activities in promoting Czech interests. We would like the centres to have a broader scope in promoting the Czech Republic abroad.”
Mr. Zaorálek said the new head of the network of Czech cultural centres had been tasked with proposing changes which would be discussed and made public in November. The changes themselves would start being implemented next year.
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