Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, is flying to Moscow today along with several other key members of his party. On the agenda will be the proposed US missile defence system in central Europe, which both Russia and the Social Democrats oppose. But the Czech government is in favour of the country hosting a US radar base, and has accused the opposition Social Democrats of pursuing a potentially damaging alternative foreign policy.
Last month, Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek went on an official visit to Syria. The visit was touted as simply a study and information exercise, with Mr Paroubek stating “We want to learn the thinking of the people who are not our political friends.” Yet despite such insistences, many criticized the Social Democratic leadership for supposedly contradicting Czech and European foreign policy. Now, Mr Paroubek is undertaking a four day trip to Russia.
I asked political analyst Petr Just to explain the controversy:
“Foreign affairs were one of very few areas where the coalition and opposition - with the exception of the communists - always had similar opinions and more or less supported each other. So this is the first time that we have witnessed the Social Democratic party pursuing its own foreign policy, as it is being highly critical of the current government. Maybe it is because the government is putting some foreign policy issues at the top of its political agenda like the proposed radar station. It has become one of the hottest political issues of the present day, and as such it has become an issue over which the coalition and the opposition are fighting it out politically.”
The main stated reason for the Russia trip is to bolster ties with the left-of-centre and pro-Putin Fair Russia party, but the controversial US missile defence system will also be on the agenda. Social Democrat speaker of the lower house Lubomír Zaorálek has stated that neither American, nor Russian military forces should be located on Czech soil. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has strongly criticised the Social Democrats, for what he called a dangerous alternative foreign policy that was unprecedented in the democratic history of the country. The visit is being financed by the Social Democratic party, which has allotted 300,000 crowns to cover the cost.
And what about the fact that members of opposition parties in other countries make similar visits? Petr Just again:
“Actually, their explanation that other democratic countries are communicating with, for example, Syria, or other countries that Mr Paroubek is visiting, is actually quite rational, but on the other hand, there are indications that the official Czech foreign policy apparatus did not know about the intention of the Social Democrats to visit these countries. And maybe the Social Democrats should first consult their steps with our official diplomacy. On the other hand, one needs to keep in mind that Mr Paroubek has no constitutional function - he is just a Member of Parliament without a chairmanship or vice chairmanship of any parliamentary committee, so therefore he is travelling as a leader of a party delegation, and so I would see his activities as entirely party political ones.”
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