The Czech President has resisted American pressure to not visit Moscow for the 70th Victory Day commemoration on May 9th, snubbing the American Ambassador who suggested that he cancel his trip. Taking it even further, President Zeman said that Ambassador Schapiro was no longer welcome in his castle, showing that the Czech leader will not back down from his sovereign decision to celebrate the Nazis’ defeat in Russia.
The spat highlighted what appears to be a growing trend in Europe nowadays, which is pragmatic governments being met with American scorn whenever they positively interact with Russia.
Andrew Korybko: The Czech President has resisted American pressure to not visit Moscow for the 70th Victory Day commemoration on May 9th, snubbing the American Ambassador who suggested that he cancel his trip. Taking it even further, President Zeman said that Ambassador Schapiro was no longer welcome in his castle, showing that the Czech leader will not back down from his sovereign decision to celebrate the Nazis’ defeat in Russia. The spat highlighted what appears to be a growing trend in Europe nowadays, which is pragmatic governments and personalities being met with American scorn whenever they personally and positively interact with Russia.
Since Zeman has rebuked American pressure in the heart of Europe, he is our MAN IN THE NEWS this week.
Sergei Strokan: Well Andrew, I think all of us have to agree that for years and years in Europe, there was an outcry that the old generation of politicians is going into the history books and new technocrats, faceless bureaucrats, who simply perform their duties and hardly make news by doing anything extraordinary, have come to power. What we’ve seen this week is that President Zeman, obviously a representative of the old guard of politicians, showed that personality still matters. He said “I’ll go to Moscow”, and he wasn’t scared to do this despite the unofficial taboo in the European Union t not go to Moscow because of the frosty relations with President Putin. His message is that when we have such dates as the Victory in the Second World War over the fascists, history should not become the hostage of politicization. We have to understand that this is a globally interdependent world that still has to get to its roots and basic values, and such moments as Victory Day, should not be used for narrow political ends. This is something very important.
Korybko: Sergei, I absolutely agree with you, and I really like your focus on political personalities. I’d like to discuss this topic with our in-studio guest, Mr. Kirill Koktysh, an associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Hi Mr. Koktysh. When it comes to political personalities, could we see them taking a more prominent role and could we see a shift away from the so-called technocrats?
Kyrill Koktysh, Associate Professor, Institute of International Relations, Russia's Foreign Ministry (studio guest): When institutions stop working, personality matters. Actually, electoral machine works as such that the elected politicians should be actors but not politicians, because every actor has their own director that paid for their election and wants to get their investment back. But when institutions fail to rule during crisis situations, personalities start to make decisions, they start to matter, and this is a new reality. First of all, it’s a mark of crisis, and it may be a way out of the crisis. To get out of any problematic situation, you need a leader who knows what is right, wrong, and can strongly declare this. Zeman is a politician who has done this.
Korybko: And actually, he doesn’t seem to be the only leader right now. So to discuss other leaders that have been taking a defiant stance towards the EU we’re joined once more by Ms. Anna Liatsou, an independent Greek researcher and author based in Moscow. Hi again Anna. In the EU, are we seeing a growing critical mass of leaders that disagree with the sanctions policy?
Liatsou: Yes, that’s a very interesting trend. You’ve mentioned countries that aren’t the largest, at least not in terms of economics, but as you know, all members of the EU are full members of the EU, and if you remember what we’ve said before about sovereignty, Mr. Tsipras mentioned that sovreingty is something important. Within the EU, countries are still allowed to have their own foreign policy. What I think Mr. Zeman, together with the Cypriot President, Matteo Renzi, and Tsipras, what they were trying to show and do is come back to the European values that are in the basis of the whole EU. The basis of equality and the ability and possibility to live in sovereignty. This is something important and I think that the sanctions against Russia were imposed, and how countries will act in this situation will show what countries are ready for their own sovereignty and which ones are ready to have a battle for the future of the EU. What is important, I think, is that they are not thinking of exiting the EU. What they are thinking of is staying within the EU and trying to return to the basic values.
Strokan: Anna, if we have a closer look at this President Zeman story, which really looks extraordinary, we have a follow-up where the Czech PM actually supported the American Ambassador. How can you explain such a controversy where the ruling elite isn’t even supporting the President?
Liatsou: I think that in any country, any elite can be of different origins. If you see the Greek example, there is a coalition in the government. Yes, they are trying to fulfill some decisions together, but we have to remember that they are from different parties. We could say that n Russia, in many cases, there are situations, parties, and interests of different members, too. What actually impresses me in this situation is not that there are people who have different opinions, but is that the PM and the President have not actually decided who has the right in the country to say such things to one another. Not only the elite, but the two main people in the country. That’s what surprises me.
Strokan: I totally agree with you, it’s absolutely confusing.
Anna Liatsou: When we speak about parties, that’s okay, but when we talk about the two main people, that means that there probably is no agreement and that’s actually negative for the country itself.
Korybko: Thank you Anna.
Strokan: Now we are joined by Martin Braxatoris, who is co-chairman of despiteborders.com Slovak information portal. Thank you for coming on the program. I’m sure you can help explain the chemistry of Czech politics to us. President Zeman decided to go to Moscow to participate in Victory Day celebrations. What made him disagree with the American Ambassador.
Martin Braxatoris, co-chairman, editorial board, DespiteBorders.com: In my opinion, there is a diversity of views on this issue. First of all, he perceived Victory Day celebrations as an opportunity to honor Red Army soldiers who lost their lives during the liberation of the occupied territory of Czechoslovakia. It is an indisputable fact that they liberated the country, and almost 100,000 Soviet soldiers paid for their lives in the liberation. On the other hand, the US ambassador perceived the military parade on Red Square as Russians showing off in the context of the currently tense political situation. In addition, US officials are not happy to see Central European politicians in good relations with the Kremlin. The Ambassador as the US Governor in Prague, which is unacceptable, and the Czech President, unwilling to surrender to the pressure, does not fully take the international context into account.
Strokan: What you are saying is very interesting. How many people supported his move and how may disagreed with him?
Braxatoris: Because of the prevailing pro-Western media in the Czech Republic, it is hard to adequately evaluate the full support of this move. Objective and balanced media in our geopolitical space are missing. It’s clear to me that the majority of Czechs want to keep positive relations with Russia, but as a result of the geopolitical pressure, they don’t’ always express their opinions publicity.
Strokan: Thank you, Martin. Let’s cross our fingers that common sense will prevail in all this nonsense about boycotting Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.
Korybko: Joining us now is Mr. Vladimir Mikheev, an independent expert in Moscow. Hi Vladimir. Could this be a break in the so-called ‘New Europe’ of anti-Russian post-communist states?
Vladimir Mikheev, independent expert: To a certain extent, people who have lived long enough to remember what they believed in during their youth, they at least try to be people of principles and follow a certain set of beliefs. It’s not necessarily that they always become conservatives. They at times become more flexible, which I think is the case of Zeman. He definitely can compare what the Czech Republic enjoyed when it was part of another union, the Socialist Community, and now the European Community. The comparison sometimes is not often in favor of the present state of affairs and allegiance to the EU, that’s the first point. Second, I believe he certainly has a type of nostalgic feeling for the time when w celebrated the right cause, which united Russia, at the time the USSR, and the countries in Eastern Europe. That was the victory over the common enemy, which at the time was the Third Reich and Nazi Germany and their ideology as a whole. I think he’s siding with those who haven’t betrayed their principles and can still distinguish between right and wrong, and know that in any situation, there are always those who are on the wrong side and the right side.
Korybko: The US obviously isn’t too happy about this. How far do you think they’ll go with their pushback? Could we perhaps see a Color Revolution brewing?
Mikheev: Well, although hat you’re saying is underlining a conspiracy theory, we have to accept that conspiracies do exist, but I don’t think the US will go to such great lengths in this case. But they will definitely play one side against the other, the President against the Prime Minister. There’s some frustration among the Neo-Cons that is accumulating when they see how certain EU politicians are trying to assert themselves as independent political figures. This covers a wide terrain, from Hungary to Greece, or previously, even the Eurosceptic Vaclav Klaus, who had his own opinion on Euro-integration and his own special stance with Russia despite his reputation as being an anti-Soviet dissident. So there are some changes among the EU political elites which is very troubling for the US which would like to see much more trans-Atlantic solidarity, or whatever it’s called.