New Czech Government Expected to Take Tougher Line on China, Russia

petr fiala new prime minister

The mix of parties now working to form the next Czech government spans the spectrum from conservative to liberal, but all appear to share a commitment to the democratic principles espoused by founding President Vaclav Havel.

And that, says a former Havel aide, could be bad news for China and Russia.

Havel, the erudite playwright whose writings and dissident activities helped undermine communism in Europe, “would be quite pleased” with the state of his country following last month’s parliamentary election, said Jiri Pehe, who advised the former Czech president in the late 1990s. Havel died in 2011.

The election unseated populist billionaire Andrej Babis as prime minister and left his coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party, out of parliament altogether.

Babis formally submitted his resignation to President Milos Zeman on Thursday, clearing the way for Petr Fiala, head of the Civic Democratic Party and a leading figure in the winning five-party coalition, to begin forming a new government.

Pehe says he expects the incoming coalition, despite its philosophical differences, to adopt a foreign policy that aligns with the strongly pro-human rights, pro-democratic ideals of his former boss.

“At least for the next four years,” Beijing and Moscow will not have as easy a time as they did in recent years, he told VOA in an interview.

A foretaste of what may lie ahead was provided last year in a high-profile visit to Taiwan led by Senate President Milos Vystrcil, a longtime member of Fiala’s center-right Civic Democratic Party, known by its Czech acronym of ODS.

“Prior to my trip, I was aware that my decision to visit Taiwan was not supported by the highest constitutional representatives of the Czech Republic,” Vystrcil told VOA in an interview. Among the critics of the visit was Zeman, whose warm relationship with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping has been lauded by the Chinese Embassy in Prague.

But, Vystrcil said through a translator, “In the end, as a politician, you are supposed to do what you think is best for your country. It is also about what is good for the countries around us. I reached the conclusion that it is in the interest of both the Czech Republic as well as Taiwan that I visit Taiwan.”

Beijing also has reason to worry about Jan Lipavsky, another Pirates Party member, who is seen as a candidate to lead the Czech Foreign Ministry. In an essay published as the coronavirus was taking off in March 2020, Lipavsky warned of the “propaganda panda” and predicted that China would seek to deny any responsibility for the worldwide spread of COVID-19.

He also denounced “Chinese and Russian clientelism” as an attack on Czech democracy.


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