As the new Czech government was sworn into office last week, a pressing question for Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s cabinet is whether to join a growing international boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Earlier this month, Fiala said he understood the reasons why officials from the United States, the United Kingdom and several other English-speaking countries will boycott the games that begin in February.
He said his incoming top team would make a decision on the Czech response through a collective vote.
The person likely to lead the campaign is Jan Lipavsky, the Czech Republic’s new foreign minister, who has publicly stated that he backs a diplomatic boycott, which will see politicians and official delegations shun the events in Beijing, even while Czech athletes still participate.
Jakub Janda, director of the Prague-based European Values Center for Security Policy, says it is “highly probable” that Czech officials will boycott the games.
It’s most likely that Lipavsky and other ministers won’t travel to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, but the second stage would be to declare an official diplomatic boycott of the Games, said Richard Q. Turcsanyi, a senior researcher at Palacky University Olomouc.
European leaders were expected to discuss the boycott at a European Council session last week. Analysts reckon that several EU states that have recently taken a hard line on China, such as the Czech Republic and possibly Slovakia, will boycott the Games even if the rest of their EU neighbours don’t.
Turcsanyi expects the Czech Republic to now take a “tougher stance” on issues surrounding China and Russia, marking a return to a foreign policy agenda shaped by the presidency of Vaclav Havel, a liberal champion and the icon of anti-communist protests that led to the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
One problem, however, is the weakness of Lipavsky’s party, the Pirates. The third-largest party after the 2017 ballot, it went into October’s election as part of the PirStan alliance expecting to make gains. But it won just four of the alliance’s 37 seats, making it the smallest of the five parties in the new governing coalition.
Because of the Pirates relative weakness in the coalition government, Lipavsky may try to compensate by being very active in setting the agenda, said Sebok. If that’s the case, he added, Lipavsky could get his way on a boycott of the Winter Olympics, yet it could create some friction within the government further down the road.
Another possible point of contention is whether Lipavsky so early in office is willing to start a spat over this issue with President Milos Zeman, one of the loudest pro-China advocates in Czech politics. Earlier this month, Zeman intimated that he would reject the nomination of Lipavsky.