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Czech Republic: Jordan Seeks Common Ground

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 30 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A three-day visit to the Czech Republic by Jordan's Crown Prince El Hassan bin Talal has opened a new window of opportunity for Czech foreign policy.

Communist Czechoslovakia was friendly toward Syria and Egypt but hostile to Israel. The Czech Republic has maintained good relations with Egypt but cooled relations with Syria and restored a close relationship with Israel. Until recently Jordan has received scant attention from the Czechs. That may be about to change, thanks to a visit by Crown Prince Talal.

The Oxford-educated brother of Jordan's Hashemite King Hussein yesterday held talks with President Vaclav Havel and other Czech leaders. He also visited the Czech armaments works in Uhersky Brod. Today he is to deliver several public lectures in Prague.

Havel praised Jordan for playing a stabilizing role in Middle East politics. Havel also said he would be visiting Jordan next year and invited King Hussein to visit Prague.

Talal's lecture yesterday to the Bohemiae Foundation's audience of diplomats, politicians and bankers drew historical parallels between Jordan and the Czech Republic over the last half century. He said Czechoslovakia's experience of totalitarian rule and Jordan's experience with major wars in every decade since the 1940's produced a massive influx of refugees that had similar effects: the depletion of resources and stunted economic growth.

"The Czech Republic and Jordan have recently emerged from long-standing situations which were thought to have been irreversible," said Talal.

Both the Jordanians and the Czechs, he said, are experiencing a period of transition as well as a sense of disorientation.

"Just as Czechs have felt nostalgia for the simplistic certainties of a bygone era, so have Jordanians lost the certainty of having an enemy, Israel, whom they could blame for all their problems," he said.

Jordan's treaty with Israel two years ago, he said, is part of what he described as a just and lasting peace in the region and represents in his words, "a reversal of the course of history."

"Jordanian and Czech basic philosophies and fundamental world views are largely shaped by their physical circumstances -- neither country is large in landmass or population, neither is a military power, both are at a crossroads, Jordan at the confluence of three continents, the Czech Republic in the center of Europe," he said.

Talal quoted from Czech emigre writer Milan Kundera's writings about the significance of the Vltava river for Czechs and compared this to the crucial importance of the Jordan river to his kingdom. He quoted from Havel about politics being the art of the impossible and he praised the Czech president for "restoring moral and spiritual values in the conduct of international affairs," adding "Jordan stands for the same values." He was just as effusive about Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus' transformation of the Czech economy from central planning to a free market.

Talal expressed admiration for Czechoslovakia's peaceful revolution that toppled communist power seven years ago. He said he has even greater admiration for, what he termed as, "the calm and dignified separation of the Czech and Slovak Republics four years ago," that, he said, exemplified the country's "cardinal principle of tolerance."

Such words of praise for the Czechs' mastery of their own transformation have rarely been made with such aplomb by a visiting foreign dignitary.

Crown Prince Talal says that the locations of the Czech Republic and Jordan have resulted in their playing an important role in the "unfolding of history... being small nations in the heart of volatile regions." He told his audience the Czech experience of "Munich, Yalta, and wars were not of your making but imported."

All of these commonalties led Talal to suggest that Jordan and the Czech Republic as small countries should be cooperating much more closely in the path of "terra medea" or the "the middle ground," taking advantage of unity in diversity and common aspirations for the future.

In perhaps the only potentially disconcerting note of the speech, Talal suggested that if the Dayton peace agreement can work for the whole of Yugoslavia why not engage in a similar dialogue and code of conduct for the whole Middle Eastern region, engaging in the "politics of the middle ground."

What Talal neglected to mention is that while Dayton has largely worked in the military sphere, in the civilian sphere it has failed live to up to its promises of reintegrating Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a veiled allusion to Bosnia, as well as to the Middle East, Talal concluded with a plea for the world to work against what he terms "Islamophobia." He railed against what he said are news media portrayals of Muslims as armed to the teeth. The Jordanian Crown Prince thanked Havel for his efforts at opposing "Islamophobia" in Europe and declared his support for all international initiatives against anti-Semitism.