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Czech Leader Draws Fire Over Pussy Riot, Dalai Lama Remarks


Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas

Embattled Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas has ignited a firestorm with remarks belittling "Dalai Lama-ism" and Russian anti-Kremlin critics Pussy Riot and suggesting that principled stands in foreign policy create "artificial problems."

He warned that "fashionable political manifestations" threaten Czech exports.

"I am convinced that we shouldn't trip ourselves up with these artificial problems, because among other things it's not in our economic interest," Necas told attendees at a major engineering trade fair in Brno on September 10, according to an excerpt provided by "Hospodarske noviny."

He described "the artificial and false adoration of matters such as the Russian group Pussy Riot, something that is the height of tawdriness [and] in no way anything that symbolizes freedom and democracy....I would cite a second concrete case, and that's the modern political fashion of Dalai Lama-ism; that is, the invocation of the Dalai Lama."

The remarks bring to mind the public battles in the 1990s that pitted internationally respected rights champion Vaclav Havel against his eventual successor as Czech president, the self-described Thatcherite Vaclav Klaus.

As a fixture of Czech politics over the past two decades, Klaus has waged famous battles on behalf of the kind of economically driven decision-making at the heart of Necas's comments.

He chided Havel for inviting novelist Salman Rushdie to Prague after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa urging followers to kill him for his book, "Satanic Verses." He discouraged visits by the Dalai Lama to avoid provoking Beijing. And he suggested the presence of RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague risked harming trade with Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Against the backdrop of Klaus's record and challenges within his own party, Necas's comments about Pussy Riot and the Dalai Lama look to some like an effort to save his political skin.

Klaus still holds considerable sway within the ruling Civic Democratic Party, where a power struggle looms, and is said to be in a spat with Necas over a tax-reform battle.

"Respekt" columnist Jan Machacek accuses Necas of either seeking political favor in the tradition of "careerists entering the Communist Party during the period of 'normalization'" -- when Czechoslovakia was being brought to heel by the Soviet Union after the so-called Prague Spring -- or of attacking "the Havel tradition and principles of Czech foreign policy."

In "Mlada fronta Dnes," deputy editor Michal Musil lambastes Necas for "crossing the line."

I'm not among those who think that it's possible to implement liberal democracy in communist China or Putin's authoritarian Russia quickly, immediately, and without complications. In fact, in some way I understand that Western politicians are dancing an odd dance with those countries because their citizens are dependent on economic cooperation with them...

In reality, the verdict against Pussy Riot symbolizes a lack of freedom and democracy in today's Russia....[A]gitation in a church rubs many people the wrong way, but [is it worth] the detained women getting two years of jail time? Does Petr Necas really think that they would have received such a stiff punishment if the group's actions weren't clearly targeting Russian authoritarian President [Vladimir] Putin?

What Necas did could be compared with the German chancellor in the 1970s saying that the Plastic People of the Universe is a tawdry group and that support for it destroys developing economic ties with communist Czechoslovakia. All those dissidents who would not have been huge fans of their music even though they were part of the underground still supported the group because they considered their arrests an attack on civic freedom.

Meanwhile, the rights-and-democracy foundation that Vaclav Havel helped found, Forum 2000, issued a statement about Necas's remarks on September 11 from its executive director, Jakub Klepal, who said:

"A consistent policy of support for democracy and respect for human rights has been a distinctive and admirable constant of Czech foreign policy in the post-Velvet Revolution period. From our own history, we know that support from abroad for dissidents and human rights activists, including groups like Pussy Riot, is of key importance and, by contrast, how giving in to various authoritarians, albeit often very justified rationally, does not pay. It would be a pity if the government of the democratic and free Czech Republic now decided to change this principled position."

-- Andy Heil

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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