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Former Czech Foreign Minister Talks About Missile Defense, Belarus, And Russia

Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg
Former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg
RFE/RL's Belarus Service sat down for a wide-ranging interview this week with former Czech Foreign Minister (2007-09) and current Senator Karel Schwarzenberg. In July 2008, Schwarzenberg was his country's signatory to a bilateral agreement with the United States on U.S. missile-defense plans that included the placement on Czech territory of a radar base. So RFE/RL's Alexander Lukashuk and Jan Maksymiuk asked him about the recent U.S. decision to drastically reform the previous administration's plans for a missile-defense shield in Central Europe, as well as about relations with nearby Belarus and other politically slippery issues.

RFE/RL: Don't you think it was ironic that you -- in all your capacities and with your biography -- delivered such an invitation to Minsk?

Schwarzenberg: You see, a minister of Foreign Affairs has to meet everybody. He is like a priest, who can't exclude the sinners. Even sometimes it is my main job to speak with the sinners, like for the priests, too. So it was not an irony. It was quite funny, quite amusing for me; but it's a natural part of the life of a minister of Foreign Affairs.

RFE/RL: You were possibly the first European politician to voice a very important condition for the normalization of ties between [Belarus] and Brussels. You said that if Belarus recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, she would be outside the European context. But as matters look now, the main reasons for Belarus being in the [EU's Eastern Partnership] are just geopolitical reasons, not human rights and so on, don't you think so?

Schwarzenberg: Well, all this is together. I mean, of course, we tried to attract [Belarus] to Europe so that it is not dependent only on Russia, but so that it can keep an independent position. Of can never be a member of a European Union, or even a close friend, if you don't respect human rights. But, of course, sometimes the policy must start and we see what the result will be.

RFE/RL: Mr. Schwarzenberg, we still need to talk about the results, not about human rights results, but, say, geopolitical results. Now, [as] we talk, there are the biggest Russian-Belarusian military maneuvers taking place. So Russia's militaries are even closer to Europe. [Belarus] is closer to Russia than it was four months ago, and of course there was criticism of this step from the side of the Belarusian opposition that it will only enhance Lukashenka's power. What can you say now, when you are not a [foreign] minister anymore and you don't have to be diplomatic.

Schwarzenberg: Well, I never doubted the fact that Alyaksandr Lukashenka tries to balance two influences. Then, of course, when he did a step [toward] the West, entering the Eastern Partnership, of course you need a step to balance it on the East with the military maneuvers. I never thought or said that Lukashenka will turn into perfect, purely pro-Western member of NATO and...democratic president of Belarus.

He is a very sure politician, and tries as far as he can to keep his independence; and he also tries to keep some balances in influences in [Belarus], not to annoy anybody too much. I mean you have to...for the moment he is the "Chief of Belarus" and we have to take him like that. It was introduced some decades ago.

When World War II was...between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had powers, there was a country with a big question mark, which was Spain with a very unpleasant dictator: Mr. [Francisco] Franco, who was a sure politician too. And as you well know, when the World War II started, Mr. [Adolf] Hitler expected that he would be allied against the Western powers -- he was much [too] intelligent for it, and kept careful balance during the whole war, supplying both sides and therefore creating some economic future for Spain. I mean, you have politicians who don't share your ideas, who have very different ideas, with whom you work together to maybe have less danger in world. That's all.

RFE/RL: What is for you "moral politics"?

Schwarzenberg: "Moral politics" is if, in your aims, you are clear in a sense of a "moral code" and if the means you use are still compatible with moral principles. It doesn't mean that you meet only decent people. You don't meet only decent people in your private life, nor as a rule, in your business life, and you don't meet only wonderful people in politics.

You have all kinds of people in policy to deal with and [that] belongs to the job, as I told you, of the minister of Foreign Affairs -- to speak with nearly everybody and to try to find what arrangements and what possibilities [exist]. And still if we can prevent things develop[ing] to the worst, and if we still can help to keep the country independent, then I think it is a very "moral policy."

Missile Defense

RFE/RL: Now for perhaps the most important question in world politics these days: U.S. President Barack Obama took a decision to cancel plans to create an anti-missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. As a foreign did a lot just to make this plan happen. What is your reaction to President Obama's decision? Do you agree with the view expressed by some that in scrapping the plan, the U.S. sold out Eastern Europe to Russia? In your opinion, has this question compromised the Czech Republic's security -- if not in technical and military sphere then at least in the psychological sphere?

Schwarzenberg: Well, I wouldn't use such stern words; I think it's a bit too much.

But I have always expected each American president to make politics, first of all, according to the interests of the United States. And evidently the present administration is convinced that by making this very important concession, they could secure some help of Russia in the Iranian affair. They say that is one of the main reasons which, I mean, is the decision of American foreign policy, and of the present administration; and we basically have to accept it was an American radar which should have been placed on Czech soil -- yes, inside the NATO alliance. But it was still an American radar.

Of course it's up to them to decide where to place it. But we shouldn't forget that we are still members of NATO, the European Union, so I don't think our security is so much endangered. It would have been, of course, for many reasons good if there would be some American presence in our area too. That, for the moment, is finished.

We will see what will happen in five or 10 years, what the world will bring to us. For the moment ,I am sure that in a serious crisis, the Americans will be reliable allies, but of course it has put us in a bit of an unquiet position. We, the president, the government [inaudible] as a foreign minister; it was difficult to get the whole thing through. For the moment, Americans can't help it.

But I don't think it is a sellout of Eastern Europe. But definitely it shows that American political priorities are somewhere else now. They are more in the Middle East, more in Iran, and, of course, [in] the Iranian [Persian] Gulf. That is now their main point of interest. And evidently...the American administration would prefer to have, let's say, half-as-good relations with Russia, because of course they have some or many problems which they should solve together. So they made this step, we have to live with it. Life is life, and politics is politics.

Aristocracy And Moldova's Future

RFE/RL: Our listeners are rather not used to seeing foreign ministers who are aristocrats, who have the title of prince and possess vast land and property, castles and palaces. So [a question from an RFE/RL listener] concerns these. So do you possess any lands or castles in the Czech Republic or elsewhere? And incidentally, does the Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague belong to you or your family?

Schwarzenberg: No, the huge Schwarzenberg Palace in Prague belonged to our family; then [around 1940] the Germans confiscated it with the whole huge property back then. One of our elder branches of our family. The Czechoslovak Republic after WWII were already Communist in huge influence [and] made a special law, which is quite exceptional because it was directed against one person. The first [paragraph] of this law says any property in the Czechoslovak Republic of Adolf Schwarzenberg is expropriated. Well, since then we don't dispose this castle.

But besides that what I got back was the property of my father. Lamentably, some castles on it -- and there are very nice properties, but the best part of it I gave already to my son, so he [looks after] it now.

RFE/RL: [Our Moldovan Service] wants to know your view on whether a country like Moldova can get closer to the European Union through the Eastern Partnership program. The major concern is that there are six countries, and will the European Union, in your view, have enough power to support Moldovan integration with Europe.

Schwarzenberg: That depends to a high degree on the development of Moldova. How the conditions in that country develop. How democracy, freedom, rule of law, and human rights will develop in Moldova itself. And of course when there is no problem of Transdniester, which isn't yet solved. The European Union doesn't like to have countries which have unsolved financial problems. So these two problems still exist.

I hope much further -- for the Moldovan population -- that the rule of law and democracy develop within the next years. And the more it develops, the greater chance that Moldova will get closer to the European and will get more support from the European Union, too. Of course, it will probably become a formal member when the Transdniestrian problem is somehow solved.

Eastern Security

RFE/RL: A question from our Ukrainian Service: Ukrainian intellectuals and politicians, including ex-President Leonid Kravchuk, warn the West of a rising Russian threat. They call on Western leaders to hold an international conference to provide guarantees for Ukrainian security. Do you support this proposal?

Schwarzenberg: I don't know, somebody would have to explain to me how a conference could provide security guarantees for Ukraine.

I do think...that the greatest danger for Ukrainian security is the fact that the political will of the nation is so split. If the political parties in the Ukraine would be more cooperating, more capable of making a compromise -- an arrangement -- and if Ukraine could present itself as a united country, behind the government, the president, the leadership of the country, then of course I think the greatest danger for Ukraine would be to belong to the past.

We can support Ukraine, but we -- [and] first of all, the Ukrainians themselves -- must solve this problem. Nobody who is not able to manage his own country can expect that anybody else will do the work for him. And of course if there were a united Ukraine which developed a healthy political life, then I do think it would get much more support and I do think anybody who would be interested in treating the country or having decisive influence on the country would have much more difficult job to tackle.

But you can't have them between themselves. If [there is an] enemy of the country, the job is much easier. But as we know, that was already the problem of Ukraine in the past centuries: necessary unity.

RFE/RL: So the first job must be done by the Ukrainians. But is there something specific that Europe -- or, more specifically, the Czech Republic -- can do to encourage Ukraine?

Schwarzenberg: We can, of course, help them in many questions of the development of the Ukraine -- technical, scientific, economic -- there's a lot that can be done by Ukraine. We can, of course, [do] much less.... Then, of course, you can get the diplomatic help too.... But, first of all, we must know what is the point of view of Ukraine.

RFE/RL: How do you view relations between NATO and Ukraine? Do you think there is a chance for Ukraine to become part of NATO?

Schwarzenberg: For the moment, I don't think it will happen. There was a certain chance some time ago, as you will remember, but that was missed.

The world has slightly changed [since then]. In the present political situation, I don't see great chances for Ukraine to become a member of NATO....

One of the valid arguments against the acceptance of Ukraine into NATO was that it's not clear if the Ukraine itself wish to become members of NATO. If they were more clear -- the population and the political class in the Ukraine,... then, as it was in Poland, Czech Republic, or Hungary when they became members of NATO, then it [would] be much easier. But of course all these people who were skeptical about the membership of Ukraine in the NATO could always say, "But look at them, they don't know themselves what they wish."

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