Activist support for Israel, criticism of the UN, plus cutting aid to Africa and underestimating diplomatic contacts. According to foreign policy experts, a cocktail of mistakes by the Czech government may be behind the cancelled visit to Nigeria by Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS). It may backfire on the Czech Republic, unsettle businessmen and thwart its plan to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Czech Republic is running for non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council in 2032 and 2033, with the election to be held in 2031.
“The Czech Republic will need the support of African countries,” warned former Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (SOCDEM). Nigeria has a significant influence on the UN vote,” he believes.
Former foreign minister and diplomat Cyril Svoboda (KDU-ČSL) agrees. “Everything should be done to mend relations. The cancellation of the prime minister’s visit to the country’s borders is an absolutely unusual step. Efforts must be made with neighbouring states to resolve this and the visit should be implemented perhaps at another time,” he commented.
The Czech Republic will face competition for the position of a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. “We need the support of a majority of states. Of course, those who will compete with us will point out that they would never behave like us,” Svoboda believes.
He sees the cancellation of Fiala’s visit by Nigeria as a clear reaction to the activist policies of Defence Minister Jana Černochová (ODS), who marched in a pro-Israel demonstration draped in the Israeli flag or called for leaving the UN over a resolution she did not find sufficiently pro-Israel. “No other foreign minister does that,” Svoboda pointed out.
Petříček agrees. “It is right that we identify who the attacker is and that Israel has the right to defend itself. But some specific speeches by ministers do not serve Czech interests. Unfortunately, our politics sometimes tends to take place on social media. We forget that our foreign partners are also watching. This has some consequences,” the former foreign minister warned.
We want oil from Nigeria, businessmen are also intrested
According to Tomas Prouza, president of the Union of Trade and Tourism, the cancelled visit of the prime minister to Nigeria will not have an impact on Czech entrepreneurs. “Nigeria is a complicated country, but it is not Chinese state dirigisme, where the government would tell companies who they can and cannot work with. There they know how to separate the business and political levels,” he told Právo.
He said he was surprised in the past how many Czech entrepreneurs are successful in Africa. For Czechs, it is a closer market than, for example, Latin America. He therefore believes that politicians should also pay more attention to Czech-African and Czech-Nigerian relations. In his opinion, the Czech state has been a failure in development aid for a long time. “Even comparatively rich countries like us do much more than the Czech Republic,” Prouza noted.
Svoboda sees oil as the main Czech interest in Nigeria. “The supply of gas and oil from Russia has stopped and we are looking for alternative sources. We have two cancelled visits in the short term: Mr Sikely to Saudi Arabia and the prime minister to Nigeria. Czech foreign policy must reflect on this,” he said.
Benesik: The ministry did not assess this correctly
Politicians agree that the main motive for the cancellation is the Czech Republic’s attitude towards Israel. According to Petříček, the fact that the Finance Ministry did not approve the Czech diplomatic request for projects in Africa for the years 2023 to 2025 and gave a net zero shows what “priority” we give to African countries. However, according to MP Ondřej Benešík (KDU-ČSL), this did not play a big role.
“The fact that such an important visit is cancelled at the last minute does not testify to the quality and ability of the Foreign Ministry to predict. If it had happened in a matter of days or weeks, it would be understandable. Such a visit is prepared for a long time. But to cancel it a day in advance? There must have been some communication noise,” he said.
Marek Ženíšek (TOP 09), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the only one who does not see the cancellation of the visit to Nigeria as significant. I remember President Zeman’s cancelled trip to Mexico a few days before,” he wrote to Právo.
He said he had no idea what the reason for Nigeria was. “But I think that those who, based on the little they know, write about what a slap in the face it was for supporting Israel, actually wish they had,” he wrote to Právo.
“If that was the main reason, then that’s a shame. Surely the prime minister would have adequately explained to the other side that our support for Israel is not anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian,” he added.
Svoboda, on the other hand, said it was an important matter. “It is unprecedented. I don’t remember a prime minister’s trip being cancelled like this in the history of the Czech Republic,” he noted.