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Watch out for Russia, writes Havel

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The Czech Republic, supported by Václav Havel, had a bold, visionary plan for the “celebrated” EU summit with Obama last weekend. Just like during the old times of dissent. Twenty years after the Iron Curtain fell, they wanted to declare a symbolic statement in support of human rights in Prague, in which Havel would highlight the necessity to keep an eye on states like Russia and China.

The statement, however, did not make it to EU officials and Obama and instead ended up in the pocket of the outgoing Deputy PM for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra.

Among the alleged reasons is that the weakened resigning Czech government had no courage and power to convince their political counterparts to give consent with the sharp words aimed at Moscow and others, which in Brussels are typically very difficult to push through. So the nice plan did not come to existence.

“The EU and the US are prepared to closely watch the situation in China, not only in relation to Tibet, in Russian federation, in Belarus, in Burma, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and other countries, where many open-minded and honest people suffer for their opinion,” wrote Havel on order of the Czech EU presidency.

Friends from dissent
It was certainly not incidental that Havel wrote the letter on order of the current government – one of the main “directors” of the Czech EU leadership, at least he was before the no confidence vote, was the ex-president’s good friend from dissent and his then colleague Vondra.

Havel also emphasised in the declaration that the EU and the US should avoid becoming apathetic. “Being apathetic is something the EU and the US strictly refuse, as they have learnt in the course of modern history that apathy and appeasement are the best way to allow the victory of evil,” the letter states. HN did not get the latest comments of Václav Havel, but former president’s secretary, Martin Vidlák, confirmed the existence of the document for the EU-USA summit, which was made available to HN.

Vondra said this cooperation between Havel and the EU, regarding human rights, has a long history and the attempt to bring it back to life during the Czech EU presidency was just to further expand an old idea, which originally came from the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. That was to have Havel, the symbol of striving for democracy and human rights around the world and a highly respected figure in the EU, to draw guidelines for human rights observance and monitoring, which the EU would follow.

EU failing to reach unity
But the idea failed. Perhaps because the EU’s 27 member states would hardly agree on such document. So the Czechs decided to give it another try while holding the presidency. The Czech Republic has long been considered the human rights watchdog and the topic has become a strong motif of the resigning government of the ODS conservative members. But Russia remains a hard nut to break for the EU and that became clear during the Georgia conflict last summer. Majority of the EU leaders do not want to provoke Moscow too much because of their economic relations.

“I asked Václav Havel if he could revive the declaration, write it down. I put it through a test in the White House but it turned out that it would have to pass the Congress. Moreover, there is not much a resigning government could do,” said deputy PM Vondra.

The original plan was to submit the declaration to EU officials at the last minute, at the end of the Prague summit, making it difficult for them to step back in the country famous for its Velvet Revolution. But the government had no courage for this partisan move.

Havel’s thoughts got to be heard at the EU-USA summit anyways. The person who listened to them in a bilateral discussion, with wide media coverage, was President Obama.

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