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Kolář: Visas were the last relic of Cold War

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Czech Ambassador to the US, Petr Kolář, considers the lifting of the visa requirement to be the last symbolic brick removed from the Iron Curtain. In the past three years, Kolář was present at a decisive part of the diplomatic process when it was necessary to persuade the US administration and the Congress. He attended the arrival of first “non-visa” Czech citizens into the US yesterday.

Problems are unlikely to occur at the big international airports in New York and Washington, but what about inland airports?

We cannot guarantee that there will be no troubles. Just take the size of travel space and the number of tourists into account. People who have travelled in the US know that there is no certainty everything everywhere will go smoothly. We are trying to explain that even those who have valid visa should also try the ESTA authorisation; it is more secure.

And what about the final possible element in the filter, the immigration officer?

As Madeleine Albright put it, the difference lies between what is disagreeable and what is offensive. The process is disagreeable because those flying in need to undergo certain unpleasantries, take off their shoes, their belt, have their perfume separate from their toothpaste.

The visa waiver programme is not permanent, the US will constantly check whether their requirements are being met. Argentina has already been eliminated. What conditions do we need to follow?

The first thing is that we should not surpass the percentage of those rejected. They also check whether people do not exceed the 90 day limit of stay. I don’t think Czech people are too keen on emigrating.

Local opponents of the waiver programme use the threat of the influx of economical immigrants as an argument against it.

And I have always argued that even if all the Czechs moved in, a new Chicago would appear and that would be no tragedy for the US.

Could you tell us, in retrospect, what was the most difficult in the process of lifting the visa?

To persuade the US administration that it is not some consular thing but a real political problem, with a negative political and psychological impact.

And why did it take so long?

At first it was not out priority as we were trying to enter NATO and the EU. The EU membership was the turning point and then the visa was the last relic of the Cold War. The dynamics of the issue changed, it turned into a political topic. We had to turn it into a pressure issue in our foreign politics.

Against the congress?

And against the EU at one point, when they thought we should not negotiate with the US but should leave it to the union. Paradoxically, they used the need of solidarity as their argument, which I found funny since those who have something should usually show solidarity with those who do not have it.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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