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HN: Zeman wasted chance to support Czech-French relations

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Prague, July 24 (CTK) – President Milos Zeman has wasted a chance to support Czech-French relations and instead he has harmed them by his provocations, Martin Michelot, researcher of The German Marshall Fund of the United States, wrote in Friday’s Hospodarske noviny.

The experience from last week shows how complex and non-transparent Czech politics is, he adds.

He recalls that Zeman unveiled a bust of former French president Francois Mitterrand (1916-1996) in Prague centre, in the gardens below Prague Castle, the presidential seat, on July 13 and France celebrated a national holiday a day later, so he had a great opportunity to lay new grounds of Czech-French relations.

Instead of it, Zeman provoked further disputes and controversies when he pointed out the differences between his own and France’s views of the challenges Europe is facing, Michelot writes.

During the unveiling of the bust, Zeman said “the time may come when we will have to call up its military to protect our border” against migrants and that Czechs would have to distinguish between Ukrainian immigrants “who are culturally close to us, who are ready to work, not only to live on welfare” and those coming from Africa and the Middle East.

The words by Zeman are not very surprising. However, the fact that he pronounced them when paying homage to Mitterrand, who did much more to improve conditions and rights of legal immigrants in France than any other president and who was the first west European head of state to meet Czechoslovak dissidents in 1988, raises doubts whether Zeman can understand French history and its traditions of accepting immigrants, Michelot points out.

To use the memory of Mitterrand for releasing such controversial messages on immigrants harms Czech-French relations seriously and it plays down the joint history of relations not only between these two countries, but also between what seems to be the biggest source of Zeman’s contempt – left-wing and socialist politicians in Europe, Michelot writes.

He adds that Zeman was also invited to the French embassy on July 14 to take part in the celebrations of the Czech-French friendship, but instead he decided to utter provocative statements.

He said the embassy should have been decorated with a bust of General Charles de Gaulle and explained why he considered him a better statesman than Mitterrand.

Zeman also expressed his contempt for French Prime Minister Eduard Daladier who signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, along with his British, Italian and German counterparts, under which Czechoslovakia had to cede its border regions to Nazi Germany. Zeman compared Daladier’s cowardly yielding to Nazi Germany to general behaviour of European leaders in the fight against Islamic state, Michelot writes.

He says Zeman’s comparison presents a dangerous and distorted view of history that might deepen the isolationism of the Czech Republic from global developments.

Michelot recalls that exactly 100 years ago, the Czechoslovak units were fighting in northern France and suffered big losses. Their fight is one of the strongest pieces of evidence to prove Czechoslovak-French friendship and joint history of these countries.

As the opinions of France and the Czech Republic (successor state to Czechoslovakia) about the topics fundamental for the EU unity, such as support for Greece and problems with the admission of politically and economically motivated asylum seekers, seem to become more and more different, bilateral discussions must continue to limit the consequences caused by Zeman’s words. Only such steps can help calm down a political dialogue about these problems, Michelot writes in conclusion.

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