Czech president’s position on Crimea reflects a dangerous trend

Political cartoon by Oleksiy Kustovsky

Political cartoon by Oleksiy Kustovsky 

Analysis & Opinion

Article by: Vitaly Portnikov

The proposal that Czech President Milos Zeman made to Russia about the need to “pay” Ukraine for the ” surrender ” of Crimea may appear to be simply an extravagant ploy that can be ignored. This would be true if only this statement had not been made from PACE’s rostrum and had not been so calmly greeted by many deputies who did not even attempt to challenge the Czech president.

Ukrainian representative Vladyslav Holub, who was not able to question Zeman, later wrote in social media that he wanted to draw parallels between the Sudetenland, annexed by Hitler, and the Crimea annexed by Putin. But the point is that prewar Czechoslovakia was forced to give up the Sudetenland for the same reasons that Zeman used to frighten his  listeners during his speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) — the need to avoid a major European war.

When Chamberlain and Daladier reached an agreement with Hitler, this fear of war was common — people had not yet forgotten the horrors of World War I. This is why it was important for Great Britain and France not only to satisfy the Fuhrer’s appetites but also to preserve the formal adherence to international law — in other words, to convince Czechoslovakia to recognize the annexation of the Sudetenland. Now history is being repeated.

The speech by Milos Zeman demonstrates that among the representatives of the Western elite there are not two but at least three ideas about Crimea’s future. There are those who are convinced that the Crimean issue is “closed,” that Crimea has become a “part” of Russia’s territory and that it is possible — even without agreeing with this fact from the point of view of international law — to avoid returning to this topic in the foreseeable future.

There are those who are convinced that Crimea is a part of Ukraine and that the main task of the West is to achieve respect for international law and to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty over the annexed peninsula.

But there are also others, like Zeman, who want Crimea to remain a “part” of Russian territory and for the law to be “upheld.” Supposedly “upheld.” In other words, for Ukraine itself to accept the fact of the annexation and the idea that Crimea is “Russian” and not Ukrainian territory. And this agreement can be exchanged for anything — for money, for energy, for the end of the Donbas war and complete restoration of territorial integrity on the mainland — in a word, for anything at all as long as the “law is restored.”

A dangerous trend

This is why Zeman’s position is not simply an extravagant ploy; it is a trend. Zeman has been called a European Zhirinovsky — probably because he says what many are thinking but are too embarrassed to say. And I have no doubt that over time the pressure on Ukraine to force it to sit at the negotiating table and acknowledge the fact of the “irreversibility of the seizure” of Crimea will only intensify.

What is the way out of this situation? In reality, there are several options for the development of events. The first one is for everyone to understand that it is impossible to postpone the Crimean issue indefinitely, to think that Crimea can be dealt with after the Donbas. Because, paradoxical as it may seem, in this case, the resolution of the Donbas issue may permanently close the Crimean issue. This is why it is necessary to speak about Crimea today and now.

And not only about the return of the territory, but also about the rights of the indigenous people of Crimea, about the repressions suffered by Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists of other nationalities. This is what needs to brought to the attention of those like Zeman. If Crimea is “simply” Russia, then why has a real occupational repressive regime been established there?

Crimea should become an important part of the political and legal daily agenda. It needs to be discussed with society — because if we ourselves are not interested in it then why do we need it? Wouldn’t it be easier really to give up the annexed territory?

One way or another, Zeman’s speech reflects a tendency in the politics of the West. The West is ready to assist Ukraine in returning the Donbas but, so far, it is not prepared to deal with Crimea. This is because the promise to retain the toothless personal sanctions imposed after the annexation reveals the readiness to forget rather than the desire to restore.

This is precisely why it is important not to pretend that there was no speech by Zeman and that he is simply a pro-Russian politician who can be ignored. It is important to realize that Zeman is not denying the annexation, as do many other friends of the Kremlin. He acknowledges the annexation. But he uses it to reach conclusions that are opposite of Ukraine’s. And this is very dangerous.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Radio Svoboda

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  • Quartermaster

    I guess the Czechs should return the Sudeten to Germany.

    • Eddy Verhaeghe

      What I find unbelievable is not what Zeman is saying. There always will be politicians like Chamberlain and Daladier, that fear war or are even part of a 5th column.
      What I don’t understand is that the Czech people of all people don’t remember their own history and aren’t protesting more loudly against their President.

      • veth

        The Russian government’s claims that the March 16 referendum in Crimea resulted in a 96.7% vote in favor of annexation were always extremely dubious. But now, as Paul Roderick Gregory of Forbes points out, a report by Russia’s official Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights suggests that the real numbers were far different from those previously claimed:

        The website of the “President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights” posted a blog that was quickly taken down as if it were toxic radioactive waste. According to the Council’s report about the March referendum to annex Crimea, the turnout was a maximum 30%. And of these, only half voted for annexation – meaning only 15 percent of Crimean citizens voted for annexation.

        The fate of Crimea, therefore, was decided by the 15 percent of Crimeans, who voted in favor of unification with Russia (under the watchful eye of Kalashnikov-toting soldiers).

        Although the report appears to be absent from the English-Language Council website linked by Forbes, it is still available at the Council’s Russian-language website

        • Nikoli

          How many voted who were on vacation in green uniforms with Russian passports?

      • Oknemfrod

        I suspect, though, that quite a few Czech people don’t quite agree with Zeman on quite a few issues – especially those concerning Russia – quite strongly.

        https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/17/czechs-pelt-president-milos-zeman-eggs-velvet-revolution-anniversary

        • Eddy Verhaeghe

          I’d love them to be much more vocal.

          • Oknemfrod

            Politically, the old drunk is dead meat, anyway. Come the Jan 18 election, he has no prayer at holding on to the presidency. And as for the Czechs being more vocal in response to his well-paid pro-putinoid escapades, methinks that the immediate repudiation of his verbal vomit by the Czech delegation itself speaks pretty darn loudly.

          • Ihor Dawydiak

            Let us clarify a few points in regards to the Czech President Milos Zeman and his support for the Putin regime; 1) The powers of the Czech President are mostly ceremonial or symbolic. 2) The Czech President has no direct say in the matter of foreign affairs. This power rests with the Czech Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs. 3) The Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, has been very clear in; a) His support for for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine, b) His opposition to the repressive nature of the Putin regime, c) His disgust with the statements made by Milos Zeman in regards to Ukraine, d) NOTE: Not that long ago, when representatives of the so called DPR tried to open a “Consulate” in the Czech Republic, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry protested. The Czech Government responded by closing down the “Consulate” and formally announced that they did not recognize the DPR and the LPR. 4) Therefore, what can we glean from this “tempest in a teapot”? Simply stated, Milos Zeman is nothing more than a toothless declawed tiger who can make a lot of noise but not much else and should be viewed in the same manner. However, he has proved to be an embarrassment for both the Czech Government and the people of the Czech Republic. As such, this individual (Zeman) has no shame.

          • Oknemfrod

            Concur. He’s just a dwarf’s lapdog licking his posterior for orts.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxJFnv9yaVw Simba Kijani

            This is mostly true but don’t forget that Sobotka is not currently very popular among the public and the next likely PM, Babiš, is more ideologically aligned with the likes of Zeman, Klaus, et al. Particularly with regard to Russian affairs. The political direction ČR is heading in right now does not bode well IMHO and euroscepticism is at the heart of it.

          • Ihor Dawydiak

            What you say may be true but we should not lose the sight of the fact that it is not at all uncommon for incumbent governments to have dips or even major dips in popularity when they are part way through their mandates. In addition, it should be pointed out that eurosceptics throughout Europe have also been known to make a substantial amount of noise but their propaganda has not necessarily produced positive results at the ballot box. The recent elections in France would be a classic example of their failure to be elected into power.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxJFnv9yaVw Simba Kijani

            I wish I shared your optimism but with some 70+% of the Czech public in favour of leaving the EU and similar numbers among other Višegrad countries, I see some dark clouds looming. The fact that they are the beneficiaries of many millions of euros annually seems not to register with the general public. Even Zeman acknowledges that a Czexit would be a mistake. The one saving grace is that thus far Brexit has more or less been a catastrophe…

          • Mephisto

            I am certain that 1) there will be no referendum about leaving EU 2) even if there was such a referendum, people would vote stay. The Kremlin sponsored political parties who want to leave the EU are really marginal in the Czech Republic – maybe 10% of votes total.

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxJFnv9yaVw Simba Kijani

            I may have gotten my numbers mixed up on the percentage supporting EU withdrawal, but it has been high in a number of polls. Whether there will end up being a referendum or not remains to be seen. I think Brexit is making politicians think twice about it for now so not anytime soon. Babiš however is a bit of a wild card. No, he’s not in favour of Czexit but at the same time he continues to fan the eurosceptic flames.

          • Ihor Dawydiak

            Actually, they are but much of the opposition to Zeman has been under reported in the international mass media.

      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxJFnv9yaVw Simba Kijani

        You have to understand how deeply inculcated a sizable percentage of the Czech public is with eurosceptic and pro-Russian ideas which are widely propagated through media monopolies and ‘fake news’ crap spread on social media. I’m not joking about that.

        There is a heavy strain of reactionary thinking that has been on the ascendant in recent times. Zeman’s popularity has actually gone up recently and the likely next PM is of a similar ilk, not quite far-right but certainly dabbling in those areas (think Trump/Putin).

        The part I cannot understand is that the country is doing better than it ever has right now. Lowest unemployment in the EU, steadily growing economy with solid prospects, improving healthcare system and infrastructure. And yet, the perennially dissatisfied Czechs continue to grumble and nitpick the Social Democrats who have presided over this era of prosperity.

        To be fair, corruption has continued to be a problem across the political spectrum and this instills low trust in politicians among the public in general. However, it seems pretty clear to me things are in much better shape than they were under the disastrous former government (‘Civic Democrats’).

        • Mephisto

          I do not find it that surprising. In every society there are stupid people. Stupidity largely overlaps with conservatism (patriotic values). The Russians have been subverting the Czech pupulation since the 1990’s and they very well know how to do it. Before Zeman, we had Václav Klaus. That was an ever worse Russian asshole than Zeman. Both of them are, no doubt, KGB agents, coming from the same Prognostic Institute founded by Andropov. These two very vocal presidents + massive infiltration of puplic space and media with anti-EU sentiments by Russian trolls. And half of the population is brainwashed. But it is not only in the Czech republic. In the USA, Trump was elected by the same kind of stupid people being brainwashed by the very same KGB subversion tactics. The same happened during brexit. The whole US and EU are under attack from Putin, and this attack (“active measures”) has been in planning and execution since the early 2000’s
          http://www.politico.eu/article/russia-plot-against-the-west-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-europe/
          and the average Czech citizen is too stupid to see through this and the avarage Czech politician is too corrupt to do anything about it (he likes russian money). But again, the same happened in the US. Were it not for the total corruption of the Republican party, Trump would not happen.

  • veth

    Old Communist.

  • zorbatheturk

    Cancel this Czech at once.

  • Screwdriver

    Ukraine should be very happy to endorse that idea, otherwise they simply get NOTHING.

  • veth
  • Mephisto

    I am Czech. I do not even feel the need to appologize for this moron. Zeman is a Putin puppet. Everyone knows that. He just repeats instructions from Kremlin. His position is not an official position of the Czech government, but unfortunately Zeman was elected to be president in a direct vote. Everybody just waits till he dies, his health looks really bad. And he is definitely not the only Kremlin puppet is the world.

  • http://www.rferl.org/content/crimea-independence-declaration-russia-annexation-referendum/25299518.html treepot

    What favors does expect from Putin? Merkel object to admitting Ukrsine to NATO, because she expected lower prices on gas from Putin, but is Czech president epresident expect?