Czech Republic: Let’s get the West and the East talking

Co-Authors: Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova & Dr Zuzana Palovic

The Voices of the East: Perspectives in a Divided Europe? Series Part #2

The Voices of the East: Czech Republic in focus
The Voices of the East: Czech Republic in focus

Interview with His Excellency Mr Libor Sečka

As the Czech Republic gears towards the centenary celebration of its modern statehood, sown in the ashes of the collapse of Austro-Hungarian Empire, the nation and its leaders set their eyes upon a changing geopolitical horizon. The departure of the United Kingdom promises political and economic challenges for the country, the region, Europe and the world.

With the memories of the Nazi takeover of the Czech lands following the Munich Agreement in 1938, known by Czechs as the ‘Munich Betrayal’ and the Russian-led Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia 30 years later in the summer of 1968, the country is dedicated to maintaining balance and peace at home and in Europe.

His Excellency Mr Libor Sečka firmly believes that the turmoil of the last few years is not a time for appeasement solutions, but for constructive dialogue and observation of the principles that bind the European family together. Russia is not to be isolated, ignored or feared, but rather engaged in a productive dialogue. A changing Europe necessitates this concession.

The Czech Republic may be a modern state, but it is a much older nation with a rich heritage passed down for centuries. It offers the world cutting edge technological skills, advanced healthcare infrastructure, and rich cultural heritage that is still being explored. Its capital city Prague, holds an accolade of titles, in addition to being one of Europe’s most astounding musical capitals. The Czech people take great pride in their country and live life with a certain savoir vivre that titters between remarkable pragmatisms and a bohemian finesse.

The Czechs, along with their Visegrad neighbours, have the potential to step up into a leadership role as pan-European dialogue facilitators. They recognize that there are many useful lessons they can draw from their past, build on the lessons learned from overcome hardships that are relevant for the Europe of today. Mr Sečka talks about the challenges of the past and those that lay ahead for the Czech Republic, Europe and the world.

WW1 directly contributed to the collapse of three Empires

In 2018, we will commemorate not only the fall Austria-Hungary, but also the Russian and German empires. Only the United Kingdom survived the war, because it proved able to adapt and change itself. Austria-Hungary came to a fork in the road and change became necessary for survival. The nations that made up the multi-ethnic empire were not able to develop freely and therefore use all their potential. The lack of capacity to transform was one of the many reasons why Austria-Hungary disintegrated. My country was born out of the collapse of the monarchy to become a member of the European Union in 2004.

The Czech Republic has transitioned from one union to another

Trying to look back at history, it is not always easy to draw direct lessons for the EU today. The unions back then were based on very different principles. Today we live in a much more developed and democratic society. The European Union has everything the Czech Republic thought it was lacking in Austria-Hungary. We have freedom. We can actuate our ideas. We can now develop freely and create our own society. We can now use the potential not only of our country and society, but that of the whole European family union.

The EU gives us a sense of security

A united Europe is much more useful and effective for us. I think there is not a single country that would want to leave the EU, apart from the United Kingdom simply because there really is no sense for this. The EU benefits everyone, because it serves our peaceful development. Even though there are discussion in my country, there are no serious thoughts about leaving the EU. There are many problems, such as bureaucracy and democratic deficits, that still need to be addressed. However, the situation is much better now for us and others than it could be in a different arrangement without the EU.

The world has to face the negative consequences of Brexit

I spent 6 years in China before I came to London which gave me the opportunity to see Europe from a different perspective. Even before Brexit, the role of Europe in the world was diminishing demographically, politically, economically, technologically and militarily. Brexit fragments the European Union further. This means that we will be less effective at withstanding the pressures that are already under way. But, the Czech Republic is already looking to the future.

Visegrad-4 is not an institution, it is a platform

We appreciate the V4 very much. It allows us to have stronger voice on key political and economic issues with our neighbours. Migration is one of the issues on which we cooperate with Hungary and Slovakia especially. Currently, we are focusing on the formation of a European Union frontier force. This is a special force that will protect the external borders of the Union. However, it is important to stress that the V4 is not a homogenous union. There are issues on which we differ, such as Russia.

Russia broke a European principle, but we still need to maintain a dialogue

European cooperation is based on one strong premise and mutual understanding. That is that borders of its states will not be changed. With their activities in Crimea, Russia changed the borders. They broke this principle. Therefore, the Czech government supports sanctions against Russia. Although the Czech Republic feels it is unacceptable to change borders in Europe, we acknowledge the importance of having a constructive dialogue with Russia. This is critical to peaceful development in Europe and the world.

We believe the V4 can facilitate a dialogue between the East and the West

But, to do this, it is vital to be part of the European family. Our role could be that of a mediator or door opener. Visegrad countries can open minds and facilitate the exchanges of views. Together, we can try to create a better mood and more stable future for the continent.

Mr Sečka completed his university education at the Moscow Institute of International Affairs prior to embarking on a career in the diplomatic service of the Czech Republic. His path began with the post of the First Secretary of the then Czechoslovakia to Spain and an array of positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. This is where Mr Sečka became actively engaged in the accession process of the Czech Republic to the EU as a member of its Delegation for Negotiations.

1999 marked an important year for Mr Sečka with the first Ambassador post in Mexico. Since then, he led Czech diplomatic missions in the EU, Italy and China. His time in the Far East opened up new and different perspectives and understandings on Europe and the world before arriving in the UK. These valuable insights underpin his unique and broad understanding of global contexts and international diplomacy.

<u>Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova CEE and Corruption Expert</u>
Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova CEE and Corruption Expert
<u>Dr Zuzana Palovic CEE and Migration Expert</u>
Dr Zuzana Palovic CEE and Migration Expert
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