September 3, 2010

Address delivered by the President of the Czech Republic to the Czech Ambassadors

English Pages, 1. 9. 2010

Dear Ambassadors,

I would like to extend my greetings to you, as I do every year at the turn of August and September, and I would like to discuss our foreign policy and tasks that follow from it. When the government was appointed in July this year, I said among other things the following: “I would appreciate if this government was strong externally, if it was able to speak out abroad and protect the interests of our citizens. It is our voters who gave this government its mandate, not its future partners abroad.” I would like to expand and explain my words at least a bit, as they are not self-evident. Definitely not in our country.

Government policy statement presented in the Chamber of Deputies three weeks ago contained a sentence that “the government shall strive for a responsible foreign policy based on continuity and broadest possible domestic political consensus”. Both are greatly needed.

I know very well that I am not addressing politicians, but quite stable professional corps of our top diplomats; however, if diplomacy is not meant to be a mere routine of safeguarding elementary functioning of mutual relations between two countries, then awareness of a broader context is absolutely essential. We must know and respect the basic contours of our foreign policy. It is in no way inferior to domestic policy and its absence would result in either a lack of concept, short-sighted pragmatism in activities abroad or pure passivity. We surely want none of this.

Likewise, it would be wrong for us to take the approach we became known for in our unfree past and believe that the best way to safeguard our country a good and favourable position in the world is blind obedience, conformism and endless loyalty towards all steps, policies and initiatives taken by our allies, or by those whom we see as allies, without ever asking the question to what extent advocating their policies is beneficial for our country. This approach still has numerous supporters in our country. They are referring to universal values, globalisation or progressing Europeanisation, but in reality, it means to give up on foreign policy and on promoting our authentic interests.

Moreover, some of our politicians, diplomats and journalists still have a fairly naive belief that our allies will appreciate such blind loyalty, that we are automatically building above-standard relations with them (outreaching the real importance of our country) and we are gaining outstanding security guarantees or economic and political benefits thanks to that. The experience from the past twenty years  but also from a more distant past shows that just like anywhere else, nothing is for free in international relations. Everything has its price. It is not worthwhile to rely on the gratefulness of others.

We also have to avoid the opposite extreme in foreign policy, namely unrealistically overestimating our possibilities or a notion that thanks to a certain exceptionality of ours we can succeed where the world powers and international communities have so far failed and that our own original initiatives can solve old critical issues in today’s world. This is not the way towards building international respect for our country either.
Recently, for some of our politicians and journalists our national interest has been narrowed to just one, nearly paranoid attitude, entirely stuck in the past, according to which Russia is still a major threat for us regardless of the changes that have taken place and are still taking place in that country. All events in politics and economy in Europe and around the world are then looked at through the prism of fear of Russia. All the remaining threats are played down. Perhaps this approach is authentic for some people, but in a number of cases it is pragmatic and motivated by clear domestic political calculations.

This trivialised and manipulative notion of our national interests must be rejected. Not because we would like to have the influence of Moscow renewed in our country, not because we would be in favour of strengthening our dependence on Russia in such vital fields as for instance energy industry, but because it is contrary to the reality and because it hinders an open discussion about the truly essential aspects of our foreign policy. The interests of big countries are a reality and let us therefore avoid both naivete and paranoid tendencies.

Our primary interest is that the Czech Republic is a stable and in the long run prosperous country, that it is a country which is a clearly defined entity in international relations, a state capable of guaranteeing its citizens democratic freedoms and international and internal security. All the rest are methods and ways of achieving this.

It is also quite evident – and I emphasize it here to respond in advance to some of our false internationalists – that for a country the size of ours most of our interests can be achieved only within the international community or international institutions of which we are members. This by far does not mean that any opinions, positions or any institutional forms of those entities, even if they are promoted and supported by means of a majority, are automatically in compliance with our fundamental interest. The continuation of tendencies towards artificial unification of Europe, towards further regulation of an ever increasing part of human activities and towards deepening the democratic deficit of the European Union are, on the contrary, in fundamental opposition to our national interests. The reality of European economic and political development, especially today, confirms that ignoring these problems and pushing through such projects as the Treaty of Lisbon by force put at risk not only the future European prosperity, but also everything positive that has been achieved in Europe over the past decades. Democracy and civil liberties are threatened by that in the first place.

It would require extreme inattentiveness not to notice how the European discussion and attitudes to some problems that had been absolute taboos in the past have changed over the past few months. This is a lesson for our foreign policy and a lesson for our diplomacy. It is our duty to point out to problems and withstand external pressure. Do not let us be silenced by those who tell us that we will get into isolation if we pursue our interests. We will not. We will only not be praised by those who pursue their own interests.

Our partners must strive even for our YES and they must know that our vote too is not for free.

The fact that our foreign policy must not give up the right to defend and pursue the interests of our country does not hold true only for European affairs. We have to demand clear objectives and realistic strategies from our allies even in such crisis areas as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Western Balkans, where we are involved together with them. If it is not so, then human and material resources are wasted without any justification. It may well happen then that it would be extremely difficult to defend in front of our public the long-term participation of our armed forces in missions that require extensive resources from our highly tightened budgets and do not lead to any visible end. 

Our priority interest is to support and maintain strong transatlantic ties and our alliance with the United States which – in spite of all the changes that have taken place over the past two decades – still plays a key role with respect to European stability and our security. Relations with Germany, our biggest economic partner and neighbour, as well as with other leading Western European countries that have traditionally had a major influence in international politics are extremely important for us. I have already mentioned the need for balanced relations towards Russia. Without primitive political labelling based on the past, our foreign policy also has to pay equal attention to newly rising world powers such as China, India, Brazil, etc.

Czech diplomacy has an extremely important role also vis-à-vis our neighbours. Having a good understanding of what our neighbours wish to pursue as traditional or new trends in their policies is a natural prerequisite for us to be able to influence the atmosphere in Central Europe in a direction favourable for us. It is not necessary to conceal that some of the contemporary tendencies are not favourable for us.

A small country like the Czech Republic cannot aspire to play a major role in world politics, but we have to be visible. I can imagine a certain restructuring of our embassies and consulates general. However, decisions about changing their number must not be taken hastily, because mere cuts represent no real solution. It is necessary to change the weight of our representation in Europe and in the rest of the world. Europe or the European Union is no longer a foreign entity in the traditional sense of the word and that it why it should not fall under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I see no reason why our embassies should exist in a number of small member states of the European Union. I believe it is wrong to abolish a consulate general in one big Latin American country, in a city which has more inhabitants and a far greater economic strength than 8 smallest EU countries (added up). Likewise, I see it unnecessary to maintain ambassadors in various international institutions, when one official employed by a residential embassy in the given country would suffice.

A network of our diplomatic representations in most territories in today’s world is, however, defendable only if economic diplomacy is to be the crucial priority of their work. No European External Action Service will protect and promote the interests of Czech companies in the world.

Let us also search for a rational personnel policy mechanism. I do not think that there should be some unforgiving struggle for the highest diplomatic posts between career diplomats and personalities from political life being appointed as ambassadors. In some territories a former leading politician can greatly improve the image of the Czech Republic compared with a young career diplomat. Similarly, however, it must hold true that diplomatic posts cannot serve as a sinecure for former politicians. It is up to the management of the ministry to find a reasonable compromise in this matter.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight that loyalty to the Czech Republic and to his/her ministry must be obvious for every ambassador. This is not in contradiction with the fact that every day the task of all our diplomats is to actively participate in the media and social climate of the country in which they serve. The work of a diplomat inherently involves explaining our domestic situation and our foreign policy steps, as well as destroying various myths about us. In doing so, diplomats cannot only wait for instructions and official formulations. They also have to dare – to a reasonable extent – voice their own opinions. I believe that you are and will be doing that.

Václav Klaus, Rudolph’s Gallery, Prague Castle, 1 September 2010