Building bridges between historic nations

  • 2010-12-02
  • Interview by Rokas M. Tracevskis

Radek Pech, 47, has been the ambassador of the Czech Republic to Lithuania since January 2010. He studied history at Charles University in Prague. Since 1992, Pech has worked in the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic (actually, in 1992, it was still the Federal Foreign Ministry of Czechoslovakia – the velvet divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia took place on Jan. 1, 1993).

From 1997-2000 he was the Helsinki-based Czech ambassador to Estonia and simultaneously the Czech ambassador to Finland (from 1997-2001). From 2002-2006, Pech was the Czech ambassador to Romania and Moldova. Later, he was the head of the EU general affairs-related departments (from 2006-2007, director of the EU Coordination and Institutions Department of the Czech Foreign Ministry and from 2007-2009, director of the EU General Affairs Department) of the Czech Foreign Ministry. From 2009-2010, Pech was the head of the office of the Czech foreign minister.

Pech is married with children (two sons). He published several articles on the modern history of the Balkans and Czech-Russian relations. Pech speaks English, German, Russian, Romanian, and French. The Baltic Times sat down for a cup of coffee in the cozy Czech embassy in Vilnius to talk about EU and NATO affairs, as well as on connections between the Czech Republic and Lithuania.

On July 25, a group of Czech scouts traveling in Lithuania on bicycles were hiding from a squall in an abandoned building in the village of Pakapiai, Kaunas region. The building collapsed and 11 scouts received injuries, and on Aug. 8, a 19-year old scout died on his birthday in the Kaunas Medicine University Clinics. What can you say about the work of the Lithuanian rescue team and doctors during the accident?
First of all, we are very grateful for all the cooperation with the university hospital in Kaunas. The rescue brigade in Kaunas, authorities of Kaunas and the Kaunas district were of great help to us. We could fully rely on them. It was a couple of difficult days in the embassy. I have never met with such a situation in my diplomatic career. Later this year, the Czech scouts returned to the spot of the accident, laying flowers and erecting a cross there. I would like to thank all of those who helped us and particularly those working in the hospital in Kaunas.

On which side were the Czechs fighting during the Grunwald Battle?
The Czechs were on both sides. As troops, they were on the Lithuanian-Polish side; as a group of mercenaries of the Czech noblemen, they fought alongside with the Lithuanians and the Poles. On the other hand, the Teutonic Order was financed by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (then the German empire) and the emperors at that time were the Czech kings (kings of Bohemia).

Do you share the views of Czech President Vaclav Klaus on climate change? He says that climate change is more a natural process than a result of activity of human beings.
There are different groups of researchers who have different views. The opinion of President Klaus is based on the view of one such group. President Klaus does not compromise the phenomenon of climate change as such. However, he is skeptical with human activities as a main factor of climate change. The president focuses in particular on the negligence of freedom of expression in the climate change debate and the non-critical attention of the media to one of those two opinions.

You have been ambassador to Estonia. Could you make a comparison of Estonia and Lithuania?
I haven’t been to Estonia since September 2001. It is a long time. The countries are not 100 percent identical, although the people outside the Baltics tend to understand the Baltics as one entity. Nobody is identical. Many differences are also between us and the Slovaks. Estonia is Lutheran and closer to the Nordic countries. Lithuania is Catholic and much closer to Central Europe, including the Czech Republic - there is not much difference in historic architecture, for instance. Remote history is rooted in the medieval state here. History does not play so important a role in Estonia - they care more about the present time and their future. In Lithuania, there is history in every single step. There is sometimes too much of history here for my personal taste, though I’m a historian by education. People focus very much on history here but it is similar with us – the Czechs also have a history of the medieval state whose existence also was interrupted by foreign powers.

Can the EU turn into a federal state in the far perspective?
There is no clear definition of a federal state in the EU context. The term is used, but it would be difficult to find several people with the same view about it. After the Lisbon Treaty, there is a general agreement on a stronger position of Europe in the world. There are still some more countries, for example in the East, which would like to join the EU. The EU is a phenomenon which is impossible to compare with something known in history. I can’t imagine that any of the 27 member states would say: let’s dissolve our independence. The reality is much more colorful than is possible to describe. The EU is a unique entity.

What do you think about some recently quite popular speculations in the Russian media about Russia joining NATO and talks in Europe about NATO’s closer ties with Russia?
I cannot follow Russian media from here. There is only a practical discussion about Russia’s participation in the missile defense project of NATO underway. Russia is a strategic partner of NATO, the EU and some of their member states. Russia has historically influenced some other parts of Europe. Only countries sharing NATO values can join NATO. Meanwhile, there are open and frank discussions in the NATO-Russia Council.

What can you say about the cooperation between Lithuania and the Czech Republic?
We have a good basis for cooperation. Both countries like history. We have discovered our common history since the Battle of Grunwald. Lithuanian and Czech intelligentsia have had mutual relations since the 19th century. We share views by means of consultations and support each other based on reciprocal interests. We have no problems because we share the same values in the EU and NATO. Lithuania is the most important economic partner for the Czech Republic among the Baltic countries. This year we hosted Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius who, like other Central European leaders, came to Prague to meet U.S. President Barack Obama.  Also, the speaker of the Lower House of the Czech Parliament visited Lithuania this year.

What do you think about the speculations that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite did not go to meet Obama in Prague because she was not happy about the U.S.-Russian disarmament talks, which could be harmful to the Baltics, according to her opinion?
I cannot comment on speculations related to the internal politics of Lithuania.

Do you mind that the Lithuanians borrowed the letters c, s and z with ticks above them from the Czech alphabet?
It is nice that somebody admits borrowing those letters from us. There are more nations which use those letters, but they do not admit to any borrowing. Those letters appeared in the Czech alphabet with our Reformation in the 15th century. It is nice to see those letters outside. At least we know how to pronounce them, while the others can have some doubts.