Czech Ambassador Martin Klepetko: Overcoming Russian Gas Crisis Was Main Success for Czech EU Presidency
Interview with Martin Klepetko, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Bulgaria. In January-June, 2009, the Czech Republic held the rotating Presidency of the EU.
My first question is about the controversial Entropa exhibit. How did it come to a situation in which a Czech artist depicted Bulgaria as a "Turkish" squat toilet? Is this Bulgaria's image in the Czech Republic and in Europe?
I am starting from the end of your question. This is certainly not a generalized image for Bulgaria either in the Czech Republic, or in Europe. You know how things like that work out. The artist, David Cerny, said in an interview that he visited Bulgaria as a kid and here he saw toilets of this kind. We call them "Turkish". I know that his has become a political issue but for us it has no ethnic meaning whatsoever, it is just a kind of toilet.
This is what he had remembered, and this whole installation, Entropa, was supposed to be something like a joke. He made it as a joke but he never thought that it would be interpreted in Bulgaria the way it has been.
In your view, what did the Bulgarian reactions show? At one point you were even give a toilet as a present here. Have the Bulgarian protests against Entropa shown a national complex alluding that such a depiction might in fact be truthful?
I need to point out that I already know Bulgaria and the Bulgarian reactions very well, so this whole thing was not a surprise for me. I have witnessed several similar cases. I don't know if this is the expression of some complex but this is how things are understood in Bulgaria. It is just that there is some deeper feeling here, a greater patriotism, and love for the past.
Such a thing could never happen in the Czech Republic, the Czechs are rather indifferent to such things, so the Czech artist could not imagine there would be such reactions. But this is one difference between the societies in Bulgaria, and in the Czech Republic. This does not mean that what we have in Bulgaria is something bad, it is just that the two of them are different.
Czech President Klaus is an emblematic figure for the Czech transition from communism to democracy and market economy. How come and why do global media present him as an epitome of euroscepticism? When is he going to wave the European flag on the Prague Castle?
There is something typical about President Klaus - he is a man of principle. He is actually one of the few politicians not just in the Czech Republic but also in Europe, as far as I know, who does not change his principles. He has this view that has been known for many years, and he sticks to it without leaning to the left or to the right. Take the case with the Lisbon Treaty right now - we see the trend that things are changing during the process. If something doesn't work, then we will do it in another way.
President Klaus does not like such changes, he always likes to speak one and the same things. That is why his position does not coincide with the positions of most leaders in Europe. His view on the Lisbon Treaty - that this is an excessive integration of Europe - he has been saying that for more than ten years, and he is just continuing to say it.
And perhaps many leaders in Europe don't like that. That is why they describe him in this way. Sometimes they might be right but sometimes - not quite. They don't speak about the problem as such but about Vaclav Klaus. They would come up with numerous things just to be able to say something against him. This does not bother him actually. He is used to fighting so it is something completely natural for him.
Regarding the EU flag - we are the very end of the Czech EU Presidency so I can afford to be a little provocative. Actually, where is it written down that this is the official flag of the EU? The same goes for the anthem. These are things that are supposed to be in a Constitution but we don't have any.
So both the flag and the anthem are in a way unofficial. That is why President Klaus does not want to recognize them, and as a I said, he is a man of principle, and he won't wave the EU flag above the Prague Castle until a Constitution stipulates that he has to do it.
The Czech Presidency of the EU was challenged by a number of serious crises - the gas conflict between Russia and the Ukraine in January, the conflict in the Gaza Strip, the global financial crisis. What were the lessons from them? Perhaps that the EU needs to be more integrated, stronger, more supranational, with a ratified Lisbon Treaty?
I absolutely agree that we need a stronger Europe, which is more supranational. The question is how we can achieve that in a shorter period of time. I think that this cannot be done, because unfortunately, the trends that we see are the opposite - towards greater "nationalization" on part of the member states.
And I am not sure whether the Lisbon Treaty could help us here. Because even though it has some elements of greater integration, those are not sufficient in order to make the world see the EU as a single entity. For many nations - and Russia is one of them - the EU is not a single entity. It is a combination of several countries, and this is how they deal with it - they deal with each one separately. This is what makes Europe much weaker than it should be.
What is the final balance from the Czech Presidency of the EU? What were its successes, and what did it fail to achieve?
We could take our priorities from the beginning and say, "we did this better, we did that worse". I have already said that I don't like such sort of recapitulations as in sports; in politics, we can't say whether we have achieved exactly some purpose because many of the objectives are in fact processes. Let's take the removal of barriers that was the main motto of the Czech Presidency. It was clear that we would not be able to remove all barriers for six months. That was delayed by the crisis, and by other factors as well. So I consider the start itself of this process a good result but we certainly have more to do.
As a success, I would like to point out the way the Presidency coped with the above-mentioned crisis with the Russian gas supplies through the Ukraine. I would even say that this was one of the greatest achievements of the Czech Presidency because everyone who was included in this process did very well. The work of the Czech administration also produced specific results in things like the meetings of the EU Council - the first one was in March, and the second one was last week.
I would not point to the Czech politicians because if you are asking me about some problems or lack of achievements, this is certainly the political sphere because the stepping down of the government in the middle of the Presidency term was something that brought a lot of bad image for the Czech Republic.
Unfortunately, here the administration could not do much. But I would like to differential between the politicians and the administration which works regardless of the type of government that we had, and I think the administration did very well.
Was the work of the Presidency seriously impeded by the change of governments?
Yes, for sure. Not in a technical sense but in terms of perceptions. Those are psychological issues. Because when the foreign newspapers are writing about the Czech Presidency, they do not pay attention to the specific achievements, they only see that we used to have another Prime Minister, now we have a new one, and they don't with whom to communication.
This whole thing was a severe blow. It is well known which politicians caused it, and their actions will probably be reflected in the results of the next elections. Because most Czechs saw what they did, and understand that this was not a good thing.
Should smaller EU member states like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic be afraid of the domination of the Union by larger countries like Germany, France, the UK?
It is hard for me to say whether they should be afraid but the domination of the larger states is a fact. No matter we have the Lisbon Treaty in force or not, it will always be visible that that these countries have a much greater say in politics than the rest. I don't know if this should remain like that, or if it could be changed.
We have gotten used to comparing the EU with the USA. I cannot imagine that California or Texas dominate the union there is some way. But this is a very old tradition, and their system functions well. This is not the case with us yet, we still see the EU as a combination of nation states. Unfortunately, there are too few who see the EU as a single entity. Until this changes, there will always be the chance that some states would be more influential than the others.
What is the Czech Republic more concerted with - a domineering Germany within the EU, or a resurgent Russia? In this respect, just how strong should be the connections of Eastern European states with the USA?
The transatlantic connections are the basis of our NATO membership, and we could never abandon them. What we saw during the previous period of the Bush Administration - unfortunately, then the transatlantic links divided Europe, which is certainly not a good thing. We need to have a balance within the EU and with America.
I don't see any reason for concerns about a domineering Germany. It is one of the best functioning EU states, and totally democratic. I would not be worried about Germany because dangers come always from countries with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.
The case with Russia is somewhat different. Russia really seems to have this ambition to regain the geopolitical position of the former Soviet Union, and does everything in order to achieve this goal. We need to be very smart in order not to allow this to be done at the expense of Europe. Unfortunately, we are not ready to have a single European policy towards Russia yet, which gives Russia a huge advantage. The answer here is again that we need a single EU policy.
The Czech Republic is the most successful former Eastern Bloc state in terms of its transition to democracy and market economy. Bulgaria, in contrast, is perhaps the most unsuccessful. Where do you think lies the difference in the transitions of the two countries? What did Bulgaria do wrong that the Czech Republic did successfully?
There were certainly mistakes in the privatization in Bulgaria, this is clear. Even though privatization wasn't perfect anywhere, and economists say it is never perfect, in most former Eastern Bloc states this process went better, and Bulgaria is still confronting the consequences of this bad privatization.
Other rather strong influences came from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Together with the bad privatization, they formed a cycle that was favorable for the emergence of some criminal elements, for people looking for ways to trade under the international sanctions, and they accrued enormous wealth, which they are still living off today. Those were the big players but today no one is going to prove that their money came from criminal activities.
But there is something else I see in Bulgaria, something else that is still incomplete. Actually, the transition in Bulgaria has not been completed, isn't over. There are many institutions that still function as if they are in the socialist system. There are others that are fully modernized but there is this difference.
And until this process is completed, Bulgaria is going to have issues - most of all in leadership, management, governing of institutions. You can see the results of that everyday - the problems with the absorption of EU funds, the organized crime - all that is the result of malfunctioning institutions.
EU Representatives including yourself as part of the Czech Presidency have said time and again that there was no chance for the restarting of the shut reactors of Bulgaria's Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. Why do you think top-ranking Bulgarian politicians including the President, speak about that constantly? Is that because of populism, incompetence, or because they genuinely believe in this cause?
I think that no one today believes that such a cause could succeed. I am going to use your suggestions, and say it is a combination of the first two. But, you know, like many other EU representatives, I don't think the decision to close down the reactors was absolutely necessary, it was a purely political decision.
But there is no way we could change that today. It has been accepted by Bulgaria, and has been included in the accession treaty. We could speak whatever we wish now but we won't change anything. So I think it is totally needless to talk about that, and in that case it would serve some of the purposes that you mentioned above.
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