Thirteen years ago, the former multiple minister Ciryl Svoboda left politics. However, he never stopped being involved in diplomacy and foreign affairs. He is still a keen observer of international events and has even founded the Diplomatic Academy, which he is the director of.
The Czech government and Czech foreign policy have gone all in on supporting Ukraine. Is that a wise choice from a diplomatic standpoint?
The Czech Republic supports Ukraine and should keep supporting it in its defense efforts against Russian aggression. But every war ends one day, as even this one will. The question is how. It is becoming evident that Russia is unable to defeat Ukraine and vice versa. The second possible solution is a shift from a hot war to a frozen conflict, such as the situation between North and South Korea. That would be the worst possible outcome for Ukraine. The ultimate solution is some sort of peace treaty. But the when and the how of initiating peace talks is up to Ukraine and Russia. Peace is, after all, negotiated between the warring countries. And time plays an important role. Both parties want to initiate negotiations once they have the upper hand. It is key that Ukraine has the upper hand over Russia as soon as possible. That is why the support of Western democracies is so crucial for Ukraine, as is Russia's subsequent exhaustion. However, the peace negotiations should start as soon as possible. On top of that, the conflict in Israel has now surfaced, which is naturally a topic for Western democracies as well. We import gas and oil from the region, after all. And so, we need to seek diplomatic solutions on both front lines of these hot wars.
Ukraine has been promised an EU membership. When could its accession happen?
Accession to the European Union requires that all the expected conditions are met. They are widely known as the so-called Copenhagen criteria. They require that the state is democratic and its governance is based on the rule of law, that it has an open market economy capable of competing in the joint Union market, and that it is capable of assuming the rights and obligations stemming from membership. All three are major challenges for Ukraine. It doesn't meet either one right now. First, the war needs to end and Ukraine's territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders needs to be secured. Next, they need to get rid of the influence of oligarchs, do away with corruption, make decision-making processes more transparent, produce and provide competitive products and services, have an independent justice system. We're looking at a decades-long run.
There is pressure within the European Union, especially from the Western bloc, to limit or fully abolish the right of veto before the EU reaches more than thirty member states. Should Czechia support this notion?
The right of veto is exercised very rarely these days. It happens mostly in connection with joint foreign and security policy. It is not the need to unanimously agree on something that is the issue, but rather the fact that EU law doesn't allow for any sanctions to be imposed for violating obligations concerning joint foreign and security policy. A disloyal state may be criticized politically for its stance or actions but sanctions cannot be imposed upon it. Something should be done about that. Some questions, such as the agreement on the accession of a new member state, must be based on a unanimous vote. I would personally advise against a change in the voting system. I am also not a proponent of expansion, I would prefer more efficient integration within the current roster of twenty-seven.
In 2006 with the US Secretary of State at the time Condoleezza Rice
Next year will mark twenty years of Czechia's membership in the EU. What has this period given to our country and how will our membership change in the next two decades?
We are a rich and democratic country, life is good here. We enjoy the benefits of a joint market and freedom of movement; Brexit has taught us a lesson as to how detrimental leaving can be. Great Britain, a prominent country with a strong economy, is still dealing with the negative effects of leaving the Union. We have the option and the mission to keep developing within the EU, nobody is chasing us out. We can be certain that the 14 "old" member states will uphold the Union. We should take part in integration. Moreover, we should muster our courage and switch to the Euro.
The United States may be in for a return of Donald Trump as president. Should the EU be preparing for a NATO without the USA?
NATO without the USA doesn't make sense. Whenever Europe was in trouble – even through its own fault – the USA always helped out in the end. The weight and strength it can bring to bear serve to deter potential enemies. The alliance needs to be maintained. Supporting it financially is also beneficial. If the allied countries purchase technologies and weapons from the USA, it will remain interested in staying and playing the role of a protector.
You worked as a foreign policy advisor to Andrej Babiš for several years. Was it a more demanding job than working as a minister of foreign affairs? Does Mr. Babiš listen to advice?
I advised Andrej Babiš's government, which also meant him as the chief executive. It was never about advising on any other political activities of the ANO movement. Some advice caught on, some did not. Every prime minister can benefit from having advisors of different political affiliations or even independent ones. A fan club is useless. All it does is parrot what they think the boss wants to hear, which is of no benefit. Every good statesman listens carefully to voices from outside his nest.
How does the tenure of your former party, KDU-ČSL, in the government make you feel? What is your biggest criticism of Petr Fiala's government?
The long-term decline in KDU-ČSL's polling is alarming. We conduct ourselves more as a faction within the ODS than a sovereign political party. People have no idea why they should vote for us, the Populars. That's not a program problem but rather a problem of the party's stance on specific political issues. I would be hard-pressed to find a single strong political act of the KDU-ČSL within the current coalition that would clearly show everybody that it was the party's own success. Listing individual points won't help, an undecided voter pays them no heed. The strong support for the opposition in the polls is no coincidence. My one criticism of Petr Fiala's government is its indecision. It is the first post-1989 government that can lean on a comfortable majority in both houses of Parliament. It can pass whatever it wants. Just look at how many months the consolidation package was being negotiated when it could have been done and dusted in a month. Constant hesitation is proof of indecision, not prudence. And time goes by without any decisive steps being taken. The coalition government should risk not winning the upcoming election and implement reforms. That's the only way it can win. If it does not, it will hand power over to the opposition.
The author is a European editor for Deník
Cyril Svoboda (born November 24, 1956, in Prague) is a former prime minister and multiple minister as well as ex-chair of KDU-ČSL.
He graduated from the CU Faculty of Law. He started his political career in 1990 as an advisor to the deputy prime minister for human rights, restitution, and state and church relations.
In 1991, he became an advisor to the prime minister of the CSFR federal government. In 1992, he was appointed director of the Office of the Government of the CR legislative department and vice-chair of the Government Legislative Council. Between 1992 and 1996, he was the first deputy minister of justice.
He joined KDU-ČSL in 1995. In 1998, he was appointed minister of interior for several months. He was the minister of foreign affairs between 2002 and 2006, minister without portfolio starting in 2007, and minister of regional development for a five-month period in 2009. He was the chairman of KDU-ČSL in the 2001–2003 period and then again from 2009 to 2010.
He left politics in 2010. In 2011, he founded the Diplomatic Academy, which he has been the director of ever since.
Svoboda is married, he has four sons with his wife Věnceslava: Václav, Norbert, and twins Radim and Vojtěch.