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Ella Zadorozhnyuk

PhD in history, Department of Modern History and Socio-Political issues of Central and South Eastern European Countries, RAS Institute of Slavonic Studies

Having withdrawn from the Soviet Bloc the Czech Republic headed towards the West, but as time passed, it ceased to rely implicitly on its help having realized that European integration often causes problems instead of solving them. Now the Czech Republic began to show restraint towards the European Union trying to restore the lost ties with Russia.

Having withdrawn from the Soviet Bloc the Czech Republic headed towards the West, but as time passed, it ceased to rely implicitly on its help having realized that European integration often causes problems instead of solving them. Now the Czech Republic began to show restraint towards the European Union trying to restore the lost ties with Russia.

From big to small: disintegration of transnational organizations and socialist federations

The origins of the current multidimensional policy of the Czech Republic are rooted mainly in the nature of the "velvet revolution" that took place in Czechoslovakia in 1989 which determined the vectors of transnational structures disintegration in the framework of the "socialist community" (in the past - the "socialist camp"). As for foreign relations at the beginning of 1991 the USSR started using convertible hard currency to effect all settlements and payments to the Member-states of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (the CMEA) at world prices, and it undermined the very concept of Mutual Economic Assistance. Therefore, it is not surprising that on June 28, 1991 the CMEA was disbanded. Almost at the same time the Warsaw Treaty Organization (the WTO) disintegration was underway. And “socialist federations” disintegration – the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia was one of the consequences of it. Thus, politically inspired greater disintegration implied (“the matryoshka doll principle”) less grave consequences.

Back in September 19, 1991 Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, could host demonstrations under two mutually exclusive slogans - "For a sovereign Slovakia" and "For a unified Czechoslovak state." But at the same time, more than 500 thousand Czechs and Slovaks signed the petition "For a unified state" that presupposed holding a referendum. On October 28, the 73rd anniversary of the Czechoslovak Republic’s independence, there were still hopes that the state could remain unified. But on November 27 in Prague at a meeting of the Federal Government in the presence of the President a course towards establishing a functional Federation was declared, and on December 4 a decision was taken (leading to the mutual resentment on both sides) to distribute the federal treasury reserves in a ratio of 1 (Slovakia) to 1.94 (the Czech Republic). With the Republics facing general elections in 1992, the threat of their break-up became more tangible. Moreover, on December 8, 1991 the Bialowieza agreements actually legitimized the similar practice of (socialist) Federations break-ups following the example of the USSR.

Thus, 1991 saw the strengthening of independent state institutions in Russia and readiness of the Czech Republic to establish such institutions. Since then there have appeared new landmarks in bilateral relations. These relations had to be established between the newly-emerged states though very few people cherished excessive illusions and hopes about it then. Back at the beginning of 1993 Václav Havel pursued the policy of returning the Czech Republic to Europe through NATO. With all this underway the cooling of relations between Russia and the Czech Republic was inevitable.

Change of the format: from Czechoslovak-Russian to Czech-Russian Relations

The beginning of 1993 may still be claimed as the period since when the relations have started to change its format to a new one along with the “return of the Czech Republic to Europe”. On February 23 (apparently the date was not chosen randomly) Havel stated that the Czech Republic was heading towards joining NATO and the European Union. On August 26 (the date might have been chosen intentionally too as a reminder of the annually marked anniversary of the Warsaw Pact states’ invasion into Czechoslovakia) the Treaty of friendship and cooperation between the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation was signed. In 1999 the Czech Republic joined NATO and in 2004 - the European Union. However, a part of the Czech political elite was attributing Russia to Eurasia that allegedly could pose a threat to Europe, justifying, referring to Havel’s statements, the bombing of one of the European capitals, Belgrade. When Václav Klaus was elected President (and succeeded Havel) of the Czech Republic this Euro-Atlantic engagement began to decrease gradually.

The visits of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Prague (March, 2006) and President of the Czech Republic V. Klaus to Moscow (April, 2007) initiated the process of the Russian-Czech relations reformatting. And the fact that though the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union it was not fully integrated into the European economy was also taken into consideration.

In general till the end of 2008 positive trends in trade turnover between the two countries including the export of the Czech Republic were underway. In 2008 trade turnover reached its maximum and amounted to more than 222 bln kronor, i.e. it increased by 30 % in comparison with 2007; export of the Czech Republic amounted to 68 bln kronor in 2008.

The Czech President does not identify Europe with the EU, mindful of the fact that Russia is an integral part of a single geopolitical space from Brest (a sea port in France) to Vladivostok.

Both countries suffered from the negative impact of the global financial and economic crisis that resulted in a 60% trade turnover decrease for the countries in 2009 in comparison with 2008. However, Dmitry Medvedev stated that 2010 could become a milestone in bilateral economic cooperation development: “We are in possession of the instruments allowing us to improve our economic cooperation and bring it back to the pre-crisis level”. Based on the current trends in foreign economic relations development, this statement may be deemed moderately optimistic and the goals set – achievable.

Advantages of multidimensional policy

The Czech Republic entered the second decade of the 21 century as a country aspiring to political and economic self-sufficiency. This means that the country will pursue restrained multidimensional foreign policy and balanced trade and economic relations.

Klaus does not lay much hope on the assistance of Western countries which themselves face the most daunting crises but it does not distance itself from these countries (Anyway, the Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the Western countries, and the Czech Republic was the last to do it among the EU member-states – on November 3, 2009). Czech President intensifies economic cooperation with Eastern countries too, and the meeting of the two Presidents in December, 2011 was aimed mainly at a kind of legitimization of the Temelin nuclear power plant construction by the Russian-Czech consortium (as opposed to a trend towards the curtailment of nuclear energy – by producing more affordable electricity (from alternative means), for example, in Germany). The trend towards extension of mutually-beneficial relations in other areas including nanotechnologies is also underway.

The restoration of long-lost relations between the two countries was the priority issue of the meeting’s agenda. The accumulated experience and potential shall be used as a tool to achieve this goal: 17 thousand Russian citizens own more than 5% of all Czech companies (it constitutes one-fifth of all foreign companies in the country), surpassing the Germans in this respect (3.2%) [1]. And as for the Czech Republic, PSG, a Czech company, signed an agreement with Russia for a power plant construction within the Arctic Circle. Previously another Czech company had agreed on taking part in a railway construction project in the Far North region.

It is important to note that before the meeting of the two Presidents in Prague on April 7, 2009, the Russian President was on a visit to Slovakia where similar NPP-construction-related issues were discussed. Here the Czech Republic is not a front runner; it is trying to catch up. However, the fact that TVEL, a Russian corporation, managed to sign a contract with the Czech Power Company CEZ Group to supply 400 tons of nuclear fuel for the Temelin nuclear power plant during 2010-2020 gives hope of narrowing the existing gap.

Euro-skepticism: a tardy experience or anticipatory prediction?

The beginning of the second decade of the 21 century has seen the strengthening of Klaus’ skepticism that, no doubt, reflects the prevailing public mood in the Czech Republic and is able to mobilize a significant part of the electorate. No wonder that there are assumptions that having resigned he may establish a nationally oriented party of “euro-skeptics” (a light variant of it).

Klaus explains his restrained attitude and his skepticism towards the European Union and the European zone in particular by the fact that euro-integration creates problems instead of solving them and that the European Union policy non-constructive for the EU member-states will prevail again and again over the economy. Moreover, Klaus believes that the IMF should be dismantled as it is a "barbarous relic from the Keynesian era" [2].

The case of the described euro-skepticism that treats with skepticism all initiatives on euro-integration demonstrates certain features peculiar to the situation in the “two-speed Europe”: trends in the general EU policy are shaped by less powerful countries more clearly and quickly in comparison with more powerful countries; it is these countries that propose more decisive measures to address certain challenges.

However, euro-skepticism does not prevent the Czech Republic from deeper integration into economic and political institutions of the European Union and Klaus’ opinion (supported by the voters) being a kind of “an error detector” when the crisis is underway attracts increased interest, especially as the Czech President is a highly-skilled economist. Here the Czech Republic pursues a wise and cautious policy, avoiding harshest and extreme forms of ethnocratism (as in Hungary, for instance) as well as laying excessive hope on the EU integration (e.g. in Slovenia and Estonia).

Therefore, Klaus’ skepticism is more likely to be a metaphor. The Czech President does not identify Europe with the EU, mindful of the fact that Russia is an integral part of a single geopolitical space from Brest (a sea port in France) to Vladivostok. So, taking it into account we may expect positive trends in the development of not only economic relations but also of political, scientific, cultural and military-technical bilateral relations between the two countries in line with pragmatic constructivism or even better constructive pragmatism.

1. The Prague Telegraph. 2011. № 45.

2. Mirror of the Week (Kiev). 09.10.2011.

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