U. S. ambassador in Prague praises former President Havel’s stance on protecting human rights
The United States has a strong economic relationship with China, but this does not prevent it from talking with it about human rights violations by its communist regime, new U. S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro has said in an interview with the Czech News Agency (ČTK).
He admitted the statements by some Czech representatives on Russia and its policy toward Ukraine have raised eyebrows in the United States. Schapiro said, however, he is convinced a big majority of Czechs have taken a lesson from their recent history [occupation by Soviet troops in 1968], and only a small minority of them are pro-Russian.
This week, Schapiro had his first public lecture in the Czech Republic at a meeting staged by the Association for International Affairs, at which he spoke about Czech-U. S. relations since the fall of communism in then-Czechoslovakia 25 years ago.
He repeatedly stressed the importance of the protection of human rights and democracy in the Czech Republic and the role of former President Václav Havel in pushing through these ideas.
Schapiro said Havel did not automatically reject political or business contacts with the countries and leaders who were not perfect, but he always spoke about political prisoners and other problems of the states.
The same goes for the United States, Schapiro said. “Our country certainly has a strong economic relationship with China. But that is not inconsistent with also speaking out about human rights when we are meeting with the Chinese, when we are observing what is happening in China, and it has always been U. S. policy that we identify human rights violations, speak about individual cases in China and raise it very openly with them,” Schapiro told ČTK.
He said he has been following the current debate in the Czech Republic about the continuation of Havel’s policy of human rights protection waged in connection with the government and President Miloš Zeman’s attitude to communist China.
“The president is the head of state, and foreign policy is not necessarily made by the president, but it is not my job to micromanage Czech foreign policy,” Schapiro said. He said being a diplomat of a foreign country, he would not comment on the controversial statements. Schapiro, however, spoke about the sometimes controversial stances Czech representatives take on Russia. He praised Prague for having joined the Western sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
“But it is true that when we hear inconsistent words spoken by leaders, that is a cause for concern and not only because this makes us wonder what their actual position is, but also because it sometimes hands a propaganda tool to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin who, I think, is trying to drive a wedge between European countries and takes every opportunity to say look there are countries in the West who don’t necessarily believe that a strong action is required,” Schapiro said.
He stressed that strong action is required and that so far Western countries have stood together and that he hopes that they will continue and that “the message in the future will be coming from everyone, will be coming clear and consistent.” Schapiro said most Czechs he has met remember the lesson from 1968 and from the Cold War period. “I think in general there is a very small minority here who are pro-Russian,” he said. Schapiro also mentioned the unveiling of a bust of Havel (1936–2011) in the U. S. Congress later this month and the admiration Americans have for the former dissident, playwright and statesman, who was Czechoslovak and Czech president from 1989 until 2003.
Schapiro said Havel was a “courageous and heroic figure” and that Americans admire courageous people. He said he thinks “what captured our imagination” is that Havel was “a humble and a modest person at the same time” and that he “still had a touch of an ordinary person.” For the Americans, Havel was “someone whose life is guided by ideals and idealism,” Schapiro said.