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'Israel and 1938 Czechoslovakia are similar'
By Herb Keinon
In interview following 'Post' Conference, Czech ambassador warns against relying too much on international community.
Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar was in the hall attending The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya on Wednesday when Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman made an example of his country, saying Israel was not about to become “the second Czechoslovakia.”
“All expressions and promises of commitment to Israel’s security from all around the world remind me of similar commitments made to Czechoslovakia [in 1938], and the pressure made on the Czech president to partition the Sudetenland,” Liberman said. “After all the promises and guarantees that were provided, Nazi Germany occupied all of Czechoslovakia, bringing an end to its existence.”
Pojar, in an interview afterward with The Jerusalem Post, replied with a “yes and no” when asked whether there was validity in that historical comparison.
No, he said, because the situation in 1938 in Central Europe, and in the world, was drastically different than the situation today. “The parallels are interesting, but it is not as if you can easily implement the lessons from one situation onto another, a century or half-century later.”
But still, he said, there are similarities.
“There are certain parallels in that Czechoslovakia was the only democratic country in the entire region at the time,” he said. “There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them.”
Pojar said that in addition to his country’s tragic experiences during World War II, it also had experiences under communism.
All this had embedded in the Czechs’ “natural skepticism,” and a disinclination to believe in immediate “grandiose ideas and miraculous solutions.”
“We are the most atheistic, non-religious nation in Europe, if not in the entire world,” he asserted. “We don’t believe in miracles, and we don’t believe in political miracles and the solutions of ideologies that [posit that] something can be easily implemented and solved.”
Pojar said the Czechs realize “there are huge differences between war and peace. It is not only either war or peace... Even some interim solutions are sometimes better than crumbled expectations because of grandiose ideas.”
The ambassador said one of the lessons the Czech Republic learned from its past is that “we strongly believe that solutions cannot be imposed from the outside, because they do not work.”
That firm belief is one of the reasons why the Czech Republic, alone among the 27 EU countries, voted with Israel and seven other countries at the UN on November 29 against upgrading the Palestinian status at the UN to that of nonmember state observer.
That vote, and strong Czech- Israeli ties, makes it a good time to be Prague’s envoy to Israel, he acknowledged. He said that following the vote he received numerous letters, emails and phone messages from Israelis thanking his country for its support, with a few people calling the embassy and saying they now were going to buy Czech-made Skoda cars.
In another incident, the partner of an employee at the Czech Embassy received free dental work following the UN vote. “He wanted to pay, but they said no, this time it is for free,” Pojar said.
The Czech vote, said Pojar, could be explained on two levels.
On the first level, he said the Czech Republic has made clear it does not support unilateral steps by either side.
"We strongly feel that the only way to achieve peace here is through bilateral direct negotiations. We know this from our past in negotiating with the Slovaks,” he said, referring to the negotiations with the Slovaks that led to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of a separate Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. “I’m not saying this is the same situation, but we know the solution can’t be imposed on the outside but must be negotiated on the ground.”
And the second level has to do with a century of Jewish- Czech relations dating back to Tomas Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, who was the first statesmen to visit the Yishuv; to 1948 when Czechoslovakia provided Israel with arms during the War of Independence; and to former president Vaclav Havel who was the first president of a former Iron Curtain country to visit Israel, doing so in April 1990.
The UN vote, the ambassador said, was in line with “a tradition of very close links between the Czechs and the Jewish people, and between the Czech Republic and Israel.”
Pojar, whose father served as Czechoslovakia’s first ambassador here from 1990 to 1994, dismissed the notion that Prague, with its vote at the UN, somehow stood up against the rest of the EU. He said that the Czech Republic would have preferred had there been a consensus EU opinion on the matter, and would even HAVE abstained if the entire EU bloc did so. “It is not the Czech Republic that broke the consensus,” he said.
Fourteen EU countries voted for the Palestinian resolution, 12 abstained and only Prague voted against. The consensus crumbled when France declared it would vote for the resolution.
Pojar said this vote has not hurt his country’s standing inside the EU, and that “no one was surprised at our vote.” He also said the position had “wide popular support among the Czech people.
“It is definitely not something that can hurt the [Czech] government, because this is not the major issue that people vote on,” he said. “Our decision was not domestically driven one way or the other."
Regarding the statement issued on Monday after a meeting of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers that earned Jerusalem’s wrath because of its harsh condemnation of Israeli settlement plans, but a tepid denouncement of Hamas’s pledge to destroy Israel, Pojar said, “If the statement was written in Prague, it would have been written differently.”
He said that what was important in these types of declarations was not necessarily the exact wording, but rather the balance, or lack of balance, in the statements. He pointed to the clause in Monday’s EU statement dealing with Gaza, which called for the “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings” of goods and people from the Gaza Strip, saying that while the crossings were an important issue, they were not the main problem in the Strip.
“The main problem [in Gaza] is that it is ruled by a terrorist organization, a totalitarian organization with totalitarian views,” Pojar said. “The real problem of Gaza, and the security and prosperity and freedom of its people, is the regime in Gaza – not the crossings.”
Asked if Europe takes Hamas’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel seriously enough, he said he could not speak about the EU, but that he did not feel the “mainstream European elites” did so. The elites, he said, were “sometimes detached from reality, and not only about the Middle East, not only about Islamists, but also about the economic situation.”