Written by Pavel Vondra
SHOWDOWN over Jiří Čunek’s desire to return to cabinet now seems unavoidable.
Although last Wednesday’s meeting of the coalition leaders all but evaded the issue, the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-ČSL) chairman’s determination to get reinstalled in the government, which he so abruptly left last November, is impossible to ignore.
While quite a few people in the government leading Civic Democratic Party (ODS) believe that Mr. Čunek’s return could seriously tarnish the image of the cabinet, the party leader and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek had made it clear he cannot stay indifferent to the wish of a coalition partner to have their leader represented in the cabinet.
And the President Václav Klaus was quoted saying he is ready to accept Mr. Čunek’s return to the cabinet, if the PM asks him for it.
But it is the other junior coalition member, the Green Party, who drew the line and threatened to take collective action (i.e. en-masse resignation) should the ex-Minister of Local Development reclaim his cabinet seat.
The most vocal in the green line of defense, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg, who as Aktualne.cz learned last week has a list of conditions that Mr. Čunek has to comply with if he is to sit with him at the same table again.
First and foremost, Mr. Schwarzenberg wants to see proofs that Mr. Čunek’s, his wife’s and his cousin’s financial affairs have always been as clean as he claims, in other words that the accusations of corruption, which were leveled against Mr. Čunek but never reached the court, were as false, as he claims.
Mr. Schwarzenberg intends to have an independent auditor go through the documents first and then have them published so that everybody can see. That includes the text of the controversial decision of the state prosecutor to drop the charges against Mr. Čunek last year.
“I have not changed my mind. The public has to be informed. If everything turns out to be in order, I am ready to apologize to Mr. Čunek for causing him trouble,” said Karel Schwarzenberg who has been recuperating from a recent heart surgery.
It is difficult to predict what Mr. Čunek’s next step will be but he had earlier argued he felt it improper to disclose some of the documents since they also cover activities of other people.
The embattled KDU-ČSL leader found himself under fire from yet another unexpected enemy last week, namely the US State Department, which released its annual report on human rights practices across the world on Wednesday, naming Mr. Čunek twice in the country report on the Czech Republic.
Aside from the above-mentioned bribery case which was highlighted in the part dealing with government corruption and problems with transparency (along with the case of ex-PM Gross), the evictions of Roma families from Vsetín, which took place during Mr. Čunek’s mayoral tenure there, were brought to attention in the report.
The reaction to the report was similar to that of China. First blood was drawn by the PM Topolánek, who seems to revel in insulting not only his fellow countrymen but increasingly also his partners abroad, including his seemingly favored allies in Washington:
“Regarding the US State Department report, I can only tell you that a country which allows its detainees to be tortured can hardly lecture us about how human rights are violated here,” he blurted out in front of reporters the very same day the said report was published.
Another one to take offense was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the chief negotiator in the talks about the proposed US radar base on Czech soil Tomáš Pojar:
“I did not read the assessment, but the fact that a former member of the Czech government and democratically elected senator is explicitly named in this context seems unacceptable to me,” he was quoted saying in Czech press.
Emboldened, no doubt, by these words, “the accused” himself found enough courage to file official complaint with the US embassy in Prague, demanding that the alleged factual mistakes in the report concerning him be corrected.
Ambassador Richard Graber swiftly offered to meet Mr. Čunek and hear his side of the story. Apparently, it is not in anybody’s interest (except for some 70 per cent of Czechs who are against the radar, of course) to see the complex negotiations about the envisaged US military base in Brdy stumble and fall over this.
In other international row-related news, the threat of another arbitration lawsuit against the Czech Republic has materialised. Norway’s Czechoslonor has decided to demand CZK 330 million from the state for allegedly failing to protect the company’s investment in a salmon-processing plant near Litoměřice, 60 kilometres north of Prague.
Also, you may be forgiven for not knowing this, but the violent protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet which gripped Lhasa last week, claiming at least ten lives, were actually preceded by admittedly much more peaceful row over the hoisting of a Tibetan flag from the windows of the Green faction offices in the Czech parliament in Prague.
Now here comes a piece of advice to the House speaker Vlček who strongly objected to the gesture: no fiddling (with the flag) while Tibet is burning!