“Diplomacy is a craft”
It is no surprise that the new Director of the Foreign Department is extremely busy in his role, with his visits turning around every thirty minutes. As such, I greatly appreciated the fact that Rudolf Jindrák made time for an interview with Czech and Slovak Leaders. I trust this was not merely down to ‘loyalty’, as we both had the opportunity to meet each other when working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in fact I was pleased that he spoke of Czech and Slovak Leaders as a magazine he perceives as useful for many members of the diplomatic corps and other representatives abroad because it is published in English and thus allows a better grasp of society within our country. And I welcomed the opportunity todo a personal interview with one of the Czech Republic’s most experienced ambassadors and also one of Miloš Zeman’s closest aides.
Rudolf Jindrák’s diplomatic career includes working as ambassador in Hungary, Austria and almost eight years in Germany. He has also worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Deputy Minister, and at the Office of the Government as an advisor to the Prime Minister. Our interview didn’t just touch on the Czech Republic’s current foreign policy from the ‘Castle’s’ position, but I did value the opportunity to discuss these issues with someone who has dedicated his career to serving the Czech Republic’s foreign policy.
Besides the personal offer from the President, what else led you to your role as Head of the Foreign Department at Prague Castle?
As the introduction makes clear, I have worked for a number of institutions in various roles, while always remaining within my craft. 90% of diplomacy is craft, and that’s why it’s important that people with knowledge of this craft work within it. The remaining 10% is about the boss, and right now my boss is the President whom I try to help as much as I can.
Compared to your predecessor, Hynek Kmoníček, you are expected to concentrate on Europe in particular.
I don’t know whether the word concentrate is appropriate. It’s true that I have spent 17 years in neighbouring countries abroad. I still to some extent consider Hungary our neighbour. There will be a lot of changes for Europe this year, and next year in particular. There will be elections in France, Germany and probably also Italy. As such,we are going to be focusing more on Europe no matter what. Furthermore, it is my conviction that good relations with our neighbours are key to our country’s development. Take a look at the history of Czechoslovakia or other countries in Central Europe. Poor relations with neighbours have either led to secession of territories or directly to war. But my specialisation and focus on Europe, whether in terms of bilateral or multilateral relations, does not mean that I won’t be paying attention to other territories or countries such as Asia, China and Japan. There is no danger of global conflict within Europe, but on the Korean peninsula, for example, one loose stone could start an avalanche.
You mentioned Korea and current events. The standard response of Czechs to these problems is: ‘We’re a small country and we have little influence on world events’. Why should we take an interest in these countries, and can we have any sort of influence there?
Today, diplomacy is not something done by just one country. That’s why we are part of larger groupings such as NATO, the EU and the UN which represent mechanisms of international action. The UN acts a bit like a bogeyman for many countries, even just through the threat that they might cut off development aid, or their conditions for specific co-operation and observing particular rules. And speaking of the situation in Korea, few realise that Czechoslovakia had observers and a representative on the 38th parallel on the border between South and North Korea until 1992. The North Korean regime cleverly took advantage of Czechoslovakia’s dissolution to say that our obligation to take part in the observer mission was thus invalid. The regional conflict of today may have far-reaching consequences.
Let me give you another example from history: the First World War began as a regional conflict.
Let’s go back to Europe, specifically our relations with Germany. It has been said many times that they are the best they have ever been. Making a comparison, that was said at one time about Czech-American relations but when investments are not made in a relationship by both sides, the simple developmental dynamic begins to fall apart. Is there a danger of this in relation to Czech-German relations?
Yes and no. I’ve spent 12 years of my life in Germany; 4 years as Consul General in Munich and almost eight years as Ambassador in Berlin. In our relations with Germany, we managed to break down certain prejudices or beliefs we had about each other. One can say about Germany that many prejudices they hold about countries east of Germany are greater than those we have about Germans. We are naturally influenced by what has happened in history. I’m 53 and my generation, against the background of the fates of our parents and grandparents, still perceive what happened in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. Some of my own family were executed for resistance after Heydrich’s assassination, with the last to be executed at Pankrác also my relative, Božena Jindráková, née Seidlová. It is a paradox that my father, originally from South Bohemia and who did not like the Germans, married a German. My mother was from Slovakia and was from the minority Carpathian German population. My mum, who was a little girl during the war, did not get Czechoslovakian citizenship until 10 years after the war ended in 1955. As such, my perspective on Germans through my family history was balanced and I think that should be the case in general.
On the one hand I was aware of what the Germans had done during the Second World War because of their ideology, but on the other hand I knew what the Germans had endured after the war. Our job is to ensure that the rear-view mirror of history is not bigger than the front windscreen, meaning opportunities for the future, expressed in the words of ex-President Václav Klaus. And we mustn’t forget that there are still prisoners who were persecuted in the concentration camps living amongst us today.
We have excellent political relations with Germany, in no small part thanks to current Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whom I personally like and who knows, dare I say it, where Prague is.
Apparently you are one of a select few to whom Angela Merkel answers the telephone.
I haven’t tried calling her for a few years and I’m not planning to, but it is true that current German President, Frank Walter Steinmeier, responds to my text messages; we have been friends for years. I congratulated him on his election and I’m sure we will be meeting up soon. An indicator of good relations is an ability to name and solve thorny issues. One such issue is transport infrastructure, i.e. linking our railways, roads and motorways to Germany, including waterways along the Elbe. Our strategic objective is to build a railway link between Berlin, Dresden and Prague, or between Prague, Munich and Frankfurt to ensure we are not bypassed with simpler railway links built east through Poland or to the south through Austria and Hungary. Another complex debate underway is about the tolls being implemented on German motorways, which we consider discriminatory. We are also dealing with problems around the provision of the German minimum wage to Czech drivers, something which is ruinous for our hauliers. So there are many topics, just as there are many mechanisms for discussing them such as intergovernmental collaboration, strategic dialogue and so on. But you are right that we can sometimes forget to deal with a particular problem area, and then when it comes up we don’t know what to do about it.
You are a proponent of a united Europe and integration, but not at any price. So where to begin with the reform the EU so desperately needs?
This is a complicated area. There will be a great acceleration in the debate on the way forward for the European Union at the end of this year; whether the union will split into a narrow core with the other states towing behind the first group.
In my opinion, the Euro will remain a unifying criterion. Those countries with the Euro will tend to integrate further. The problems of Italy and France in terms of fiscal policy are great and to some extent these countries are forced to cooperate. Co-operation within Europe is simply inevitable. Economic co-operation within Europe is just as inevitable as co-operation in security. We will be forced to share information on the movement of people, and not just within the Schengen Area, and we are going to have to take greater responsibility for our own security, so we need to begin by increasing our military budget.
On the other hand, this increase will have to be co-ordinated. The idea of Germany spending two percent of its GDP on arms, meaning about 80 bn EUR, will launch a similar arms race to the one we remember from the 1980s. This all suggests that Europe has many complex decisions ahead of it to make. The German election is at the end of September, and here our parliamentary election will be taking place in late October and we are also facing presidential elections. At a time when fundamental decisions are going to be taken or shaped on the EU’s future direction by Berlin and Paris, it will be up to us to say clearly and quickly which vision we share. It remains a question whether we will be able to give a response at a time when our election will be over and we will be dealing with forming a government. But our role as top officials remains clear. To prepare the best possible material for politicians so that they can make decisions based on objective information.
Your final message for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?
Since I’m also a parent, a fundamental point for me remains that my children should grow up in an ordered world, do not have to fear for their safety, have the opportunity to decide freely about their future, and should they desire, be able to study abroad. Let us preserve what we have managed to achieve in terms of foreign policy, international co-operation and the Czech Republic’s standing. I am glad that the Czech Republic is not just a respected neighbour, but also a valuable partner in international organisations.
By Linda Štucbartová