Should the U.S. Ambassador Be Banned from Prague Castle?

Locals weigh in on diplomatic brouhaha

By Vera Penavic

After criticizing Czech President Milos Zeman’s (right) upcoming trip to Russia, the American ambassador to the Czech Republic Andrew Schapiro (left) was banned from visiting Prague Castle. Photo courtesy of Radio.cz.

Since his 2013 election, President Milos Zeman has done a few things to shock Czech citizens — from suggesting people with disabilities cannot be integrated into regular schools to vulgarly discussing the female anatomy in a radio interview. This time, however, there were no alleged drunken stumbles in front of crown jewels. Instead, Zeman took a stand against American power by banning Andrew Schapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, from Prague Castle. 

President Zeman decided to attend a World War II commemoration in Moscow on May 9. Along with representatives from Cyprus and Greece, Zeman will be one of three Senior Representatives from the European Union attending. Though many world leaders respect the role Russia played in liberating Nazi victims, the United States and European Union are protesting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its supports of the rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, most Western leaders are not attending the commemoration. Ambassador Schapiro called Zeman’s decision to attend “awkward” during a Czech Television interview in late March and was promptly banned from the Castle, where Zeman is boss.

Zeman thought it wasn’t Schapiro’s place to comment on his decision. “I can’t imagine the Czech ambassador in Washington would give advice to the American president where to travel. I won’t let any ambassador have a say about my foreign travels,” Zeman told Parlamentni Listy, a Czech news site.

Although the diplomatic fracas has calmed down since with behind the scenes conciliatory discussions by aides on both sides, Czechs are still pondering their heads over the political spectacle. We went out on the streets to get a sense of public opinion in Prague:

 

Veronika Kirschnerova, 43, Primary School Teacher

Do you think it is okay for an American diplomat to comment on what a Czech president does?

I am not sure whether the American diplomat actually commented on the president’s activities. I understood he was asked to comment on it and he tried to answer in a really diplomatic way to avoid the “no comment” answer. In general, I think the American diplomat has the right to comment on anything. He should be aware of the fact that he is representing his country and maybe his comments might be taken as the statement of his country. Me, as a citizen, I have no problem with anybody commenting anything as long at it is not in a conflict with our legal system.

 

Do you think President Zeman handled the situation well? If not, how do you think he handled it?

No, I think President Zeman did not handle the situation well. His statements are always exaggerated and they seem to me to be mainly said to attract attention. Zeman is a person who has always liked to listen to himself; he thinks he is very clever and funny but he does not seem to think about the impacts of his words. Not only in this case he shows that he makes statements as Mr. Milos Zeman and not as a president of a country.

 

In his role as a diplomat, do you think Ambassador Schapiro was in a place to criticize Zeman’s travel plans?

If I had a chance I would tell Mr. Zeman the same. In any case, I hope Mr. Shapiro and the U.S. (and other countries) understand that Mr. Zeman is not the same as the Czech Republic.

 

Tereza Novicka, 25, Charles University Student

Do you think it is okay for an American diplomat to comment on what a Czech president does?

I believe if the commentary is relevant to current events and relevant especially to the nation’s official foreign policy, then yes. It’s constructive for a public debate for any diplomat to comment on the actions of any president. Presently, the situation is of course escalated due to the conflict in Ukraine, so the divide between being pro-American or pro-Russian is much more distinct.

 

Do you think President Zeman handled the situation well? If not, how do you think he handled it? 

No. Zeman handled the situation as he usually does — by blatantly ignoring official Czech foreign policy and propagating his personal pro-Russian attitude that hopefully doesn’t reflect the opinion of the Czech majority, yet is deemed to by Western media. The president’s role shouldn’t be to act out his own personal vendetta, his function is a representative one and Zeman’s antics cast a negative shadow upon the entire Czech nation.

 

In his role as a diplomat, do you think Ambassador Schapiro was in a place to criticize Zeman’s travel plans?

Due to the conflict currently taking place in Ukraine, yes.

 

Andrea Luetic, 26, Charles University Student

I do not think it is okay for a foreign ambassador to tell a president what to do. Even if Zeman is one of the few EU representatives going to a war commemoration he should be able to make the decision himself. War is something to be commemorated so that it can be avoided. Zeman should be able to do that.

 

Tomas Weiss, 34, Head of Department of West European Studies at Charles University

Do you think it is okay for an American diplomat to comment on what a Czech president does?

In general, diplomats need to be very cautious in commenting internal politics in the host country. However, Schapiro was very, very careful and he clearly said that it was not his position to comment on Zeman’s decisions. So I do not think that Schapiro behaved that bad. He could have refused to answer altogether when pushed for an answer, but he made it clear that he was stepping a bit out of what he should comment and his comment was all in all pretty restrained.

 

Do you think President Zeman handled the situation well? If not, how do you think he handled it? 

Zeman clearly misused the interview for his own domestic political agenda. If he wanted to deal with it, he could have done it in private. He did not have to make a case for the news out of it. This clearly shows that he was not interested in Schapiro or the actual content of the statement, but in using it as an opportunity to make it to the headlines and to gather his supporters.

 

In his role as a diplomat, do you think Ambassador Schapiro was in a place to criticize Zeman’s travel plans?

His role was to express the American government’s views. And his decision is in which for he does it.

 

Vera Penavic is in the NYU College of Arts and Science Class of 2017. Her hometown is Smithtown, New York.

 

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Categories: Spring 2015 Issue Number 3

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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