Ambassador Vondra was a founding member of the Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia. He served as Foreign Policy Advisor to President Václav Havel (1990-1992) and was First Deputy Foreign Minister (1992-1997). From 1997 to 2001, Vondra was Czech Ambassador to the United States and afterwards, as Czech Government Commissioner, prepared the 2002 Prague NATO Summit. Later, he served as Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs (2006-2007), Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs (2007-2009) and Minister of Defense (2010-2012)
Mr. Vondra, when was your last visit to Bulgaria?
Probably some 7 years ago – I guess when I was a deputy prime minister for European affairs , getting ready for the EU presidency – around 2008. Since that no – I was a defense minister and there was no reason to come (laughs) and then in the recent years I am just a free man.
How do you like that – being a free man?
I like that, yes, I like it a lot. I am not addict to the power. Of course, look, politics is like a drug so I am still following that, I am still a party member and I am still organising on a district level but I am not in the big politics so much present as I was in the past; I am now on the bench.
You are following what’s going on on the international political arena? What is your personal stance on the Bulgarian internal and foreign affairs?
Well, some things have changed, I event think to better. You know in the last 7 years I met people like the ex-foreign minister Nikolaj Mladenov – I think he was doing a good job being one of the best amogst the foreign ministers That is a new generation of politicians – some of them are able, I think, to show up in the international arena with a good knowledge of subjects, with great speaking skills. That is definitely an improvement. You also have a new airport, as I saw (laughs). So, look – some things take time to change; some things change quicker, but I do not follow your country so closely to give you an expert assessment. However – today you had people who want to discuss, to develop. I had a nice time yesterday – meeting my friend Phillip Dimitrov, Mrs Maleeva. So – the fact is the Czechs gladly come here because Bulgarians like the Czechs – and we are a small country so it is always nice to come to a country where you are a subject of love as oppose to coming to a country where you are a subject of misconfidence. We all like to be loved.
If we stay on the foreign affairs topic, what is your take on Bulagria’s position on the recent Macedonian conflict?
Macedonia has its internal problems, I notice now, but you know it is an independent state and it should stay as an independent state without interfering from abroad. Of course, I would say that here politics of foreign policy of Bulgaria are reasonable in comparison for example to the Greeks; because these attempts constantly to undermine the independence of Macedonia I think doesn’t contribute to the peace and stability in the region. So, I think by contrast to the irresponsible politics of the Greek establishment here I think Bulgaria deserves a certain credit for being passive. Macedonia is an independent state, recognized by everybody except the Greeks, and I would say certainly I would not recommend you to follow the Greek example.
How do you feel about the Russia-Ukrainian issue and what do you consider to be the right move of the EU?
Without any doubt, the performance of Russia and Putin is an expression of an aggressive attitude. The annexation of Crimea is a breach of intentional law; we do have an order in Europe which prohibits to change the borders by force and they did it. And this is for the first time after the end of the cold war when we see performing of power in that way. But I would expect that the EU is more active and ready to show not just its vegetarian face but also a bit of muscles. And this is frankly a bit of problem, because the US are not leading this as much as they did through out the 90’s or until lets say 2008 and the EU is very much consumed by its internal problems, the crisis of the Euro zone, and Putin feels that he has free hands to realise his dream of expanding his empire. I think we should not make his life as comfortable as we are doing. So, here I am critical. Of course there are sanctions, but there is not reason to relax on the sanction because, you know, he is not cooperating enough , even when we are fixing the problem in Ukraine. I would be glad to see that the Europe and US do more to contain Putin.
The Czech republic recently approved a new strategy for the EU. Your party is known to be Euro-skeptic. What are we to expect?
My party is currently in opposition so if the socialist government now approves some new strategies certainly I wouldn’t have much admiration. I do not know, however, this particular strategy. I haven’t noticed any serious debate about this in my country even in the media. The minister of finance owns 50% of the media in my country, which I consider a dangerous development, but even if they are running the media, there is nothing about this strategy, so I do not know what this is about. Regarding Europe – my party is not against the European Union, we are together with the British Conservative in favor of reforming the EU, to make it less bureaucratic. We like Europe as an environment where all those key freedoms – freedom of movement of people, goods, capital, services. That is the great advantage, that is something the people from my and your country benefit from. You are still waiting for a lot of things including the freedom of movement of the people. So lets concentrate on the those issues instead of building another empire, because to have a vegetarian empire is not what causes respect among others and what generates enough support amongst the people in Europe. So it must be democratic and it must be free market, the organisation – we are living in free conditions when we could realise our dream in education, business etc. but in some areas Europe is different. So, to expect to build US of Europe as a federal state – we are not ready for that and in speeding up we can cause even more damages than benefits. A classic example is the Euro zone. Some countries were accepted, like Greece, and they were not ready, and we saw what happened. And it is now an extremely complicated situation. Because what shall we do – to turn our back on Greek – that is not good because it means to open the gates for Putin – something that Churchill would never allow! Or to decide to pay to them forever – that is something that can change the politics in Germany, in Scandinavia, Netherlands in way that could be too risky – more nationalistic movements. So sometimes to go slowly is better than to speed up without being really ready.
According to an US report on human rights from 2013 Bulgaria and Czech Republic are still lagging behind and attention should be paid to gender equality, transparency, corruption. How do you interpret that?
When I was assuming some responsibility in the public office I have always had women around, and in the top positions – deputy ministers, so on the one hand women have always had chance , when I was building the teams to assume to get a position. That is not a secret, everybody knows that. At the same time as a liberal, I am against social engineering in accepting and accommodating the various quotas. I think that the people have to assume their position based on their experiences, knowledge, skills, not according their sex. That is my deep conviction, that my party would stand behind. May be some Americans are writing some report by the Obama administration, the so called left progressive agenda disseminated by some European socialist, but that is a normal ideological disagreement which has nothing to do with the security where we are really interested in – keeping the Transatlantic bond and the US cooperation strong. I think dealing with Putin is more important than discussing the LGBT rights in Moscow.
Bulgaria is the least satisfied country in Europe and one of the saddest in the world according to recent researches and that is shaping as a trend in the past years. Czech Republic on the other hand is in the golden middle? Can we blame it on the political system?
Czechs are known to be skeptical and I don’t know how to measure their happiness But the fact is that we do have some comparative advantages which have nothing to do with the qualities of the Czechs and the Bulgarians – we have may be more comfortable geographical locations – it’s easier to get to Prague than Sofia – by car, by plane..etc. On the other hand, you can be still considered part of this unstable Balkan Peninsula. This however isn’t something that make you less imported in my eyes or in my mind. I think that Bulgarians are trying to do what they can. However, I noticed that there is still the debate about the role of the Communist society. We did get rid of that narrative long ago and that was one of the main purposes of my visit . Everything, however, is in your own hands – we can not do this on your behalf.
*Read the Bulgarian translation of the interview at http://www.forumnews.bg/post/40947/