Kavan: The art of losing allies

It may be that the public’s tolerance for communist cronyism is fading a bit. With the recent dismissal of Prime Minister Milos Zeman’s adviser, Miroslav Slouf – a man credited with championing a wide array of corrupt affairs – the attention of some is now turning to Zeman’s foreign minister, Jan Kavan. Like Slouf, Kavan seems unable to avoid controversy.

Kavan’s own controversy began in the 1960s and is detailed in a widely circulated book titled KATO. The acronym is the operational code name assigned to Kavan by communist state police during his alleged cooperation with them while he lived in England. To date, Kavan refuses to give an adequate explanation regarding his activities while abroad, stating only that he did nothing wrong. This background may explain why Kavan’s attitude toward the Czech Republic’s strongest and most influential ally, the United States, is lukewarm at best. When NATO decided to use force during the Kosovo crisis, the Czech government decided to voice its disagreement by stating that the decision to use force in Kosovo was made before we were actually voted into NATO.”

Not learning from his diplomatic faux pas, Kavan next roused the ire of the United States by saying in the European Parliament that the Czech Republic didn’t feel that U.S. sanctions against Cuba were an effective tool. While it’s quite reasonable to disagree with allies, such disagreements should always be ironed out behind closed doors, and not blurted out in the context of European Union resolutions, as was the case. Does the minister understand the meaning of the term alliance? As far as responsible behavior toward allies is concerned, no. As far as pushing the limits of that alliance, yes.According to observers, U.S.-Czech diplomatic relations are at their lowest point since 1990. Although Kavan might not hold all the blame, he does share much, if not most, of it.

This was to have been the subject of a closed debate with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during Kavan’s recent visit to the United States. However, just after arriving to Washington, Kavan experienced a little heart attack” and had to be admitted to a hospital. This prevented him from meeting with Powell, but apparently was not serious enough to keep him from leaving the hospital two days later and jetting off to the United Nations to push his candidacy as the next possible head of the UN General Assembly. To be fair, Kavan does have a long-standing history of cardiac disease and bypass surgeries. However, as a practicing physician, I do know that in the United States (as well as in the Czech Republic), no patient with a history of pre-existing cardiac bypass who experiences a heart attack – however small – is allowed to fly and resume a busy schedule two days after the event. To add insult to injury, Kavan carried no health insurance to cover him while traveling abroad.

Kavan’s explanation was that had he been traveling privately, he would, of course, have purchased travel insurance but that the Czech Cabinet feels that paying health-insurance premiums for government employees traveling abroad is far more expensive than paying their bills directly on an as-needed basis. And so Kavan’s woeful lack of understanding of the big picture again asserted itself; at the international level, where public scrutiny tends to be quite high, there are situations in which maintaining an image of professionalism and organization – such as carrying health insurance – simply counts for more than pulling money out of a briefcase to pay a hospital bill. (Czech politicians traveling abroad are also denied government credit-card accounts). Although Kavan has been dogged by controversy, the most potentially damaging one surrounds his former secretary, Karel Srba.

In an exhaustive account, the Czech daily newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes detailed Srba’s involvement in scandals involving corruption, extortion and bribery. Srba was forced to resign and has now been charged with committing a criminal act in connection with his role in the ministry’s illegal and underpriced renting of a building in Moscow. Kavan explained Srba’s departure with wonderful post-communist jargon: Srba is leaving not because he broke the law but because he caused his minister a problem.”Unfortunately, it’s now become clear that it is Kavan who causes problems and also fails to listen. It is equally unfortunate that he remains in office.
– The writer is a physician and publisher of The New Presence


The Prague Post25.7.2001

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