Energy Nuclear Renewables SECURITY 30 January, 2023 8:00 am   
COMMENTS: Piotr Rudyszyn

Rudyszyn: Petr Pavel’s win is a success. However, it doesn’t spell Babis’s end (INTERVIEW)

Petr Pavel during his army service. Photo: U.S. Army. Petr Pavel during his army service. Photo: U.S. Army.

Babis tried to portray himself as a champion of peace, and paint Pavel as pushing for war only because he is a general. This simplification failed. It seems that the Czechs were tired of division and will strive to bury the hatchet. However, they must remember that Babis is not leaving politics – says Piotr Rudyszyn from the Jagiellonian Institute in an interview with Petr Pavel is a former general of the Czech army and NATO. What kind of a person, in terms of temperament and views, is the new president of the Czech Republic?

Piotr Rudyszyn: Petr Pavel is a perfectionist, probably like any military man. He is very competent and experienced in both defence and diplomacy. He was Chair of the NATO Military Committee, and that requires a lot of skill. He is educated, experienced and it is difficult to see any flaws. In addition, in the last phase of the campaign, when he canceled meetings with voters because of a cold, he warmed his image in another way. He did this, among other things, through photos with his cat, which became a meme. Their positive reception translated into the final success.

One can say that a presidential campaign is really about mistakes. The winner is the one who commits the least of them. Was this campaign the same?

The final difference between the candidates was about 17 percent. This is a lot, considering that in the first round the difference was only 22 thousand votes. In the final round, it was almost a million. This shows how well Pavel led this difficult campaign and how big mistakes Babis made.

Pavel’s campaign did not get much coverage in the Polish media. Nobody noticed that, in fact, during the entire run he did not make any mistakes. Not only that, he learned lessons from previous campaigns, such as the one five years ago, when Professor Jiří Drahoš met with the current President Zeman. The general learned from all the mistakes that the candidates made at that time, and, for example, he sought to ensure that those from the first round who had supported him personally engaged in his campaign. So that there was no doubt that this support was real. Danuše Nerudová who got 700 thousand votes and senator Pavel Fischer who got 300 thousand started to frequent his campaign hq and meetings with voters. More than 90 percent of those votes went to general Pavel. Those voters either voted for him or they didn’t vote at all. This is thanks to the fact that the new president of the Czech Republic made sure they were present at numerous meetings during the second round.

Pavel also decided that since he had won the first round, there was no use in trying to win over those who already supported him. He did not change his views and rhetoric, but began to appear in the so-called strongholds of Babis. In the first round, it seemed that only the big and largest cities voted for the general, but he still had to convince those who live in big cities, but don’t vote. Babis failed to win them over, and he made a few mistakes, which Pavel diligently used, and on Monday went to Usti nad Labem, the town where Babis got the most votes. Two thousand people came to meet the general. Then Pavel’s staff decided that if it was possible to gather such a crowd there, they had to continue along this path. So he toured the regions where he lost in the first round. It definitely had an effect, because 200,000 voters who first voted for Babis, supported Pavel in the second round.

Pavel says he wants the Czech Republic to be independent of Russian fossil fuels. Can we expect the Czechs to seek a complete separation from Russia?

Right now the Czech energy industry is in a slightly better position than Poland’s. They have nuclear power and are in the process of expanding one of their two nuclear power plants. This means that in a relatively short time this balance will improve. At one time, the Czech Republic strongly supported the development of renewable energy sources, but they also have many hydropower plants, which they inherited from the previous system. Therefore, the Czechs have a larger share of RES and nuclear energy, so they only need to handle energy generated from lignite.

General Pavel will continue the actions of the current government, that is, cooperation related to the purchase of LNG, moving away from Russian raw materials and further diversification. It should be remembered that this is the former Chair of the NATO Military Committee, and he perfectly understands what Russia is and that it is fighting not only with weapons, soldiers, but above all with fossil fuels. He understands very well the narrative that Poland uses.

The Czech Republic actively supported Ukraine after the Russian invasion. Should we expect even more support after the election of an “anti-Russian” president?

Yes. It should be noted that president Volodymyr Zelensky was one of the first three heads of state who congratulated him on the victory. The other two presidents were Macron and Duda. The president-elect said he would visit Ukraine as soon as possible. He also invited Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová to show a common front.

I would like to point out that 400 thousand Ukrainians live in the territory of the 10-million-strong Czech Republic. This is a really impressive number, very similar to what we see here. More than 70% of refugees from Ukraine work, pay taxes or are in schools. This shows that this situation also brings tangible benefits to the Czech Republic.

What is the significance of this win for the Polish-Czech relations?

These relations have been exemplary since the government in Prague changed, and I can say that they have never been better. Today, when the president is a man who perfectly understands the policy pursued by Poland, one can imagine that they will be even better, if at all possible.

It is worth noting that Pavel’s statement about the visit to Poland was made in the heat of the election fight, but this gesture should be appreciated, since never before has such a thing happened in relations between the two countries. There is an unwritten tradition in the region that the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia visit each other after the elections. Most often, the next trip is a visit to Brussels. So we have to appreciate this gesture, because it says a lot, and the commitment of Poland and the Czech Republic to help Ukraine is really very important.

How did current president Miloš Zeman react to Petr Pavel’s victory?

Zeman said he was surprised by the results and did not expect the general to win. He also said he was skeptical of the new president. This was to be expected, however, as both gentlemen have completely different views on international politics. Here it is worth mentioning Zeman’s fascination with China or Russia. There is a lot of talk about the fact that when it comes to exercising power and treating the office, Pavel will most probably follow the path of Václav Havel.

What about Andrej Babis?

This is a question that I don’t think Babis himself has answered. It should be noted that he won 2.4 million votes. Such a result was enough for Zeman to take office as president, so this number cannot be underestimated.

Babis may feel satisfied with the result, but the party (ANO party-ed.) and its supporters may see this differently. It has been reported that about 40 percent of supporters of Babis’s party did not vote for him – they either decided not to go to the pools, or voted for general Pavel.

The group also said that lessons should be learned from the last three defeats, namely the presidential, local and senate elections. These were good results, but too low to win. It is worth noting that in the largest and strongest voivodeship in terms of support for Babis, in the Silesian part of the Czech Republic, both the Marshal of the Voivodeship and the regional head of the party decided not to support their candidate. Both men said after the first round that they would not vote for Babis. This was due to his behavior during daily debates, where he gave in to emotions. We cannot talk about peace in an aggressive way.

Babis tried to portray himself as an advocate of peace, and picture Pavel as pushing for war only because he is a general. This simplification was not received well, many have had enough of populism and lies. Interestingly, the society in the Czech Republic was divided due to his long participation in politics, and in the second round there was a certain unification against Babis.

It seems that the Czechs are tired of division and will strive to bury the hatchet. However, they must remember that Babis is not leaving politics, he has enormous influence in the party and the media. In the future, he will most probably criticize the Czech government and wait for the next elections. As long as he’s in the game, anything is possible.

Interview by Jędrzej Stachura