The Chinese president Xi Jinping is paying a visit to the Czech Republic in the period 28 – 30th March 2016 for the very first time. Many state officials have already visited the Czech Republic since the Velvet Revolution, but this time, it feels somewhat special.
Where are the controversies and what are the reactions of ordinary Czechs that should be enjoying their extra long Easter weekend but instead spend time defacing Chinese flags, demonstrating or erecting billboards with a bit different message than the one provided by the Czech-Chinese Chamber of Mutual Cooperation?
Chinese and Czech flags have popped up like mushrooms after the rain alongside the Evropská street and on the way to the Prague Castle already on Thursday, 24th March (the last working day before Xi Jinping’s visit). Ten billboards welcoming the Chinese president have also been erected in the city centre of Prague. See video below.
The erection of these flags did not come unnoticed by the general public.
And since their erection, there have been several attempts to deface them. The first one was happening already on the night to Friday 25th March 2016 when a 33-year old man climbed a ladder and removed two Chinese plastic flags from the pole. He was soon after captured by the police and is now under investigation.
Around fifty Chinese flags were defaced a night later by black/gray colour loaded in empty egg shells that were thrown against the flags. The police are still investigating who did this. However, this action got attention from the foreign media. The defaced flags were then taken down, cleaned and subsequently returned.
The last flag incident dates back to only a few hours before the arrival of the Chinese president Xi Jinping to Prague, where a group of activists replaced some of them with Tibet flags. This action ended up in a fight with by-standing Chinese people that came to greet the Chinese president on arrival. The police managed to restore order, and 12 people were detained.
A light installation of Terracotta army has been placed on the Vltava river – gallery.
Why Tibetan flag?
The Czech Republic is orienting its foreign policy on adherence to the human rights. One of the initiatives that support this is the annual hoisting of a Tibet flag by municipalities and public institutions (e.g. libraries) on the 10th of March every year.
Od rána vlaje😉 Připojili jsme se symbolicky k mezinárodní kampani Vlajka pro Tibet. #vlajkaprotibet #JU #JihoceskaUniverzita #Univerzita #CeskeBudejovice #jihočeská #universityofsouthbohemia #flag #vlajka
A photo posted by Jihočeská univerzita (@jihoceskauniverzita) on
The tradition started in 1996 with 4 participating municipalities but gradually gained popularity when in 2008 it was already 349 of cities and this number more than doubled by 2016 when 758 municipalities hoisted the flag. Schools started to participate in this event in 2009 with 31 of them erecting the Tibetan flag up to 118 in 2016. Source: Flag for Tibet.
The Czechs simply remember how it felt to be under the oppression, and this is probably also the explanation why Chinese red flags have an effect of showing a red cloth to the corrida bull for the Czechs. Not to mention that the Chinese flag is visually reminding them of the USSR flag that they were obliged to hoist during the era of Communism in the Czechoslovakia.
Czech – Chinese relations
The visit of Chinese president is not only about the flags decorating the route from the airport to the Prague castle, but also about protests and demonstrations. One billboard has been hoisted by the group fighting in a long term for a statue of Václav Havel to be erected in Prague. Their addition to the strong Chinese resentment has been the placement of this billboard:
Referring to a visit of Dalai Lama and his close relations with the former president of the Czech Republic – Václav Havel. According to the group, this was the only solution to place the billboard as all the public areas have been already taken, so they had to go for this mobile version.
Who paid for all this?
The flags and billboards welcoming the Chinese president in the Czech Republic have been paid for by the Czech-Chinese Chamber of Mutual Cooperation. The head of this Chamber (and also the head of China Investment Forum) – Jaroslav Tvrdík is not unknown to general public. He used to be the country’s Minister of Defense (2001-2003 – he delivered his resignation twice) and the head of Czech Airlines (2003-2006), where he increased salaries by a third, changed the car and plane fleet and was considering significant investments such as buying the bankrupt Hungarian national airline Malév.
So although the general public can sleep tight that this flag roadshow is not being paid from their taxes, it is not that true. The whole stay of the Chinese president has been considered as an event requiring extreme safety measures. Thousands of policemen are deployed in the streets (oh, it is a bank holiday on Easter Monday = double pay), army Gripens have been accompanying the Chinese plane to the airport, and many roads and institutions were closed, so there is certainly a cost to the Czech taxpayer. But such costs occur during any important state visit, although no American flags were hoisted during the visit of Barak Obama in 2009.
Czech president for Chinese TV
A massive incident in the eyes of the Czechs has been this interview for the Chinese CCTV:
The sanity of the Czech president has been doubted already before (rude expressions, crown jewels incident), but this statement that the former government was playing according to the lyrics of the Western world – namely the USA and the EU has been resonating in the Czech Republic quite significantly and that now, finally, the Czech Republic is an independent country again. Some voices declare such behaviour to be treason. However, the president Zeman may get again lucky because it is uncertain that he would be charged with treason for such statements as the motion needs to be proposed by both the members of parliament and the senators.
The show must go on
The visit of the Chinese president in Prague will be accompanied by a very colourful program. The spokesman of the president has created a special Twitter account to report on the visit of Xi Jinping to the Czech Republic.
The program reads (and can change):
Monday – 28th March 2016
14:00 – Arrival of the Chinese President Xi Jinping by a special flight to the Václav Havel Airport
17:00 – Meeting with the Czech President Miloš Zeman at the castle in Lány
17:20 – Presidents plant together a Ginkgo Biloba tree and a reveal of a memorial sign
Tuesday – 29th March 2016
10:00 – Meeting of Presidents at the Prague Castle including a military parade (including 21 salvos from the cannons – an honour not paid since fifty years ago)
10:35 – Private meeting of the Czech and Chinese President
11:45 – Documents signing between the representatives of the Czech Republic and China, followed by a meeting with the press
12:45 – Meeting of the two presidents with talented young football and hockey players
15:30 – Meeting of the Chinese president and Milan Štěch – head of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic
16:05 – Meeting of the Chinese president with Jan Hamáček – head of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic
16:35 – Meeting of the Chinese president with Bohuslav Sobotka – the prime minister of the Czech Republic
17:10 – Meeting of the Chinese president with Adriana Krnáčová – the mayor of the City of Prague
Wednesday – 30th March 2016
10:00 – Participation of the Czech and Chinese President in the round table discussion with the Czech and Chinese investors at Palác Žofín
11:30 – Visit of the Chinese president in the Strahov Monastery
15:00 – Departure of the Chinese president by a special flight from the Václav Havel Airport in Prague
What will the coming days bring? For sure it will be signing of at least 20 documents strengthening the cooperation between the Czech Republic and the People’s Republic of China worth billions of crowns, but also, demonstrations as protesters have reserved several public places. Will the visit bring a panda for the ZOO in Prague? We will see!
Panda and Krteček however already started their adventures: