The celebration of the 34th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution takes place in a new geopolitical context for the Czech Republic, because the country shares the same concerns as Albania, our region, the European Union and the West in general.
“Following Russia’s brutal attempt to redraw borders by force, Czechia presents its new security strategy, a direct and holistic approach based on the fundamental recognition that ‘Czechia is not safe’ in a context international situation which is deteriorating,” said the Ambassador of the Czech Republic. Republic in Tirana, Mr. Karel Urban in this interview with the Albanian Daily News.
The Czech envoy to Albania shares his thoughts on the state of bilateral relations, his impressions of Albania and messages from the commemoration of the Velvet Revolution in the current context of the continent and the world.
-Your Excellency, thank you for this opportunity. You have been in Tirana for almost two years. Have you had the opportunity to travel? Are the Czechs visiting?
-I could say straight away that Albania is a very beautiful country, a jewel in Europe. The number of Czechs visiting not only the beautiful and spectacular Northern Alps, but also those in the South, has increased sustainably over the years. The reactions in their country have been very positive and many Czechs are buying apartments in Albania. It is a safe country with wonderful prospects. I must say that throughout Albania I found warm hospitality and saw the kindness of the Albanian people. As you rightly say, “Shtëpia e shqiptarit është mikut dhe e Zotit” (The Albanian’s house belongs to the host and to God).
-Mr. Ambassador, coming to the newly created geopolitical context; How is Czechia affected in light of recent international developments?
-The international situation is tense and the world is surely changing rapidly. With this in mind, Czechia is taking measures and recently adopted a new security strategy. It is very direct and precise, with the end goal of increasing the resilience of Czech society.
Following the 2015 security strategy, my government, with the cooperation of all central and local institutions and with an important contribution from civil society, understood the need to have such an important tool in the face of internal and external threats imminent.
According to the approved document, Czechia must be able to resist hostile influences in the areas of cybersecurity, information, economics and intelligence and be ready to deal with emergencies and crises.
-Could you tell us a little more about Czechia’s security strategy for 2023?
-Following Russia’s brutal attempt to redraw borders by force, Czechia presents its new security strategy, a direct and holistic approach based on the fundamental recognition that “Czechia is not safe” in a context international which is deteriorating. Serving as a general wake-up call to the current reality, the strategy goes so far as to admit that Czechia must prepare carefully to become an integral part of a multidimensional, even armed, conflict. The document specifically names Russia “as the greatest immediate and long-standing direct threat to Europe’s security and to the rules-based international order.”
In 130 paragraphs, the strategy offers a comprehensive playbook on how the country can ensure its security based on a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, focusing beyond the obvious and indispensable role of the military.
In advocates comprehensive resilience in multiple areas as well as responsibility of all ministries and the public sector as well as businesses and civil society. The general outlook will gradually be supplemented by other strategic documents, particularly in the economic (energy, raw materials, food, trade policy), internal, cyber and other areas.
The emphasis is not on creating autonomy but rather on promoting unity around a preemptive and value-consistent foreign policy, in the spirit of Vaclav Havel’s legacy. With this in mind, the Czech Republic’s membership in NATO and the EU is of crucial importance to guarantee the country’s security. “A threat against an ally is a threat against Czechia.”
The strategy emphasizes that Europe’s security is closely linked to the security and stability of its neighborhood. Indeed, the Western Balkans are important partners of the Czech Republic and the EU as a whole. Czechia actively participates in promoting Euro-Atlantic values, reconciliation and the spirit of cooperation in the region, particularly in areas that remain fragile, and continues to tirelessly support the future of the Western Balkans and Albania within the EU. Czechia and Albania can count on each other to unite as allies against aggression and violence in the world.
-Mr. Ambassador, how would you define bilateral relations between our countries? What are the areas of cooperation?
– Last year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of bilateral relations. Our relations are excellent. The level of trade remains high. In October we received an official visit from a group of senators, while last week the heads of various Czech municipalities visited Korça, Gjirokastra, Tepelena and Saranda. Czechia remains a strong supporter of Albania’s integration into the EU and we have expressed our willingness to help at all levels. At the same time, Czechia supports the integration of the entire Western Balkan region. We are happy to see how far Albania has progressed. Look at Albania’s contribution to the United Nations Security Council, Human Rights Council, NATO, etc. Recently, the Berlin Process took place here in Tirana, for the first time outside the EU. Without a doubt, my congratulations for your efforts.
Cultural ties run deep. This week, for example, we are paying tribute to a famous Albanian author who studied in the former Czechoslovakia. Simon Gjoni and his “Lule bore» were sung in the premises of our embassy, while the works of Smetana and Dvorak were performed at the University of Arts. At Kadare House we commemorated Svejk and I was able to see how Albanians relate to the “special humor” of the good soldier. Friends from Czechia are very active in Tirana, I am happy and I feel at home in the middle of this community.
Of course, strengthening our economic cooperation is one of our mutual priorities. Sectors with high potential for economic and commercial cooperation in which Czechia has a lot to offer are the mining industry, transport infrastructure, especially urban public transport, air traffic control, railway modernization, energy infrastructure and finally health care or agriculture.
-Mr. Ambassador, the Velvet Revolution in your country began on November 17, 24 years ago. What does this date mean to you?
– In fact, Czechia is celebrating 34 years since young people and students surprised the world and led a heroic struggle to win freedom, democracy and decency for all. The values of November 1989 must continue to be protected and not taken for granted.
Like here, Europe was a dream for us. Human rights didn’t exist and, as Kundera elegantly puts it, your life could be ruined, even because of a “joke.” Life was unbearable and yet I am happy that the transition for the former Czechoslovakia was smooth. This is the moment to remember dissidents like Vaclav Havel, the first president of democratic Czechoslovakia.
Young people are essential to any society and their active participation is essential to foster democratic change. Today’s young people have more opportunities in terms of access to information and can travel, study and work freely abroad. This knowledge and experience can then be transformed into real added value in their country of origin, both in their career and in their contribution to civil society. This freedom to actively shape one’s future is something that previous generations fought for and should not be taken for granted. This is why today we engage with social media to focus on the role of young people historically but also today.
-One last question, Mr. Ambassador. Czechia and Albania are in the same football group. Do you see us together in Germany in 2024?
-Football reaches people. You have a very good team. We will be happy to enjoy the games with Czech beer on Skënderbej Square. I hope we both make it to the final. I wish Albania good luck! / DNA