Awkward questions follow Ukrainian ex-minister’s Czech asylum

Granting asylum to Bohdan Danylyshyn could complicate bilateral relations. But never underestimate the power of realpolitik.

Foreign Affairs
Martin Shabu | 30.01.2011
Bohdan Danylyshyn is now free to live in the Czech Republic

At first glance, the Czech Republic’s decision to grant a visa to Bohdan Danylyshyn, the former economy minister of Ukraine who faces charges of abuse of power in negotiating state contracts, could appear to damage bilateral relations.

Danylyshyn sought asylum in Prague due to fears he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Ukraine; he says the accusations against him are part of a drive to stifle opposition in Ukraine. Since his asylum was granted primarily as a political move, rather than a purely legal one, it raises a number of difficult questions, chiefly: How will it impact on relations with Kiev?

The current Ukrainian government is pursing numerous members of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s cabinet. The granting of asylum to Danylyshyn also comes at a time when the post of Czech ambassador to Kiev has been vacant since Jaroslav Bašta left the post in April 2010 — under dubious circumstances. The anti-corruption police have been investigating the former ambassador over his alleged role in improperly issuing Czech visas; however, this week, the police announced that he won’t face criminal charges.

Diplomats claim, however, that the Danylyshyn case won’t affect Czech-Ukrainian cooperation. “I think that we do many things stupidly, but not in this case, exceptionally,” a Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told Czech Position on condition of anonymity. “Reasonable businesspeople have told me that it hasn’t affected them in any way, even in terms of state contracts.”

Does the Danylyshyn case set a precedent?

The ex-minister is far from alone in seeking refuge here. Many of his countrymen are seeking asylum in the Czech Republic on the same basis as Danylyshyn has given. But others are doing so based on another reason: access to health care. “Appeals for asylum are also made on the grounds of medical care, which in my view is a bigger problem,” the same Czech ministry official said.

Barroso came under fire for meeting Uzbek president Ismael Karimov last week

Human rights or claim to ethical standards — which should drive foreign policy? It is possible that, thanks to Danylyshyn, the Czech Republic will truly be perceived as a country that makes decision based on the principles of humanity. This will certainly not change the reality ... of realpolitik.

Consider the European Commission president José Manuela Barroso, who this past Monday met with Uzbek president Ismael Karimov. The Uzbek regime is often criticized for massive infringements of human rights, including the torture of political prisoners. Due to the general outcry over the visit of Karimov (said to be responsible for massacring 1,500 of his own people just six years ago), Barroso refused to hold a press conference and face embarrassing questions from journalists.

The reaction from the Czech Republic? Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats, ODS) said a word in public against Brussels, which illustrates the randomness of decision-making regarding politically sensitive questions in the international context.

A royal sell out

A beautiful example of such Czech behavior is the case of Qatari Prince Hamad bin Abdallah bin Thani al-Thani, who was convicted in May 2005 of sexually abusing underage girls in the Czech Republic and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Just days after the prince was charged by Czech authorities, then justice minister Pavel Němec ordered his release on a promise that he would be prosecuted in Qatar; local prosecution dropped the case two years later.

The Qatari royal family paid Kč 20 million for his release. Realpolitik. 

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