Czech President backed by protocol buffs, not public on security clash

Czech protocol experts leapt to the defense of their president in his walk off from an Australian security check; the public is unsure

Politics & Policy|Foreign Affairs
Chris Johnstone | 27.07.2011
Passing through the Australian Parliament metal detector security was given a firm veto by the Czech head of state

Czech President Václav Klaus has won support from some unexpected quarters for his refusal to pass through a security metal detector while visiting the Australian Parliament earlier this week.

Klaus defied the detector and turned his back on the routine security check, telling an astonished Australian TV journalist that she could interview him at his hotel rather than at the on-site parliamentary studio beyond the metal barrier. In spite of being assured by the journalist and guard that it was normal to go through barrier, Klaus stalked off over the horizon.

Back home, style-etiquette guru and ex-spokesman of former Czech President Václav Havel (no friend of Klaus), Ladislav Špaček has leapt to the current president’s defense. Špaček said the Czech head of state reacted correctly according to normal protocol with his “I shall not pass” stance, telling Czech business daily Hospodářksé noviny that the Australians were to blame for the incident, putting it down to their supposed lack of communication and knowledge about such things.

‘They are Australians; they have no idea of the importance of the person who is arriving, least of all the operative.’

“It is absolutely out of place to check a head of state; it is disrespectful. I am not at all surprised that Klaus turned around and went off. He should not be there trying to agree with some operative that he is not a terrorist,” Špaček said.

Špaček said Klaus had performed many similar visits but had never been confronted in the past by security checks. He suggested something antipodean might be to blame. “They are Australians; they have no idea of the importance of the person who is arriving, least of all the operative. He’s a person who has his job and does not have to think about anything else,” Špaček added.

The Czech president’s office head of protocol, Jindřich Forejt, described his boss’ Australian treatment as “incredible.” Although Klaus was not on a state visit during his two-week trip to Australia, he was nonetheless still head of state and should be treated as such, he said.

“Wherever he goes and for whatever reason, he is still the head of state” Forejt explained, adding that the Australian government had afforded the appropriate protection to the Czech President during his visit.

The protocol chief, who prepared the historic summit between US President Barack Obama and Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev in April 2010, expressed doubts whether other top visitors to Australia had been asked to undergo such security check.

“I don’t know how the Australians acted during this year’s visit by Prince William. I have doubts that he was subjected to some security or police checks at the airport or such places. I have never heard of that,” Forejt told Czech daily Lidové Noviny.

‘Here, not even diplomats have to go through such checks. For me, personally, this is an unprecedented step.’

Forejt said the Australian treatment for a head of state visiting the Czech Republic would be unthinkable. “Here, not even diplomats have to go through such checks. For me, personally, this is an unprecedented step,” he added.

But while the protocol and diplomacy buffs seems to side with Klaus on his stand over his latter day Iron Curtain — or rather metal security barrier — the Czech public appears less convinced about their, apparently increasingly blunder-prone. president.

According to a survey run by the news weekly, Týden, 44 percent of Czechs agreed that their president’s prestige had been undermined. But just under a third (32 percent) thought security rules should apply to all, and 24 percent said the whole incident was just another example of exaggerated behavior by Klaus.

The Czech President gained unwanted worldwide celebrity when he was caught pocketing an expensive jeweled pen at a signing ceremony in Chile during his Latin American tour in April. The incident was filmed and went viral worldwide on the Internet, much to the chagrin of Klaus.

Snub central

The Australian visit has been organized by the Australian think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, with Václav Klaus using the occasion to pour scorn on the concept of manmade global warming. Australia has in recent years suffered severe droughts and floods, with many blaming man-made climate change and increased climate instability. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other top politicians have refused to meet Klaus on his visit.

Czech media commented that the number of Klaus’ state visits has declined while the number of his propagandistic private visits has increased as his enters the twilight years of his second mandate as head of state and recedes down the invitation list.   

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