New Era in Czech Politics as Petr Pavel Takes Office

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Petr Pavel, former Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces and retired Chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee, ran as an independent candidate in the 2023 Czech Presidential Election. Pavel, having won by an overwhelming margin of 58.32 percent of the vote to 41.67 percent, defeating former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, took office as the fourth President of the Czech Republic on March 9, 2023. The commencement of Pavel’s term represents the dawning of a new era, not only for him but also for his country. Indeed, substantial changes are on the horizon for the Czech Republic, primarily, in terms of foreign policy.

In retrospect, prior to Pavel’s triumph, the country was led by Miloš Zeman, a former member of the Communist Party, member of the Social Democratic Party and the Party of Civic Rights, respectively. During his 10 years in office, Zeman has developed close relations with both Russia and China. Therefore, during this period, the Czech Republic was regarded with suspicion by Western countries.

By 2023, the electoral race pitted Pavel, an advocate of transatlantic relations, against the populist politician Andrej Babiš. Nonetheless, there are also Westerners who are skeptical of Pavel. They particularly emphasize Pavel’s brief period as a member of the Communist Party.

On the other hand, after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, which brought an end to the communist regime in the Czech Republic, Pavel joined the Czech Army and eventually rose to the rank of Chief of the General Staff. Subsequently, serving as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018, he became the first officer from the former Eastern Bloc to hold such a position. Moreover, Pavel often cited the rhetoric of Vaclay Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution, who was known to be highly critical of the communist regime. Therefore, the pro-Westerners in the country who support Pavel have confidence in him, taking these factors into account.

As attempts to deconstruct Pavel’s political views in Czechia’s domestic politics continued, Pavel’s electoral victory was hailed by Western countries as it gave the impression that he would deviate from the foreign policy that Zeman had adopted. Western powers interpreted the victory as an affirmation of the Czech Republic’s firm attachment to the West.

Pavel, who took office as the 4th President of the Czech Republic on March 9, 2023, formerly identified Russia and China as bigger threats than terrorism. [1] Accordingly, the Czech Republic has begun to emphasize its pro-Atlantic credentials, encouraging to eliminate any obstruction that impedes aid to Kiev, in view of the Russo-Ukrainian war.[2] In this respect, the Czech Republic is expected to strengthen its relations with the European Union (EU) and NATO.[3]

On the other hand, Pavel questioned his country’s ties with China in the past, stating that human rights should be prioritized over economic interests in terms of international relations.[4] During the Zeman era, China had been lobbying in the Czech Republic through parliamentarians driven by Euroscepticism and anti-Western sentiments.

In the same vein, China’s main strategic objectives in the Czech Republic included campaigning against the sovereignty claims of Taiwan and Tibet and weakening political support for third countries’ territorial claims in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, the day after his election victory, Pavel had a telephone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen, in which he stated that the Czech Republic and Taiwan share the same values of freedom, democracy and human rights and that he would like to visit Taiwan in the future to meet with Wen in person.[5]

In case the visit takes place, Pavel will be the first president from an EU country to visit Taiwan. Moreover, Pavel’s phone call with Wen was preceded by a congratulatory message from Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.[6] As one might expect, such engagements have provoked a reaction from Beijing.

As the Czech Republic’s change of policy towards Russia and China was influenced by the election of Pavel, by the same token, the dynamics within the Visegrad Group have also started to change. In the Visegrad Group, which stood out with its conservative and Eurosceptical stance during Zeman’s rule, Pavel ushered in a new era of rapprochement with Slovakia. Pavel’s ideological overlap with Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, who, similar to him, is an Atlanticist, pro-European and liberal politician, was a major factor behind the rapprochement. Thus, the Visegrad Group is divided between Poland, Hungary, led by conservative and nationalist governments, and the Czech Republic, Slovakia, led by progressive and pro-European governments.

All in all, with the new era in Czech politics as Pavel takes office, the Czech Republic adopted a new foreign policy oriented towards the West. It remains to be seen how this radical change in the Czech Republic, which has long maintained a balance of power policy between the West and the China-Russia dyad, will affect the country. By all means, the financial difficulties caused by the aid to Ukraine, the migrant crisis and other economic hardships that the country is enduring will pose a serious challenge to Pavel.

[1] “Gen. Pavel: Russians, Chinese Greater Threat to Czechs Than Terrorism”, Czech Radio,, (Date of Accession: 11.09.2018).

[2] “New Czech Leader Urges ‘No Limits’ on Aid to Ukraine”, France24,, (Date of Accession: 02.02.2023).

[3] “New Czech President Expected to Foster EU, Ukraine Ties”, France24,, (Date of Accession: 29.01.2023).

[4] “30 años después, Praga apuesta por la democracia”, Diario Las Americas,, (Date of Accession: 09.03.2023).

[5] “China Warns New Czech President After Taiwan Call”, Politico,, (Date of Accession: 31.01.2023).

[6] “Dalai Lama Congratulates Petr Pavel on Being Elected as President of Czech Republic”, The Print,, (Date of Accession: 13.03.2023).