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24th Feb 2020

Czech, Slovak MEPs 'shocked' by EU comments on Castro

  • Juncker in the Slovak capital Bratislava,, with his spokesman Margaritis Schinas (r) (Photo: European Commission)

Sixteen Czech and Slovak MEPs have protested against the European Commission's reaction to Fidel Castro's death last month, which they say was "shocking".

In an open letter to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, dated 1 December, fourteen of them said that they were "concerned" by a statement published on 26 November in which Juncker said that Castro "was a hero for many."

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They said that they were also "deeply shocked and saddened" by the institution's spokesman's answer to a question about the statement by a Czech journalist.

Margaritis Schinas said during a commission press briefing that the journalist expressed a "long series of judgement values" and "a very narrow view of reality" when he mentioned people killed and imprisoned by Castro's regime and the Cuban leader's support for the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

As "the elected representatives of the Czech and Slovak citizens, who suffered from political persecutions and whose lives will be forever marked by the 1968 events," the 14 MEPs said that "the response by Mr Schinas was arrogant and portrayed shocking ignorance of facts with a total lack of understanding history."

They asked Juncker to take "clear political distance" from his spokesman's words, "be it in written or in a public speech."

The MEPs' letter follows another one, sent on 29 November as an official written question to the commission by Czech liberal MEP Pavel Telicka.

Telicka protested against the message posted on Juncker's Twitter account linking to his statement on Castro's death. The tweet only said: "With the death of Fidel Castro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many."

In his written question, Telicka asked: "Did Mr Juncker approve the wording of the tweet?" and "Does Mr Juncker share the same positive view on Mr Castro as expressed in his tweet, in spite of all that is known about the brutal Castro regime and its violations of human rights?".

The question was sent as a priority question, which means that the EU executive has three weeks to answer, instead of six weeks for a normal question.

Speaking to EUobserver at the congress of the liberal Alde party in Warsaw, Telicka admitted that the answer will probably be written by "someone in the cabinet" rather than by Juncker himself, but said that he hoped to get "at least an apology or a statement".

Telicka, who also signed the MEPs' open letter, said that the commission's comments after Castro's death "went well beyond the limits that are acceptable, both to a large part of the population of the EU and to the Cuban people."

In their letter, the MEPs recalled that the EU parliament "officially recognised the oppressive regime in Cuba" in 2005, when it awarded its human rights prize, the Sakharov prize, to the opposition movement Ladies in White.

The day after Castro's death, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Twitter that he was a "dictator", but Schinas declined to say whether her tweet reflected the commission's position.

The open letter, which was drafted by Social-Democrats was signed by nine Czechs and five Slovaks MEPs, out of 21 and 13 MEPs, mainly from the Social-Democrat and liberal groups.

The three Czech communist MEPs were not asked to sign. Only one member of the EPP, the centre-right group to which Juncker belongs, joined the initiative.

The two main EPP Czech MEPs however protested to Juncker too, in a private letter also on 1 December.

"Your statement on the death of Fidel Castro is not compatible with EPP values," Ludek Niedermayer and Michaela Sojdrova, chair and vice-chair of the Czech EPP delegation, wrote in the letter, seen by EUobserver.

They asked Juncker "to evaluate Fidel Castro, too," by looking at political persecutions and denial of fundamental rights in Cuba. They also called on him "to disavow" Schinas's press room declarations.

At Monday's daily briefing, Schinas said that "the crushing of the Spring of Prague was a turning moment in modern European history and [that] the commission has the fullest respect for the historical event therein."

He added that Juncker would "reply to the MEPs' open letter "by the normal procedures."

This article was updated on Monday 5 December to take into account the EPP MEPs' letter to Jean-Claude Juncker and Margaritis Schinas's declarations

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