Ladislav Steinhübel is the Czech Republic’s Deputy Chief of Mission to Kazakhstan. He assumed his position in January 2015 and has been in the diplomatic service for over 20 years, previously representing the Czech Republic in South East Asia, Poland, and the US.
Q: When did you become the Czech Republic’s Deputy Chief of Mission to Kazakhstan?
I got an offer to move to Astana before I finished the mission in New York City in mid-2014. I had never been to a post-soviet country before so it was quite a challenge for me. After some necessary preparation, I arrived in Astana on January 5, 2015. It was heavily snowing in the midst of a strong winter and the temperature was close to minus 30 degrees. Welcome to Kazakhstan! But diplomacy is not about the weather, and I am really glad to be in such a rapidly developing and very interesting country.
Q: What is your diplomatic background?
I entered into diplomatic service 22 years ago. It was two years after the split of former Czechoslovakia – or as we used to say: after the world’s most peaceful divorce between the Czechs and Slovaks. Throughout my career, I have experienced many different areas such as public diplomacy, economic diplomacy, bilateral and multilateral issues. I started my career in Southeast Asia in Vietnam and in Indonesia. I worked in Warsaw as well as at our Permanent Mission to the UN in New York. So I think that it is quite a lot of variety. With a slight exaggeration, I am ready to serve anywhere the motherland needs me.
Q: How has the diplomacy changed during your career?
This is a good question. I think that the purpose of diplomacy remains the same, but what has changed is the style of work and the environment around us. Everything is faster and the world looks like a big pot with hot water very close to the boiling point: every little ‘bubble’ means some new problem in the world and the challenge for diplomacy is to ensure the water never fully boils. We have new communication channels like e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype and others, and diplomats cannot compete with the mass media in the speed of disseminating information. We also face new common threats like cybercrime and terrorism.
Q: The Czech Republic has been acknowledged as having a key role to play to diversifying Kazakhstan’s economy. How would you characterise the role and aims of the Czech government and industry in this process?
Kazakhstan is the most developed country in the region of Central Asia. They have major mineral resources like crude oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper and gold. They also have massive agricultural production. The Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbajev announced a new plan for the privatization of government companies in the country and is also calling for direct foreign investment.
The Czech Republic has excellent bilateral ties with Kazakhstan and Czech companies are well settled and welcomed here. Czech products like Skoda cars, Bohemian Crystal or Czech beer are well known on the local market. We also have intensive cooperation in areas like energy, green energy, water cleaning, agricultural machinery, the mining industry, and the food industry. The Czech Republic is one of the favourite destinations among Kazakh tourists, especially the spa town Karlovy Vary. Additionally, more than 2000 Kazakh students study at Czech universities.
The government of the Czech Republic agreed to, and supported, the presence of the country at the specialised exhibition EXPO 2017 in Astana, where the Czech pavilion was visited by more than 350,000 visitors and belonged to the most popular pavilions at the exhibition.
There is also intensive high-level cooperation between the countries. In the last three years the Czech President Miloš Zeman has visited Kazakhstan twice; official visits were also made by many ministers and there have been 15 business missions.
Q: The human rights record of the Kazakhstan government is constantly under scrutiny. Does this make Kazakhstan an especially challenging diplomatic assignment?
The topic of human rights is always very high on the Czech diplomatic agenda and we do monitor all cases of possible violations of human rights in the country. I would not say, however, that Kazakhstan is somehow an especially challenging diplomatic assignment.
Q: The Czech Republic is part of the Visegrad group which has been criticised for how it is handling the migration crisis. What is the way forward for dealing with this crisis?
The position of the Czech government on this has been presented in Brussels. We are ready to help countries affected by a large number of migrants in their territory, we are ready to support and help with the defence of the external border of the EU, but we cannot agree with the regulation on quotas prescribing how many migrants must be accommodated in every country. It is impossible to keep migrants somewhere they do not want to stay, despite the fact that a good standard of living is ensured for them. A large proportion of migrants see the Visegrad group countries as a transit to their final destination countries in Western Europe. It is very difficult to predict what might be the right way forward on this issue, but we have to be patient and should wait for the outcomes of further negotiations among EU Member States in Brussels.
Feature Image: Mr Ladislav Steinhübel , Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Czech Republic in Astana, Kazakhstan. © Mr Steinhübel. All rights reserved.
CABLE would like to thank Mr Steinhübel for his time in facilitating this interview.