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Interior minister Milan Chovanec
Interior minister Milan Chovanec
Pavel Otto

Pavel Otto

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Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec (Social Democrat) is to offer neighbouring Bavaria and Saxony assistance in tracking down migrants who have been denied asylum and have attempted to escape from the clutches of the German authorities. To this end, Chovanec is seeking to increase Czech border controls, inspired by countries such as Israel, who have long experiences battling terrorism.

You have tasked the police with presenting you a plan within 18 months to better protect so-called ‘soft targets’. What exactly will this involve?

These are potential unprotected mass casualty terrorist targets. Specifically that means shopping centres, cultural sites and events, football stadiums – it also pertains to things like railway infrastructure and drinking water sources.

How will such protection manifest itself?

We won’t be trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather, we will inspire ourselves from countries which have long experiences in battling terrorism. Some of our people went on training attachments to Israel; we are also talking with US specialists, and are sharing information across Europe. With regards to protecting the railways the police will hold talks with the Railway Infrastructure Administration (SŽDC).

"We have seen attacks now taking place in Munich – meaning in our immediate vicinity"Autor: CTK

We will also undertake very close cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, whose members own a large number of larger retail-oriented sites. We want to provide them with the proper methodology and assistance for training security staff. It will be the same model utilised for years by the police during football matches – the system is based on memoranda agreements reached between the police and club owners.

So people will have to pass through metal and explosives detectors to get to the supermarket?

I have been to an African country with just such a system. But I hope that we don’t find ourselves in this situation. Because checks in front of supermarkets would be intrusive and cause delays to shoppers. Right now, I can’t imagine such a scenario for the Czech Republic. But I can envisage better security training, including improving detection systems for potential attackers.

What about better protections for concerts and sports stadiums?

Attendees already go through metal detectors. We are prepared to purchase mobile detectors which we could loan to the organisers of such events.

You mentioned consultations with Israel. What knowledge will we take on board from this country?

We have held talks with representatives of their secret services, namely Mossad and Shin Bet. The Israelis are used to a daily existence of potential mortal threats. The situation for terrorists is difficult in that country as it is very difficult for them to obtain illegal weapons or explosives there. Which means that most attacks are carried out with axes, machetes or knives. Which resembles similar incidents we’ve seen recently in Germany or Belgium.

Furthermore, in Israel there is also a strong armed presence on the streets – not just from the police and army, but also private individuals who have undergone military training. In most cases, such personnel are able to deal with a situation themselves on the spot.

Right now I am more worried about the 30,000 ethnic Turks with German passports who support President Erdogan

Will the Czech government continue to oppose EU proposals for stricter rules on firearms? Could the Czech Republic even block the plans?

This firearms possession directive continues to evolve. The initial European Commission proposal would have led to 40,000 legally owned guns being taken from Czechs. Then Dutch representatives ‘improved’ on that by increasing the number to 400,000. Now the European Parliament is amending the directive, with heated discussions taking place there. The government has been exerting the maximum efforts to ensure the changes don’t affect Czech citizens.

We can also fight implementation through the courts. Asides from the above we are also examining ways that the directive would have to be put into effect. For example, we could, in tandem with the defence ministry, look at ways to increase the number of active reserves (able to keep their weapons).

Do you agree with those who have stated that confiscating 400,000 firearms would pose a risk to national security?

The European Commission often lives in a world very much detached from reality. Or is it pushing such a directive because it is afraid of Europeans? Czech citizens have relatively large numbers of firearms. They own the weapons legally and the country has some of the toughest firearms legislation in Europe. And even stricter measures were adopted after the Uherský Brod tragedy (a mass shooting in 2015 –Ed.).

The current legal framework works very well for us and we don’t wish to change it. The European Commission should put its main focus on protecting the (external) borders of the EU 28, and the quickest possible way to put together a European army.

Turkish president Recep Erdogan has threatened to send the migrants currently living in Turkish camps into Europe. I assume that you are consulting with other EU interior ministers over this issue. Is a plan in place for how to react to another migrant wave?

Right now I am more concerned about the 30,000 ethnic Turks with German passports who support Erdogan. Do they see themselves as citizens of Germany or Turkey? If Erdogan’s government turns into an authoritarian regime this could have huge consequences for Europe. And that is a debate we cannot avoid having.

We can’t just bury our heads in the sand. At the most recent meeting of EU interior ministers, we stated that Turkey had yet to meet countless criteria required for the abolition of visa requirements. Meanwhile, Turkey is debating whether to reintroduce the death penalty…

What if Erdogan makes good on his threats?

Those who thought that Turkey had helped us solve the migration crisis for all time were naive. Rather, the problem was merely shifted six months down the road, during which time, sadly, very little was done to fix it.

We can but hope now that Greece will finally take on a greater level of responsibility and demark one or two islands which can serve as large detention centres. Macedonia is too small a country to hold back the migrant waves. Another large wave is expected after the end of winter, so we still have six months to hold talks.

You are seeking to increase security along our south and western borders in response to the recent series of attacks in Germany. Is that really necessary?

We have seen attacks now taking place in Munich – meaning in our immediate vicinity. For several hours we had no idea where the assailant(s) were fleeing to next. We don’t want to reintroduce blanket border checks, but we do want to be able to monitor what is happening there.

We are in a situation in which German politicians are looking at the current statistics and calling for failed asylum seekers to be expatriated. A fear exists that such people could then try to illegally cross over the border into neighbouring countries. For this reason we want to relocate some of our police forces to places where there are large migrant centres nearby, mainly on our border with Bavaria. One reason will be to help assist our German colleagues in searching for absconders.

Will you hold talks with the Bavarian authorities to this end?

Come autumn I will invite the interior minister of Bavaria – and subsequently also Saxony – for a meeting and I will offer them our help. The government isn’t seeking to simply close the border with Germany and keep watch over what is going on. Rather we need cooperation and coordination.

Our Bavarian partners expressed their strong thanks at the end of last year for not creating a corridor across our territory to send them more migrants. I believe that the Czech way of sticking to existing European law was the correct one.

Finance minister Andrej Babiš is refusing to approve CZK 3bn in extra funding for your ministry to be used for increased policing and other migration-related efforts. According to Babiš, you have yet to use up the sums allocated for this year. How will you persuade him to change his mind?

He is saying that the secret services should be the main recipients of such funds in order to enable spies to infiltrate those communities which might represent a threat. I am not against increasing the budget of our security agencies, but the government has committed to increasing police recruitment funding, and so it should honour this.

As regards financial resources for migration, we have not needed to exhaust the existing amounts. For example we ultimately did not open a planned migrant detention centre in the village of Balková (west of Prague –Ed.). Our priority is money for anti-terrorist provisions, totaling around CZK 660m. I view budget disputes with Andrej Babiš as mere sparring.

Milan Chovanec (46)
Graduated from the University of West Bohemia (UWB), Plzeň. Worked in the banking sector until 1989 before switching to the fields of retail, wholesale and services. Member of the Social Democratic party since 1997.

Local representative for Plzeň from 2002 to 2010. After that served for four years as governor of the Plzeň region.

Elected first vice chairman of the Social Democrats in March 2015. Is married with two children.

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