„Only in the conditions of peace societies can thrive“

The Czech OSCE Ambassador Ivo Šrámek speaks about his experience as a diplomat, current challenges the OSCE is facing and the Czech Republic as a model OSCE participating state.

Photo on the left: Ambassador Ivo Šrámek

You have long-lasting diplomatic experience – what makes the post as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the OSCE special? What are your main tasks there and what are the long term objectives of the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the OSCE?

The OSCE as the largest regional security organisation is based on a shared belief in the comprehensive approach to security. Therefore, in its three dimensions (1. politico-military dimension, 2. economic and environmental dimension, and 3. human dimension), we are working towards our common goal of ensuring peace and security in the area “from Vancouver to Vladivostok”. The OSCE’s role lies to a large extent in conflict prevention and conflict resolution assistance, via its vast range of activities and instruments.

The Czech Republic is a firm believer in multilateralism, which shapes our priorities here in the OSCE, too. I dare say that the Czech Republic can be considered a model OSCE participating state: We contribute to the OSCE’s work not only by hosting the OSCE Documentation Centre in Prague as well as the annual OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum in Prague, but also by regularly supporting a variety of extra-budgetary projects. Furthermore, we presided the FSC in the last third of 2019 and presided the Human Dimension Committee in 2019-20. Enhancing security in the world is a win – win outcome for all: Only in the conditions of peace societies can thrive – democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as economic prosperity in a healthy environment contribute to people’s well-being. Therefore, we (and that goes for the EU as a whole) are working towards ensuring a functional OSCE that can help to end destabilising conflicts in the OSCE area and on its border.

My diplomatic career has brought me to both, bilateral and multilateral postings abroad. Working at a bilateral embassy brings about the advantage of learning about the host country more in depth, getting to know the details of its internal clockwork. While at a multilateral posting, the host country is a place to live and experience mostly in your free time. In this context, Austria is an extremely pleasant position, offering a rich variety of leisure options.

What are currently the most important and most pressing topics the OSCE has to deal with?

There are a number of topics that need to be urgently dealt with: There are several frozen conflicts in the OSCE area. It is crucial that the wrongs committed in and around Ukraine, Georgia, Nagorno Karabakh, to name but a few, are rectified. What is needed is a political will to negotiate a compromise on the basis of international law and agreed OSCE principles and commitments. Unfortunately, there is not much progress in this important task, but it remains a top priority.

The most flagrant, large-scale violations of human rights are currently being committed in Belarus. The Czech Republic is shaken by the growing numbers of political prisoners who are being tortured, according to various independent sources; we therefore call once and again on the regime to stop these inhumane practices and to release all political prisoners immediately. The current Swedish and the previous Albanian Chairpersonships of the OSCE offered to mediate a dialogue between the regime and the democratic opposition in the country already in August 2020, so far to no avail, unfortunately.

In order to prevent other conflicts we need to modernize the Vienna Document 2011. It has to reflect the development of modern warfare. During the Czech FSC Chairmanship in the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation in 2019, we tabled a joint proposal of 34 participating states for negotiations in order to modernize the document. Unfortunately, one participating state keeps refusing any discussion on the subject. Sadly, the atmosphere of mutual trust and enthusiasm that was prevalent in the 1990s seems to be gone. That is why it has become increasingly difficult to act on the commitments the participating states have pledged.

What are, in your opinion, useful mechanisms of the OSCE that can help prevent conflict in Europe? And did the Covid-19 crisis have an impact on the organisation’s work? Did certain priorities shift?

Ongoing exchanges of information and dialogue on all levels are the basic indispensable tools that help prevent conflict. The important role of the OSCE participating states is to negotiate joint decisions and other documents (like the Vienna Document 2011) in order to create a framework of  confidence and security building measures helping to prevent conflicts and avoid risk of misunderstandings in international relations which may also lead to conflict and military confrontation. Another part of the agenda is the implementation of the agreed commitments. In general, creating an environment of trust and transparency via conventional arms control, observation of military exercises, observation flights in the framework of Open Skies Treaty and other means of the OSCE politico-military toolbox is the main part of the mechanisms with the aim to prevent conflicts in the OSCE area. The OSCE is a unique platform that serves such a purpose. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a change in the conduct of meetings and activities carried out in the field: A large part has moved to the virtual space which has also brought about some positive changes, such as an easier availability of speakers based in other countries. On the other hand, personal contacts and negotiations, which are an essential part of diplomatic work, were reduced due to pandemic restrictions. Also, a big part of the OSCE military verification activities has been suspended. Transparency and trust were undermined.  Health of staff remains a priority for all the OSCE structures, yet the fundamental tasks of the Organisation have not changed even under the pandemic: The situation has only increased the urgency to work towards ensuring peace, stability, and thus well-being of the people in its 57 participating states.

Foto: Alena Judita Krasna