PRAGUE – Czech President Milos Zeman has decided against awarding a state medal to a Holocaust survivor whose nephew, a government minister, met exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama against the president’s wishes, the minister said on Friday.
The Czech Republic has been engulfed in political furor over the Dalai Lama’s meetings earlier in the week with Culture Minister Daniel Herman against the wishes of China’s government — which sees the Dalai Lama as a separatist — and Zeman, who has strongly pushed for a closer economic relationship with China.
The drive to focus on Chinese investment has met opposition from many corners of the EU member country, whose postcommunist policy set by the late President Vaclav Havel strongly promoted human rights. Havel was a friend of the Tibetan Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Herman confirmed in a text message that the president’s office had requested he cancel his meeting with the Dalai Lama or his uncle would not be granted an award.
Herman’s uncle George Brady, 88, was supposed to receive the honor for his lifelong campaign for Holocaust remembrance at an annual celebration at Prague Castle, the seat of the president, on the Czech state day next Friday.
Brady survived Nazi persecution, including the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland, where his sister and parents perished.
“My uncle informed me he had been contacted by the president’s office with information that his award was being prepared. Now there is news that this has been postponed for this year,” Herman said.
Asked if he was given an ultimatum not to meet the Dalai Lama in connection with the award, he said, “Yes.”
Herman later told Czech public television that the president had tried to persuade him not to meet the Dalai Lama. “The president directly told me that if I meet the Dalai Lama, my uncle will be taken out of the list (for awards), and that is what happened,” Herman said, adding the conversation took place in front of witnesses at a banquet held by Slovak Embassy in Prague.
A spokesman for Zeman said the president had completed the list of nominees “some time ago” and had not subsequently dropped anyone.
The office never releases the names of the recipients of the state medals before the traditional ceremony.
George Brady moved to Canada after the war. In 2000, a suitcase with his sister Hana’s name surfaced at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, whose director discovered her relation to George. Hana’s suitcase later inspired a book, theater play and a film.