2023 will be difficult, but Czechia will rise to the challenge – PM Fiala

In his New Year's Day speech, Fiala thanked people for their support for Ukrainian refugees and called for stronger defense and energy independence.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 02.01.2023 12:15:00 (updated on 02.01.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

Prime Minister Petr Fiala used his New Year's Day address to thank people for their responsible attitude toward aiding war refugees from Ukraine and reducing their gas and electricity consumption. He also reflected on the breakup of Czechoslovakia, which took place 30 years ago and looked to the future, which he said will be difficult.

Fiala said Czechoslovakia's split was managed peacefully and with mutual respect, thanks to the Czechs' close friendship with Slovaks. "It is an exceptional relationship – and it is good to remember it right now, when a brutal war conflict is taking place close to Slovakia's borders because one Eastern power did not accept the fact that another nation does not want to be in the same state with it, does not want to be under its influence, but he wants to decide his own path and his own destiny,” he said.

Joining NATO and the European Union seemed like impossible goals at the time, but now people take membership in those organizations for granted. “Thanks to this, we and our children have the possibility, the chance to live a far better life than most people on this planet,” he said.

Increased spending on military, and toward energy security

Fiala focused on two issues from the past year, starting with the solidarity people showed toward Ukrainian refugees. “Hundreds of thousands of Czech families were able to create a background for them, offer help and provide resources,” he said.

The second issue was how responsibly people approached the need to save electricity and gas, an attitude that helps the country survive this energy crisis with as little damage as possible.

He thanked people for their responsible, human and moral approach. “It is things like this that make the Czech Republic a good, self-confident and respected country,” he said.

Looking toward the future

“Russia’s military attack on Ukraine showed us that our security is not a given. It can be threatened, for example, if Russia wins in Ukraine and if we ourselves do not pay due attention to our defense and security,” Fiala said.

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He added that security had been neglected in the past, but the country is now trying to change that by increasing spending. “We must have a strong modern military to protect us. We should also help those who show determination and strength to defend themselves,” he said. Building a strong collective defense is the only way to maintain peace in the long term, he added.

The country is also working to transform its energy sector so it can be independent of sources from the east and no longer subject to economic blackmail. “Our goal must be full energy security and sovereignty of the Czech Republic,” he said. The transition will take several years but it has already started and will continue this year, he said.

He also voiced hopes the economy would improve and that measures taken by the government and the Czech National Bank would begin to have a positive effect. “We will get rid of double-digit inflation, and prices will fall to an acceptable level,” he said.

Tough year ahead but economy should improve

He concluded by saying that Czechs are not going through an easy time following two years of Covid. “Just when it seemed that everything was behind us, the effects of the war in Europe, the energy crisis and inflation hit us hard. Nevertheless, there is no reason to lose hope and not look to the future with positive expectations. Every problem has its solution. Our government, together with experts, is working intensively on these solutions,” he said.

Fiala warned against looking for instant solutions or relying on catchy populist slogans that never work in practice. Instead, small steps taken daily will guide the country through today's crises, he said.

Fiala added that he wanted to give people courage and hope for 2023.

“It will not be an easy year, but we will make it the way we successfully managed the previous 30 years together. I am absolutely sure of that,” he said.

Opposition condemns speech for empty rhetoric

Some opposition politicians criticized the speech for lacking substance. ANO party member and lower house group head Alena Schillerová told ČTK that Fiala took things out of context and presented them to the public in a manipulative way. Schillerová also criticized the state support for citizens and firms as being slow and ineffective.

She added that, due to its government, Czechia did not behave as a confident country during its presidency of the Council of the European Union, which just ended, and Fiala did not behave as a confident prime minister.

Tomio Okamura, leader of the opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy also said Fiala's address seemed full of empty slogans, given that the number of Czech households facing income poverty doubled during the first year of Fiala's cabinet. "This is a reason for immediate resignation," he said.

Both leading opposition politicians said the government has failed to deal with the energy crisis and the rising prices, and in spite of Fiala's words the government helps neither people nor companies.

On the other hand, politicians of the coalition government considered Fiala's speech factual, balanced and clear. They said they felt proud that Czechia has a statesman at its head who did not make populist gestures yet was able to encourage citizens in hard times.

Coalition members praise the speech

Lower house chairwoman Markéta Pekarová Adamová, a member of TOP 09, said Fiala hit the nail in the head about the problems that the country has been facing. “[The speech] was full of hope and had an optimistic atmosphere, which is highly important,” she said.

Christian Democrat (KDU-ČSL) lower house group head Marek Výborný said he was proud of the prime minister, and that the criticism from the ANO and SPD politicians was opposition rhetoric.

Pirates lower house group head Jakub Michálek said Fiala's speech was conciliatory.

Lawmaker Jan Lacina (Mayors and Independents, STAN) said Fiala made a speech for the public showing a vision of the future, hope, and encouragement. Nothing of this was in the Christmas speech of outgoing President Miloš Zeman, he said.

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