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Czech Republic and China clash over Prague Philharmonic tour

Prague, Czech Republic – On Monday, the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra announced that Chinese authorities decided to postpone its tour in China initially planned for September, Radio Prague reports.

Although Chinese authorities reportedly didn’t provide any explanation for their sudden decision to postpone the tour indefinitely, they had previously threatened to do so over the political stances of Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib, hinting at a possible ban during a recent visit of Czech Culture Minister Antonin Stanek in Beijing.

The Prague Philharmonic was initially scheduled to perform 14 concerts in China from September 17 to October 5.

Zdeněk Hřib, a member of the Czech Pirate Party elected Prague mayor last November, has since taking office been a vocal critic of China and prominent advocate of the cause of Tibet and Taiwan.

LOZANG SANGGJÄ, premiér, politik, ZDENĚK HŘIB, primátor, primátorský řetěz---Lobsang Sangay, Zdenek Hrib
Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib (right) with the president of the Tibetan government-in-exile (left) / Credit: ČTK

In March this year, M. Hřib met with the head of the Tibetan government in exile Lobsang Sangay. He also announced Prague will once more join the Flags for Tibet Initiative, an annual initiative joined by hundreds of Czech cities and municipalities since the late 1990’s to express support for Tibet’s independence – and ignored for the last four years when ANO controlled the Prague municipal hall.

According to reports, the new Prague leadership is also seeking to reform the joint so-called “sister agreement” with Beijing and remove any mention of the Czech capital’s recognition of the “One China” policy.

As local media report, this isn’t the first incident of the sort. In 2016, another Prague Philharmonic Orchestra tour planned in China was cancelled after Slovak President Andrej Kiska hosted the Dalai-Lama. When Chinese authorities said they wouldn’t deliver visas to the Slovak members of the orchestras, the leadership of the Philharmonic refused, and the tour was cancelled.

China’s ban and decision to shun the Philharmonic could apply to other Prague-based cultural institutions, according to analysts.

In April, Czech Trade and Industry Minister Marta Nováková came under fire, and was eventually forced to step down, after accepting the request of the Chinese ambassador in Prague, who asked for the Taiwanese representative to leave a diplomatic meeting.

To get a full understanding of the rocky and ever-changing relations between China and the Czech Republic, you can read our series dedicated to the topic:

Czech Republic, China’s Gateway to Europe? (1/3): The Honeymoon

Czech Republic, China’s Gateway to Europe? (2/3): Broken Promises

Czech Republic, China’s Gateway to Europe? (3/3): The Fallout

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.