Czech President Milos Zeman faced strong criticism over the weekend for his decision to nix a state decoration to a Holocaust survivor, after the man’s nephew, Minister of Culture Daniel Herman, met with the Dalai Lama against Zeman’s wishes.
The meeting between Herman and the Tibetan monk was said to anger China, leading Zeman to pull the state medal for George Brady.
But Zeman denied the claims on Sunday, with representatives saying the dropped award had “nothing to do” with the meeting.
Brady, 88, is an Czech-born Auschwitz survivor who lost his family in the Holocaust. His sister’s story was turned into a succesful novel, “Hana’s Suitcase.” He has lived in Canada since the end of the war, and has written and given lectures about his experiences around the world.
Brady said the Czech Presidency had contacted him in mid-October to notify him that he was the winner of a state decoration for his work to promote Holocaust remembrance.
However, problems started when Brady’s nephew, Herman, who serves on Zeman’s cabinet, announced plans to meet with the Dalai Lama when Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader attended a Prague forum last week.
Herman said he was warned by the president not to meet with the monk in order to avoid a diplomatic crisis with China.
“President Milos Zeman himself told me that if I talk to the Dalai Lama, my uncle will be removed from the list of winners. He told me at the Embassy of Slovakia in front of witnesses,” Herman told Czech public television.
Finance Minister Andrej Babis said: “Mr. President says it has nothing to do with the Dalai Lama, but he confirms that he had asked Mr. Herman not to meet Mr. Dalai Lama.”
The presidency simply said that “the list of people who receive state decoration is kept secret until October 28.”
Meanwhile Zeman is facing harsh criticism from both allies and rivals.
“The president should behave like a statesman and hand a decoration [to] George Brady,” Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wrote on his Twitter account. The heads of both houses of Parliament have invited Zeman to explain the matter. Leaders of the opposition and several public figures, including renowned Catholic priest Tomas Halik, have called to boycott the ceremony and hold an alternative one in its stead.