Former NATO general Petr Pavel was sworn in as Czech Republic’s president on Thursday. In his inauguration speech, he stressed the importance of unity in supporting war-torn Ukraine.
“Central Europe’s single voice will be important if we are to help Ukraine prevail,” he said at the ceremony at Prague Castle, vowing to lift his country’s reputation abroad “to a new level.”
He said Ukraine was also an example that smaller countries can be successful, especially if they cooperate with others. “It is not only our historical experience that should be a reason to continue our support. In doing so, we are ultimately helping ourselves,” Pavel said.
Ukraine “has shown us and our partners that unbreakable resolve is more than the advantage and strength of an aggressor,” the new Czech president added.
Pavel said he would also back policies to quash inflation, which ran at 17.5% in January, while also pledging to fix public finances.
Victory over populism
Pavel was elected in January, having defeated former prime minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire populist, in the run-off.
The social liberal campaigned as an independent and pledged to firmly anchor the Czech Republic in the European Union and NATO and to boost relations with the United States.
It was a departure from predecessor Milos Zeman, who had sought to strengthen ties with Russia and China. Zeman served as president for 10 years and his last five-year term expired on Wednesday.
While the role is largely ceremonial, the Czech president names the government, appoints the central bank governor and Constitutional Court judges, and serves as the supreme commander of the armed forces.
From soldier to president
After taking the oath of office, Pavel greeted thousands of supporters at the Prague Castle square, with some waving Czech and European Union flags.
Pavel was a career soldier, having joined the army during the Communist era and was decorated with a French military cross for valor during peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
He later rose to lead the Czech general staff and became chairman of NATO’s military committee for three years before retiring in 2018.
For his first official visit abroad as president, Pavel is planning two days in Slovakia on March 13. The two countries formed Czechoslovakia until their peaceful split on December 31, 1992.
After winning the January election, Pavel made headlines when he spoke to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen on the phone and promised to strengthen ties with Taiwan, provoking criticism from China.