George Brady, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, was preparing to be honored by Czech President Milos Zeman at a state dinner this month when he got bad news: the president had changed his mind, and Brady would no longer be receiving the award for public service. The reason? Czech leaders seem desperate to curry favor with Beijing.
Born Jewish in 1922 in what was then Czechoslovakia, Brady two decades later tried to escape Nazi occupation by living with Catholic relatives. But he and his sister, Hana, were eventually shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Hana was killed in a gas chamber. Brady survived and moved to Canada after the war, where he ran a plumbing company and launched global efforts for Holocaust remembrance. It was those remembrance projects that prompted Zeman’s office to invite him to return to Prague for the annual awards ceremony on Oct. 28.
But according to Brady’s nephew, Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman, there was a condition. Zeman warned Herman that if he met with the Dalai Lama, his uncle’s award would be rescinded.
Herman went ahead and met with the Dalai Lama anyway, and that’s when Brady was informed he would no longer be welcome at the state dinner.
“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 told Czech public television this week.
The Czech Republic was once an outspoken ally of the Tibetan independence movement. But since Beijing has ramped up its diplomatic and economic engagement with Europe — especially central and eastern Europe — Prague’s tune has changed. That’s frustrated Czechs who are sympathetic to Tibet and the Dalai Lama, and many of them protested Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Prague this spring by destroying Chinese flags.
On Saturday, Finance Minister Andrej Babis admitted that President Zeman asked Herman not to meet the Dalai Lama, and that Brady’s award had been yanked away. But he claimed the two events are entirely unrelated. “
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,” Babis said, according to Czech news website www.idnes.cz.
But he offered no other reason for cold-shouldering Brady, prompting fury from other elected officials, as well as Czech civil society groups. Brady is now being offered so many alternative awards that he said this week he’s no longer sure he’ll be able to attend all of the ceremonies he’s now invited to attend.
“I’m ashamed of what’s going on regarding the award for Mr. Brady,” Prague Mayor Adriana Krnacova said in a statement. “That’s why I’ve decided to use the authority I have to give him the official Key to Prague as an expression of gratitude.”
Four government ministers have said they will not attend the annual ceremony at the president’s castle, and will gather to protest the decision instead. But it might be too little too late. Brady said he is no longer interested in the president’s award, and wouldn’t show up even if he was invited back.
“I’m no longer interested,” he told Czech Radiozurnal. “I have other plans. I’m not available anymore.”
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