Milos Zeman, president of the Czech Republic

Is the world on the brink of another Cold War?

That was a question Global Atlanta posed Milos Zeman, president of the Czech Republic, during a December interview in his offices at the Prague Castle

Russia’s takeover of the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March coupled with the  25th anniversary of the Cold War prompted Agnes Scott College to host a panel discussion on this very topic later in the year.

Cold War II Not on the Horizon but Problems Remain” was the headline on Global Atlanta’s reporting of the event.

The death of 298 passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 in July was widely believed to have been caused by a surface-to-air missile by pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels. Continued fighting between the Ukrainian army and the separatists kept the controversy surrounding the crash alive.

In view of Russia’s control over then-Czechoslovakia since the end of World War II including the rigorous crackdown from 1968 until the non-violent Velvet Revolution in 1989, the question seemed pertinent.

“There is a new Cold War,” Mr. Zeman, the 70-year-old veteran politician who was the first directly elected president in Czech history, replied. “But it’s on a different side than you Americans expect.”

“In my opinion,” he added, saying that he wasn’t necessarily diminishing the significance of the problems with Russia that “The greatest danger in the present world is the Islamic State.”

This new war, he elaborated, is to be a “war against international terrorism and mainly against Islamic terrorism.”

He also cited the controversial article of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington that was published in 1993 and titled “The Clash of Civilizations,” which predicted cultural clashes becoming the cause for future confrontations as opposed to hostilities between nation states.

In view of the last few days list of terrorist attacks not only in France, but in Cameroon, Nigeria and elsewhere, Mr. Zeman’s remarks seem more relevant than ever, though perhaps “cold” is not the most appropriate adjective.

Given the years of repression Czechoslovakia suffered under the Soviet Union, the more expected answer was a warning about Russia’s desires to reclaim its sphere of influence.

That was the message four clearly anxious Central European ambassadors brought to Atlanta from Washington during a series of appearances at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and Georgia State University after Russia’s takeover of Crimea.

But Mr. Zeman stuck to the cultural argument, citing what he considered among Russia’s greatest contributors to European culture: the authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev and Alexander Solzenitsyn. He also mentioned the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Condemning the exclusion of women from public life, he then asked rhetorically for a reference to any compatible names to those of the Russians he cited.

He alluded to the 12th- and 13th-century Iraqi writer Abdallatif al-Baghdadi, but dismissed him as “no Shakespeare no Dostoyevsky; this is the difference.”

His cultural prejudices clearly on view, he went on to describe his vision “of a new holocaust.”

“You have seen the cruelties on TV,” he said. “This is a new holocaust with one difference, this time it’s not only against the Jews. Of course, it’s mainly against the Jews, against all non-believers.”

He further condemned the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria saying that it controls an area greater than France and also has influence in Libya and elsewhere and that it denies “the right to human life.”

That said, he returned to the topic of Russia’s role in Crimea and in the future. “It depends on your preferences,” he said. “But all generals prepare for the previous war. I’m speaking of the future world.”

Geopolitics aside, Mr. Zeman displayed a practical approach to governing, saying that the Czech Republic welcomed foreign direct investment from the West as well as the East. (Following the interview with Global Atlanta, he was scheduled to meet with a delegation from Azerbaijan.)

Additionally, he spoke of Chinese investments, concluding that in his vision of the future he sees Russia, China, the European Union and the United States joining together to stamp out the Islamic State.

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