Czech government clashes with President over Prague Castle security | Czech Republic

The Czech Republic’s coalition government is on a collision course with the country’s populist president after promising to end controversial security deals in historic Prague Castle, supposedly established to prevent terrorist attacks.

Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said he would ask the police and security services to review the measures in place at the 70,000 square meter complex, which is the most visited tourist attraction in the country and also the official residence of Czech President Miloš Zeman.

Writing on Twitter, Rakušan, a member of the Liberal Party of Mayors and Independents (Stan), denounced the metal detectors and armed officers guarding the four entrances to the castle as a “war fortification” which marred its status as a revered emblem of national identity.

“Prague Castle is a symbol of the Czech state,” he tweeted. “It belongs to all of us. And we are not really all terrorists, as we can sense now when we visit it. I asked the relevant institutions to review all the security measures that created a war fortification around the castle.

Rakušan told Czech journalists that the police would seek advice from all relevant bodies. “They will assess and comment on the need for existing measures and possibly work on a new security regime,” he added. “I think an assessment of the current massive measures is in order.”

The strict regime – forcing visitors to empty their pockets and put their belongings on a conveyor belt – was fiercely criticized when it was introduced in 2016 after the Islamist attacks in Paris and Brussels. The checks caused long queues at the gates of the castle, with guides complaining that they had increased the time and cost of organized tours.

Critics insisted that the castle’s status as a public good made such measures inappropriate, while questioning the credibility of an Islamist threat in a country with a small Muslim population.

Some claimed the measures were motivated less by fear of terrorism than by anger over a 2015 stunt by anti-Zeman activists, who managed to gain access to the roof of the castle and wear large red underpants in protest against the president’s vocal support for authoritarian regimes in Russia and China.

Zeman’s office said the security measures were implemented on the advice of the police.

While there was no immediate response to Rakušan’s comments, Zeman is likely to resist any change in arrangements. His office accused two deputies from the Home Secretary’s party of “spreading disinformation” last month when they wrote him an open letter calling for the end of the security regime.

Zeman, whose term ends in 2023, recently spent little time at the castle. He was admitted to the Prague Central Military Hospital with an undisclosed illness the day after the parliamentary elections last October and spent 46 days there before being taken to the official presidential campaign retreat in Central Bohemia, where he recovers.

The last official occupant of the castle to be attacked was Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of the Nazi occupation administration that ruled Bohemia and Moravia during World War II. He was ambushed by British-trained Czechoslovak resistance fighters in 1942 and later died of his injuries. Heydrich was not living in the castle because he feared it was an easy target, but was driving there in an open-top car when he was attacked.

The castle is believed to date from 870 when its first fortified building was constructed. It was later the seat of the ancient kings of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor. Adolf Hitler stayed there for a night after Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

Berta D. Wells