Beloved Czech cosmonaut a candidate for European Parliament | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 01.06.2009
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Beloved Czech cosmonaut a candidate for European Parliament

A Czech Communist Party MEP's past as an astronaut makes him stand out from other candidates in the election for European Parliament.

The cosmonauts Grechko and Gubarew Remek on board the Soviet orbital station Salyut in 1978.

Vladimir Remek (right), with fellow cosmonauts during the Salyut-6 mission in March 1978

Of the thousands of candidates standing in next week’s elections for the European Parliament, Vladimir Remek must have one of the most unusual pasts. The Czech Communist Party parliamentarian used to be an astronaut and took part in a Russian space mission in the 1970s. He was the first man in space from outside the Soviet Union or United States.

From the Soyuz 28 spaceship in 1978, Vladimir Remek thanked the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party and Comrade Leonid Brezhnev for giving him the chance to take part in the mission.

Thirty-one years later, the former cosmonaut spoke at a Communist Party election rally in the small Czech city of Hradec Kralové. The few in attendance were mainly elderly people who fondly remembered the days when Remek was a national hero.

"A year after his flight he visited a school where I was the head teacher and spoke to the children," one woman remembered. "People came from all around -- some walked five kilometers just to see him."

"He was extremely popular. But he has always been modest too, so…he'll get my vote."

Meteoric rise to stardom

Former cosmonauts Sigmund Jaehn of Germany and Vladimir Remek of Czech Republic inspect Karlsbader Becher herb liqueur casks.

Remek (left) inspects casks of the famous Czech bitters Becherovka in his capacity as a Czech MEP

Vladimir Remek, who unsurprisingly was a party member under the former regime, stood successfully for the Czech Communist Party in the last elections to the European Parliament in 2004. He conceded his huge communist-era fame contributed to his success at the ballot box.

“I think it definitely played a role, because I can say in all modesty I was known throughout society," Remek said. "But at the same time I think many people understood that I’ve done much more."

"For instance, I represented Czech machinery firms in Russia, I was a diplomat in the field of trade at the Czechoslovak embassy in Moscow," he explained. "So I’ve achieved more than that space flight. But it’s true that’s what made me well known.”

Bringing experience in space to Brussels

After five years representing the Czech Republic in Brussels and Strasbourg, Remek can compare life in space and life in the European Parliament, in a way few other parlementarians can.

“In space or any kind of flight cooperation is an absolute given, so that the plane or spacecraft fulfills its mission and lands safely," Remek said. "There are strict rules. They exist in the European Parliament too, but it’s all about discussion."

"When you fly not every decision is a matter of life and death," he said. "In the parliament it is about life in a way, because our decisions affect people’s lives.”

Vladimir Remek isn’t the only former astronaut in the European Parliament. The Italian MEP Umberto Guidoni -- also in the Group of the United Left -- flew two NASA space shuttle missions. He too is standing for re-election.

Ian Willoughby / sjt
Editor: Trinity Hartman

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