Petr Pavel, pro-Western war hero sworn in as Czech president
March 9, 2023 10:32 PM
Retired general Petr Pavel, who was sworn in as the Czech Republic's new president on Thursday, is a war hero with a pro-Western drive and a passion for motorcycles.
Pavel won the January presidential election by defeating billionaire former prime minister Andrej Babis in the run-off.
"In a victory of values, there are no winners and no losers. We are one community and we have to stick together," Pavel said after winning.
True to his military past, the 61-year-old vowed to "restore order" in the EU and NATO member of 10.5 million people.
"I can't ignore the fact that people here increasingly feel chaos, disorder and uncertainty," Pavel said on his campaign website.
"We need to change this. We need to play by the rules, which will be valid for everyone alike."
In the run-up to the inauguration, Pavel proved to be an active president-elect.
He attended a security conference in Munich in February and travelled to Czech regions where he had lost to Babis, meeting voters including the poverty-stricken Roma minority.
He also repeatedly voiced support for Ukraine and to Taiwan.
Though he rarely smiles in public, Pavel described himself as a "very merry person" in a recent interview with AFP.
"I just don't show that during official events. But everyone who knows me will tell you that good jokes (and) also everyday situations will make me laugh. I don't have a problem there," he said.
- Communist 'mistake' -
Born on November 1, 1961, Pavel attended both a military grammar school and a military university in the former Czechoslovakia, which was then ruled by Moscow-backed Communists.
He joined the Communist Party and began a rapid rise through army ranks.
His critics fault him for having studied to become a military intelligence agent for the Communist army.
"I was born into a family where party membership was considered normal," Pavel said on his website.
"I didn't have enough information and experience to assess the criminal nature of the regime. Now I know it was a mistake."
When Communism fell in 1989, Pavel left the party but went ahead with the intelligence course.
An elite paratrooper, Pavel won recognition when he helped free French soldiers from a Serbo-Croatian war zone in early 1993.
- 'Grandpa' -
After the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, Pavel spent three years at the alliance's regional command in the Netherlands.
He later earned a master's degree in international relations at King's College in London before going on to work as the Czech army's chief of staff.
In 2015, he was appointed the head of NATO's military committee, becoming its top military official.
With a chest full of decorations -- including the US Legion of Merit and France's Croix de Guerre for bravery -- Pavel retired from the army in 2018.
When the Covid pandemic struck, Pavel founded the "Stronger Together" initiative to help tackle various crises and assist those in need.
Pavel's wife Eva is also a soldier. He has two sons from a previous marriage, plus a stepdaughter, and describes himself as a "grandpa enjoying his grandchildren".
Pavel likes to travel, ski, takes photos and read during his free time but his true passion is motorcycling.
He once had a Suzuki off-road bike but switched to a dual-sport BMW.
"There won't be too many opportunities (to ride) during the year but I believe I'll find some," he said after riding his BMW GS1250 to a motorbike fair in Prague last week.