>Václav Havel: Uncomfortable arguments slip below the radar


Ex-President Havel makes a rare public appearance in the media and rare public comments on current politics to argue that Czechs should agree to the stationing of the planned US anti-missile radar base – public opinion is overwhelmingly against, the main (right-wing) governing party ODS for, the left against, other parties fudging the issue. Havel argues that the US is asking little and that Czechs should agree because they have a historic debt to the US: for the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and for robust American support of dissident opposition during the Cold War. He also chucks in the argument that anti-radar elements are expressing a pacifism akin to that of the 1930s, which overlooked the threat of Nazi Germany. (Any Czech politician worth his salt will always come up with a historical analogy about Czechoslovakia’s ignominious collapse in 1938, when s/he thinks the stakes are high). Havel’s characterisation is inaccurate, however, as radar opponents are generally anti-American and/or see the US anti-missile project as a pointless and hostile gesture towards Russia and China, which is not in the Czech (or EU) interest.

More uncomfortably Havel’s arguments have strange echoes of Brezhnev’s after 1968: the Red Army’s liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, which Czechs and Slovak’s couldn’t quite manage themselves, required loyalty to the big protecting ally regardless of what might be in the more immediate Czech national interest or what Czechs might otherwise wish, Leonid Illich explained. A Realpolitik argument about facing up to Putin’s Russia and/or China would frankly have been more convincing, but Havel only does historical and moral so instead we get a kind of Atlanticist pastiche of Brezhnev plus a not very convincing aside about the Iranian threat ….

Meanwhile on the fringes, I see that the tiny Stalinist youth wing of the Czech Communist party, the Communist Youth Union (KSM) has been banned for having acommitment to the abolition of private property in its statues, which goes against the constitutionally embedded Charter of Human Rights. KSM previously faced the chop (quite rightly I thought) for having a phrase about the ‘revolutionary overthrow’ of capitalism its the statutes – implying violence. However, this has since been toned down to ‘revolutionary overcoming’ or, more freely translated ‘revolutionary superseding’. The Interior Ministry’s continuing support for a ban (first initiated under a Social Democrat-led government, I should note), which the Constitutional Court has just upheld seems a bit harsh. As the KSM’s main activity is doing legwork for anti-radar protests and its chance of overthrowing (sorry, that should overcoming ‘overcoming’) capitalism are about the same as a snowstorm in July, they can perhaps cry foul. On the other hand, the bleating of various neo-Stalinists in the letters page of The Guardian about anti-communist oppression in the country with the largest and most militant CP in mainland Europe was frankly too much….

The neo-fascist right (whose organisations have also been subject to periodic bans and deregistrations by the Czech Interior Ministry over the years) is also campaigning against the US radar bases (on nationalist grounds), I should add.

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