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Commentariat: Radar deal fallout

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Protestors pelted Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg with tomatoes Tuesday after he and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice signed a deal to build an anti-missile radar on Czech soil, but otherwise relative calm ruled Rice’s Prague visit.

This might seem surprising given the unpopularity of the project – some 75% of Czechs are opposed, according to recent opinion surveys. But it’s summer and even radar opponents need holidays.

Writing in Hospodářské noviny Wednesday, commentator Petr Kamberský said the half-hearted protests show that the anti-radar sentiment in this country is not that deep. “People don’t want the radar, but they’re not willing to get out of their seats over it,” he wrote. “Apathy is stronger than pacifism.”

The deal signing, moreover, is only a small step toward launching the project, since the base cannot be built without Czech Parliament’s approval. And as things stand now – with the Greens, Communists and most ČSSD opposed; the ODS and the KDU-ČSL mostly in favour – the decision could swing either way.

In opinon columns Wednesday, Czech pundits seemed as divided as the public on the radar question.

In Mladá front Dnes, Milan Vodička blamed the Czech government for doing a poor job of selling the anti-missile project to the public. “The government failed to honestly say what this is about,” he wrote. “The first mistake was that from the outset, politicians made it seem as though this was no big deal, and so people started to pay attention: Experience told them too much secrecy means something is amiss.” What the government should have told the public, Vodička said was, “The radar is good for the country not because we need anti-missile defence but because we need the United States.”

MfD’s Karel Steigerwald, meanwhile, chided the opposition ČSSD for hosting a Russian general just as the radar deal was being signed. Strongly opposed to the radar base, Russia has threatened to retaliate if the project goes ahead. The ČSSD’s move was seen by the party’s critics as tasteless and theatrical. Steigerwald suggested the radar issue should transcend party affiliations and could be reduced to a simple question: “Do we want the radar with the United States or do we want to remain without a radar with Russia or – God help us – with Iran?”

In Právo Jiří Hanák said it is unlikely that we could expect another world war within the next few generations but that the threat of terrosits getting hold of nuclear missiles cannot be ignored. He said ideally the European Union should be responsible for the safety of the Czech Republic but that the EU is not yet capable of such a thing.

Martin Hekrdla, also writing for Právo, took a direct stance against the radar: “Building the American global shield will launch the production and innovation of destructive weapons in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, as well as in many other countires,” he wrote. “It’s not about us finally taking part in helping ake the world safer. It’s about us – because of our government – accepting guilt for any potential global conflict.”

Lidové noviny’s Zbyněk Petráček disagreed. Writing Wednesday that the radar is not only a defence system but also a “western anchor for the Czech Republic”. He noted it was fitting that the radar deal siging took place on the 61st anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s rejection of the Marshall plan. Six months after rejecting the US post-war plan, Czechoslovakia “slid into the gutter of communism”, he wrote, adding that the country should not rejct America for the second time.

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