czech republic

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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 85,438 69,590 56,800 39
GNI per capita
 US $ 6,740 5,560 5,250 66
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Czech Republic


Update No: 125 - (25/10/07)

The anti-missile shield
The biggest issue facing the Czech Republic right now is whether to go along with the Americans in their idea of installing anti-missile defences there and in Poland. Supposedly they are directed against 'axis of evil' states, Iran and North Korea. 

There is something on the face of it, quite bizarre about the whole business. It is not paranoia at all for the Russians to suppose that they are really directed against them and their nuclear arsenal. It is a simple matter of geography. If the Iranians and the North Koreans have an animus against anyone it is not the continental Europeans, it is the US and Israel in the first case and Japan in the second.
It is a pet project of the Bush Administration, one of its looniest yet. It is hardly likely to survive it. Apart from anything else, it is technically unlikely to work. The Russians are developing technology that will render it impossible to prevent a nuclear barrage from succeeding. But again why would they want to incinerate Western Europe?

The reason the Czechs go along with it is the mystery. President Vaclav Klaus is a fervent Atlanticist, it is true. But the government is more tempered in its pro-Americanism and has the ultimate say. 

Russia might inspect U.S. radar base in Czech Rep-Czech PM
Russian inspectors might have a chance to check the assembly and operation of the possible U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic from time to time, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek indicated in an interview for public Czech Television (CT). 

Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) however, added that no Russian soldiers would be permanently present in the country as Russian experts could only use some "inspection days." 

Topolanek stressed he had already mentioned this possibility in January. "I said in January that for good relations and control mechanisms we might propose that Russian inspectors participate in both the construction and the radar operation if the USA agreed with it," Topolanek told CT. 

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also talked about a possible presence of Russian experts at the U.S. base during his visit to Prague on October 23. He, however, said no U.S.-Russian agreement in this respect could be closed without a Czech consent. 

The Czech left-wing opposition criticised the U.S. offer to Moscow for the Russians to be present at the radar base planned to be built on the Brdy military grounds south-west of Prague. 

A number of Czech government politicians also consider the idea of Russian military experts' return to the Czech Republic unacceptable. 

The radar base together with a base for ten interceptor missiles in Poland are to be elements of the U.S. anti-missile shield that is to protect countries from missiles that hostile states, such as Iran, might launch. 

The Czech government of the ODS, the Greens (SZ) and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) launched negotiations with the US on the radar project this spring. The US expects Prague to make the final decision next year. 

However, the plan is still opposed by most Czechs, according to the latest public opinion polls. 

Czechs to withdraw most Iraq troops, but boost presence in Afghanistan
The Defence Ministry announced on October 22 that the Czech Republic would withdraw most of its troops from Iraq next year, and at the same time the country's presence with NATO in Afghanistan would be substantially increased. The redeployments, which still have to be approved by parliament, will come into effect in July 2008. 

The news has come as no surprise; Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg hinted at a reduction several weeks ago. The United States, Britain and Poland have all announced gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, and in a sense the Czech Republic is simply following suit. Currently the country has around 100 troops employed in guarding the perimeter of the British-run military base at Basra airport in the south of Iraq, and a handful of military advisers in Baghdad. With the British departure from Basra, the Czechs' guard role will come to an end. Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova told reporters just 20 Czech soldiers will remain in Iraq, to help train members of the Iraqi armed forces. 

The Czech presence in Afghanistan, however, will be boosted. The Czech Republic currently has some 225 troops in the country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Mrs Parkanova said that figure would almost double to 415 by next year. Afghanistan currently accounts for most of the 1.9 billion crowns - around 100 million US dollars - that the country spends on foreign missions each year. 

From March 2008, around 200 troops will be sent as part of the Provisional Reconstruction Team in the province of Lowgar southeast of Kabul. Some 70 Czech soldiers will be sent to join the Dutch contingent in the province of Uruzgan, and 100 army medical staff and soldiers will continue to run the Czech army field hospital in Kabul. There are another 35 troops in the southern province of Helmand. The largest Czech contingent, however, remains in Kosovo, part of the NATO-led KFOR mission. That will continue to be the case next year. Even after extra troops are sent to Afghanistan, the Czech presence in Kosovo is expected to remain at the current level of 550. 

'A find of the century'
Czech archaeologists have uncovered a part of a half-metre high statue of a woman dating back to 7,000 years in Masovice, in the South Moravia area of the Czech Republic. The hollow legs and haunch of the female statue, made of ceramic, date back to sometime between 4,800 - 4,700 BC, experts from Brno's Masaryk University told the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD). 

Archaeologist Zdenek Cizmar said people of the pre-historical culture made the statue, which is now known as the "Moravian Painted Ceramic". "The statue was decorated with yellow paint. It is of an immense archaeological value," said Cizmar. Masaryk University expert Vladimir Podborsky said that the find could be described as quite unique. "No statue of such dimensions and such type has been uncovered either in Europe or in Orient so far. It has a great scientific importance," Podborsky said. The paper has called the statue "a find of the century". 

Masaryk the mentor of the nation
It is apt that the leading university should be called after the founder of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk. It is an appropriate moment to weigh up his legacy for the Czech Republic at a time when a soul-searching is going on in Slovakia at the role Hitler and two fascist priests played in its foundation in 1938-39.

Born in 1850, Masaryk was in fact a Slovak, although born in Moravia. But his dream, which became a reality in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles, was to conjoin the Czechs and Slovenes in a new nation. 

He was a most remarkable man, a great scholar, who only entered politics for patriotic reasons at the age of 65 in 1915. 

He could see the approaching demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czechs had always resented being excluded from its inner counsels and thought that the decision to attack Serbia in August 1914 was self-destructive folly. Masaryk was no fanatical apologist for all things Czech, indeed exposed several mediaeval manuscripts, beloved of nationalists, as forgeries. He was a great believer in Realpolitik in place of ideology.

He wanted to persuade the Slovaks, a peasant people, to accept the Czech cultural heroes as their own, whether the reformer Hus or the astronomer Kepler. Bohemia was an advanced nation with a great culture, industry and capital in Prague. The Slovaks would be lifted up to their level. The intellectuals of Bratislava agreed with him. But not alas Slovakia profonde. The peasant masses in the countryside followed their Catholic priests and wanted nothing of this Enlightenment project. They distrusted the then Protestants in Bohemia and the sophisticated, cosmopolitan world of Prague. It is surprising that Czechoslovakia lasted as long as it did. In fact each time it has been established it has split up, the first time after twenty years in 1939, the second in four. Each time a retrograde leader was involved. The first time it was the fascist priest, the Monsignor Josef Tiso, who invited Hitler to detach Slovakia from the Czechs when he grabbed Bohemia in March of that year. Hitler gladly obliged, following the precept of ' divide and rule. Within three years of being reconstituted in 1945, it fell into the grip of the communists, with Masaryk's son being conveniently defenestrated (although it is possible that it was suicide in despair at the turn events had taken). The second time it was Vladimir Meciar, a populist and a political throwback to Tiso, less the 'clerical collar'. Masaryk's noble dream was shattered. The one moment when a free and united Czechoslovakia could perhaps have been confirmed was the Prague Spring of 1968, for Dubcek was like Masaryk, a Slovak dedicated to it. But it was crushed by Soviet tanks - and with it Masaryk's entire vision.


The following is another historical perspective on the whole saga:- 

A Pair of Princes
This is an excerpt from the book A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today by David A. Andelman (Wiley: $25.95). 

While the young man who would become Ho Chi Minh was beating in frustration against locked doors in Paris, two other national revolutionaries had already been inside for years. Each was a far more persuasive and effective advocate for freedom and self-determination for his nation.

Tomas Edvard Masaryk, leader and advocate of Czech nationhood since his earliest days as a member of the Austro-Hungarian parliament at the turn of the century, was an engaging, adept and utterly sympathetic figure. A professor by training and temperament alike, he was prepared to forsake a promising academic career for the independence of his beloved homeland. 

By contrast, Ignace Jan Paderewski's route was through the great concert halls of the Western world as one of the foremost musical geniuses of his age. He, too, was prepared to relinquish a brilliant career, as a virtuoso of the piano, to win freedom for his homeland. Yet only in the past decade have the dual visions of Masaryk and Paderewski finally been realized. 

If oil and Islam were the motivating forces in the Middle East, coal and Bolshevism overhung the deliberations on the future of Central Europe. In the end, the peoples of Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as Hungary and the Balkans, were effectively forced to place their bodies and their way of life in the breach as buffers between the forces of capitalism and communism--especially between Russia and Germany.
The immediate concerns were expressed in different fashions by each of the Allied powers. For France, the primary fear, as it had been for a century or more, was neighbouring Germany. England's fears were not so dissimilar from the French. The one large black hole was the intellectual baggage Woodrow Wilson was bringing with him to the conference table--the concept of self-determination for the world's oppressed peoples. But just what did Wilson's ideal of self-determination mean when it came to redrawing frontiers that for centuries had snaked their way in and around a kaleidoscope of different nationalities of Europe?

To assemble the Czechoslovakia Masaryk envisioned meant effectively purloining territory from each of his once-powerful neighbors that were now, at the end of a long and debilitating war, thoroughly crushed. At the same time, Paderewski had no interest in Poland becoming part of a Franco-Czech dominated bloc--a cordon sanitaire against Bolshevism in Central Europe.

By late January, most of the leading delegates were already fed up with the bickering that seemed likely to consume their energies and turned Central Europe over to a handful of specialists. The biggest problem they faced in redrawing the maps of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary was the presence of vast numbers of minorities within the frontiers of each of these nations--but especially the numbers of Germans who inhabited the border areas. 

Indeed, the Germans in the border territories--the question of minorities, their rights and the boundaries that would define who would rule them--rapidly became the single most contentious issue of the Peace Conference. The various experts, at the behest of their delegations' leaders, were seeking to draw boundaries in areas that had never before been separated by international frontiers--and drawing them on linguistic and ethnic grounds rather than on the grounds of any naturally occurring geographic criteria. 

By mid-April 1919, the various commissions of experts had put the final touches--as best they could--on the frontiers of Poland and Czechoslovakia. But across Central Europe, out there where the vast populations were just beginning to adjust to their new status as free people, or their new enslavement under strange governments with different languages and customs, the troubles had only just begun. The new Poland that emerged from the conference rooms of the Quai d'Orsay and the smoking rooms of a dozen hotels turned out to be an unstable and militarily indefensible hash, if somewhat more ethnically homogeneous than its neighbour to the south.

Czechoslovakia stood in sharp contrast to the largely impoverished nation of Poland, which the Allies had created. From the moment of its creation, it was already the world's 10th most industrialized nation. The wealth its companies generated would make Czechoslovakia coveted by Germany and envied by its other, less amply endowed neighbors.

The biggest failure of the Allies in Paris, however, was their inability or unwillingness to appreciate the personal dynamics of the leaders of these new nations they were creating. Masaryk and Paderewski emerged into the postwar world with a profound dislike for each other. This prevented them from leading their governments into the kind of joint efforts against common enemies that might have slowed, if not halted, the progress toward their enslavement by the two great nations on their western and eastern borders.

And communism was not the most immediate menace to the continued independence of Czechoslovakia. On its western frontier, the economic catastrophe called the Weimar Republic had sprung from the reparations foisted on a defeated Germany by the Allies. Hyperinflation sent prices doubling every month, spawning a right-wing phenomenon known as National Socialism.
In the end, the Czechs could do little to resist Nazi forces. This small nation that its defenders at the peace talks so rightly predicted could be little more than a highway to Russia and the Balkans proved to be just that. Indeed, it turned into a two-way highway when, just six years and millions of deaths later, Soviet forces rolled across it heading west. The route Poland followed after the signing at Versailles was even more direct and in many respects far bloodier. 

The Second World War ended far differently than the First. Slavery replaced self-determination. And while Clemenceau and Stalin shared a common goal of using the Central European nations--especially Poland and Czechoslovakia--as a buffer between Soviet Russia and Germany, the real aims of the two world leaders, a generation apart, were far different. Stalin's goal was to guarantee not the independence of the member nations of this cordon sanitaire but their enslavement. 

It was the better part of a century, since Masaryk and Paderewski first sought for their nations a place of their own among the community of democratic nations, before both states could become full-fledged members of the European community. On March 12, 1999, Poland and the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, followed five years later by Slovakia. And on May 1, 2004, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia became full members of the European Union. 

All this was made possible only by an improbable series of events so ill foreseen by the myopic peacemakers in Paris: the arrival of a Polish pope as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in October 1978; the arrival of a reformist Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev; and, of course, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the final symbolic end to communism and Soviet rule in Eastern Europe.
How differently events might have turned out if the peacemakers of Paris had looked at the Europe they sought to raise from the dead in some less self-serving fashion. Europe might have looked very different had they not been paralyzed by the spectre of Bolshevism, exploding out of Russia and infecting Hungary. This spectre, they feared so desperately in their hearts, could arrive on their own doorsteps before long.

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