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