Civil Society, Europe, Headlines

CZECH REPUBLIC: U.S. Radar Makes Some People Hungry

Zoltán Dujisin

PRAGUE, Jun 12 2008 (IPS) - Both opponents and supporters of the U.S. radar to be built on Czech soil have turned to hunger strikes to voice their opinions, with some politicians following suit.

The U.S. administration wants to enlarge its missile defence system to Central and Eastern Europe by building a radar in the Czech Republic and a missile base in Poland that will allegedly protect Western countries from missile attacks by ‘rogue’ states in the Middle East.

As the Czech right-wing government gives the nod to the U.S. radar on Czech soil against almost 70 percent of its population, activists and opposition politicians have begun protesting through hunger strikes.

On May 13 Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar from the civic group ‘No to the Bases’ began the first hunger strike at a building open to the public in the centre of Prague, where they remained until last week.

“We turned to hunger strikes because this is a problem of democracy. For two years we have made protests and petitions to the government but they keep negotiating with the U.S., ignoring that two-thirds of the Czech public are against this ‘star wars’ system,” Tamas told IPS.

The main treaty for the construction of the radar has been signed, and there are ongoing talks on another treaty on the conditions of the U.S. soldiers’ stay in Czech territory, to be signed by mid-July.

“The radar means a declaration of war, and I don’t want my country to be a part of something so destabilising that will lead to another arms race,” the activist added.

Tamas and Bednar demanded that the government cease talks with the U.S., wait for the European Union (EU) stance on the issue, start a debate in parliament, and organise television discussions on the base between an equal number of supporters and opponents.

As the strikers began showing signs of weakness such as liver problems and stammering speech, politicians from the right-wing ruling coalition were forced to react.

Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova called the hunger strikers blackmailers to whom one should not yield, and insisted such a form of protest only makes sense in oppressive societies. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg met the activists but rejected their conditions, promising only dialogue.

The main opposition party Social Democrats managed to convince the activists to end their strike after left-wing politicians agreed to enter a chain hunger strike, in which deputies would take turns.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who had also referred to the activists as “blackmailers”, ironically welcomed the decision by left-wing deputies to replace the hunger strikers.

“A couple of days of hunger would definitely do some politicians good. I would eventually join it,” he said, seemingly in reference to the overweight condition of several Czech politicians.

But nobody was prepared for the announcement by Reflex weekly journalist Jiri X Dolezal, who declared his intention last Friday to start a hunger strike in support of the radar.

Dolezal made his announcement in a Prague cafe while eating his last meal before the hunger strike, and playing a pro-U.S. song recorded by minister Parkanova.

The song was offered to U.S. President George W. Bush by the minister herself during Bush’s visit to Prague last year and was the object of public mockery for weeks.

“We only hear opinions against the radar in public space, and by this hunger strike I want to prove there are also many Czechs in favour of the radar,” Dolezal told IPS.

The journalist says he wants the radar because “the south and east are problematic areas of the world, and the radar will protect Europe from missiles from Iran or maybe even Russia.”

Dolezal said he did not mind going against the majority opinion of Czechs. “The majority usually is wrong,” he said.

Tamas called Dolezal’s actions “crazy”. He added: “I never heard of hunger strikes in favour of a government.”

The pro-radar media has frequently labelled outspoken opponents of the radar as anti-American, communists, pro-Russians or even sympathisers of Muslim organisations.

Last November Czech State Television was criticised by the ‘No to the Bases’ group for running a report in which it insinuated that Russian intelligence services had infiltrated it. Czech military intelligence chief Ondrej Palenik confirmed that they had no knowledge of links between Russian intelligence and opponents of the radar.

However, such allegations have continued to emerge intermittently, and media often question the source of funding of anti-radar groups such as ‘No to the Bases’ and Greenpeace.

The protests are building up ahead of a decision in parliament. The treaties will need to be ratified by parliament, but the Green coalition partners are mostly against stationing the radar.

Some deputies of the ruling Civic Democrats have insinuated they will not approve the EU Lisbon Treaty for institutional reform if the U.S. radar treaties are rejected.

Social Democrats politicians demand a referendum on the radar, but this is rejected by the ruling coalition, which claims that responsibility for sensitive security matters cannot be shifted from politicians to the population.

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