In a major setback for Pentagon plans to install a US military radar base in the Czech Republic, the Prague government March 17 temporarily withdrew its proposal to ratify an agreement on the installation. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek halted the ratification process when it appeared that the Chamber of Deputies would likely reject the agreement. According to Jana Glivicka, a leader of the grassroots No Bases Initiative, this is a significant retreat, since the radar has been promoted as one of the key accomplishments of the current government.
Two thirds of Czechs have consistently opposed the radar ever since it was first proposed in 2006. Anti-radar activists have repeatedly called for a referendum on the issue, but have been rebuffed. Meanwhile, in 2008 the Czech government signed the agreement with the United States to proceed with the installation of the radar, and the Czech Senate approved the accord. However the agreement could not be implemented until the Czech Chamber of Deputies ratified it. Thanks to the tireless activities of anti-radar groups in the country, the No Bases Initiative and the Nonviolence Movement, popular opinion remained strongly mobilized against the radar. This public opposition culminated in a likely “no” vote in the Chamber.
The anti-radar movement has drawn support from around the world from people alarmed by the dangerous military escalation of the proposed European “missile defense” program of the Czech radar and its companion Interceptor missiles in Poland. In the United States, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy has since November 2007 supported the movement with public statements, letters published in the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, visits to the Czech Mission to the United Nations, demonstrations, a hunger strike, and, over the past weekend, an open letter to members of the Czech Chamber of Deputies signed by more than 550 people in less than 48 hours.
The CPD open letter was sent on March 16 to all 200 member of the Chamber of Deputies. A member of the Chamber planned to read the letter aloud from the floor of the Chamber if the ratification had come up for a vote. Signers included public figures such as Noam Chomsky and Ariel Dorfman, and leaders of many major US peace organizations. Most signatories were from the US, but there were some international signers including the Polish intellectual Adam Chmielewski, Iranian human rights activists, and a number of individuals from the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.
Czech Prime Minister Topolanek said that the government has not abandoned its plan for the radar. “This does not mean we would give up on the ratification process,” Topolanek said in a live television address. “We will return to this issue after talks with the US administration and after the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl.” It is by no means clear that the government will in fact reintroduce the radar for a vote after the NATO summit in early April. In any event, anti-radar activists in the Czech Republic and their international supporters are committed to continuing their campaign until such time as the proposal to install the radar is decisively and permanently withdrawn. (CPD, March 18)