On March 17, the Czech government withdrew its proposal to ratify an agreement with the Pentagon to install a U.S. military radar base in the Czech Republic.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek halted the ratification process when it appeared that the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house of the Czech Parliament – was likely to vote to reject the agreement.
“The retreat was very significant, because our government had promoted the radar as one of its key accomplishments,” says Jana Glivicka, a leader of the grassroots No Bases Initiative, which has opposed the radar for more than two years.
Indeed, one week after the government withdrew the radar proposal, Topolanek’s governing coalition collapsed. Its position in favor of the radar was one of the reasons why the government failed to win a vote of confidence in parliament.
Two-thirds of Czechs have opposed the radar since it was first proposed in 2006. Calls from activists with the No Bases Initiative and the Nonviolence Movement for a popular referendum on the issue have repeatedly been rebuffed.
In September 2008, the Czech government put the final touches on an agreement with the United States to install 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 hard work of anti-radar groups in the country, popular opinion remained strongly mobilized against the radar,” says Glivicka. “This public opposition culminated in the likely ‘no’ vote in the Chamber.”
The anti-radar movement has drawn support from people around the world alarmed by the military escalation of the proposed European missile defense program of the Czech radar and its companion Interceptor missiles in Poland. An ad hoc coalition of U.S.-based peace groups, including the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and the Humanist Movement, participated in the U.S. campaign to support the Czech peace activists by issuing public statements, visiting the Czech Mission to the United Nations, and organizing hunger strikes, among other actions. (Full disclosure: I co-direct the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.)
On March 16, this coalition sent an open letter to the Czech Chamber of Deputies that was signed by more than 550 people, including professor Noam Chomsky, columnist Katha Pollitt and author Adam Hochschild.
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 March 17 television address. “We will return to this issue after talks with the U.S. administration and after the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl,” referring to the talks scheduled for early April.
Anti-radar activists in the Czech Republic and their international supporters say they will continue their campaign until the proposal to install the radar is permanently withdrawn.
Jan Tamas of the Czech Nonviolence Movement, said “[W]e continue our fight, but we can say that we won one important battle. Now in the Czech Republic, a new chapter of our struggle begins.”