Czech Republic: Bad to Worse and Worse to Downright Foolish
The Foreign Ministers of Germany and the Czech Republic have just announced that the Czech-German Declaration has reached its conclusion, but their announcement has made it clear that the farce of the unpopular Declaration will continue for many months and perhaps years to come. On top of all this, Chairman of the Sudetoněmecké krajanské sdružení (SL) Franz Neubauer has been nominated to the Co-ordinating Committee of the Discussion Forum.
It is hard to imagine a more tragic miscalculation. The ministers must have been feeling that they hadn't alienated enough Czechs with the Declaration alone.
Of course, logically the government in Bonn was probably ultimately responsible for the choice of Neubauer (although it is hard to imagine that an 'understanding' could not have been reached during the negotiation of the Declaration by which Neubauer would have been kept off the list). Of course, Marek Benda (ODS) is right to point out that logically the Discussion Forum stemming from the Declaration is hardly as important as the Administrative Council of the Future Fond (spravnm radu Fondu budoucnosti) which will actually be dealing with the cash. There is some good logic in these arguments.
But the Czech-German issue has little to do with logic for most Czechs: for Czechs, this is an emotional issue.
There are so many reasons why nominating Neubauer to this post is shortsighted; it is hard to know where to begin. It has already been noted on the floor of the Czech Parliament that Neubauer has been a staunch opponent of the Declaration in its present form, and that his nomination appears to break the spirit of the infamous uvozujmcm usnesenm and the agreements made behind closed doors between Klaus and Zeman.
More importantly, this move is a further gift to the extremists in Central Europe. This time, extremists from both sides have won.
On the German side, the vindictive and fear-inspiring Neubauer now has a new platform for spreading his hateful words. It is certain that the Czech press will follow his deliberately destabilising nastiness with even more vigour. Neubauer will enjoy being the centre of attention, causing unease and instability in the Czech Republic. This will increase fear and aggressiveness among Czechs.
On the Czech side, all politicians will try to capitalise on this fear, especially in the upcoming electoral campaign. I can easily foresee electoral platform (volební programy) containing the demand for Neubauer's removal from the new Committee. The call will come from several parties, so it is likely that parties with such an aim will form the next coalition. With such a demand, the next government is likely to have a rather anti-German tone.
The German and European reaction to that demand is not likely to be positive. Neubauer will, in turn, be more than satisfied with this as such behaviour will assist him in his hope of tying EU expansion to concrete gains in his quest for "právo na vlast" and a chunk of the vlast no doubt as well.
And then, of course, there is Mr Bean's evil twin: Sládek. The Republican leader will respond to Neubauer in a myriad of ways, and some of his protestations are likely to be shared by a significant portion of the Czech voting public. Boosted further by his legitimate case rejecting the election of the President now to be presented to an international court, Sladek will seem to have some right on his side on at least two fronts.
For some unknown reason, the establishment continues to give gifts to the radicals. With the elections coming up, the way I see it, the Republicans have been handed another few seats in the Lower House. In a climate where people feel the economy is slipping, where they are losing confidence in old political parties and structures, and where the radicals will seem to many to be right in some of their particular arguments, the Czech Republic now faces potentially grim election results.
Rather than be satisfied with the strong economic, political and even military co-operation that has characterised the post-November relations between Bonn and Prague, a group of Czech intellectuals decided to respond to a minority of dissenting opinion in Germany and create an absurd Declaration about the emotive and controversial issues of national history and Czech self-identity. With this move, they rekindled the fires of hatred.
The day after the Declaration was ratified by the Czech Parliament last year, several signs, banners and posters appeared in many towns across the Republic. In several locations throughout the city of Teplice, for example, painted black letters more than a metre high spelled out "14.2.97 NARODNÍ ZRADA".
We are just a few days away from the anniversary of the "NARODNÍ ZRADA", and it is hard to say how the Republicans will commemorate it. What is clear, however, is that with this latest announcement by the two foreign ministers, more and more Czechs will come to agree with the person who painted those notices in Teplice.