The People’s Nonviolent Resistance against MD in the Czech Republic and the European Solidarity Movement

By Anna Polo (Italy)

Europe for Peace

April 17, 2009


I don’t need many words to explain here why the so-called Space Shield project is dangerous and must be stopped. I will just quote a part of a letter that Noam Chomsky wrote to Jan Tamas, the young humanist leader of the Nonviolent Movement against the bases in the Czech Republic: “The installation of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is virtually a declaration of war.

It was very clear from the beginning, in 2006, when Czech activists discovered the secret negotiations between their government and the US administration to install a radar base in their territory and a base to intercept missiles in Poland, that this plan was not about the threat posed by Iran, but aimed instead to divide Europe from Russia. Its implementation has already  increased international tensions, generating a new arms race and it is the first step towards the militarization and control of space. 

The protest in Czech Republic was “fueled” by a very simple but powerful idea, shared by 70% of the population: We don’t want foreign troops on our territory! After the Germans and the Russians, we don’t want Americans to come here and install a military base.

In almost 3 years of activity the protest movement has involved people and organizations of different cultural, political and social origins: old and young, artists and academics, trade-unionists and mayors, all united to say something very simple: we are supposed to live in a democracy, so we have the right to decide on such an important question by means of a referendum. An on-line petition with this request has been signed so far by more than 146.000 people.

I would like to show you a brief video made in 2007, that explains  the spirit of this struggle better than any words.

 

Since then, the protest in Czech Republic has continued and has become even stronger, but the government has remained deaf to the voice of 2/3 of its citizens, refusing to organize a referendum, continuing to declare that the Space Shield is a defensive measure and signing an agreement with the Bush administration to install the radar base outside Prague.  The majority of the Czech mass media supports the government position: they manipulate or hide the truth and defame the protest movement (some say that Jan Tamas is a terrorist, or is paid by the Russians). Nevertheless, Internet and foreign mass media have given a wide space to the protest movement, so that at times the Czech media has been obliged to do the same.

In May 2008 Jan Tamas and another young humanist, Jan Bednar, decided to use one of the most powerful nonviolent forms of struggle, the hunger strike, and continued it for 3 weeks, generating a deep wave of support and solidarity not only in their country, but all over the world. Activists from Europe, USA, Asia and Australia  (some of whom are present here) joined them in this strong form of protest, aware that the installation of the radar base in Czech Republic was a problem that involved all Europe and possibly the whole world. They ended their hunger strike after 21 days, but it was picked up in a kind of relay hunger strike, every day, for one day, by people well-known in the Czech Republic: among them scientists, academics, actors, directors, athletes, and Members of Parliament from different parties.

One of the people who joined the hunger strike was Giorgio Schultze, spokesperson of the Humanist Movement in Europe, who was able to bring the protest inside the European Parliament. With the support of some MEPs (among them the Vice-President, Luisa Morgantini), we organized several public meetings and issued declarations signed by many MEPs. These common initiatives showed an interesting convergence between the international protest movement against the Space Shield and the institutional work inside the European Parliament.

The last episode of this collaboration took place in Brussels on February 18th:  called on by Europe for Peace, the League of Mayors against the Radar, and the Czech Nonviolent Movement. Hundreds of demonstrators traveled to Brussels from the Czech Republic and other European countries, along with representatives of European social movements like Mayors for Peace, Pax Christi and World without Wars. We paraded in front of the European Parliament as the “Invisibles”:  hundreds of people dressed in white to symbolize the majority of the European population that has neither been consulted, nor heard in the decisions that affect them. At the same time, humanist and pacifist groups were mobilized in the main European capitals and also in South America, in support of the Czech pacifists.

We were also received by the Belgian Senate and then we participated in a public hearing inside the European Parliament. On both occasions many deputies signed a letter to Obama, supporting his policy in favor of nuclear disarmament but asking him to stop the“Star Wars” project. This initiative was even more important because since January 1, 2009, the Czech Republic has held the presidency of the European Union: to show inside the Parliament how wide is the opposition to the Space Shield project is therefore even more meaningful.

Here are some images of this important moment.


19 February 2009 - 70% of the people, over 130 mayors and 13 out of 14 regional heads
 in the Czech Republic show opposition to the proposed US missile defence radar

More details here

After the event in Brussels things have accelerated: on March 17th the Czech government withdrew  its proposal to ratify an agreement on the base. Conservative Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek halted the ratification process when it appeared that the Chamber of Deputies was likely to vote to reject the agreement. A few days later the government was dissolved by Parliament with a motion presented by the Social-Democratic opposition. This is a victory for disarmament and nonviolence, largely due to popular pressure. “The great work of awareness-raising, mobilization and information dissemination we carried out in these years,” stated Jan Tamas, President of the Czech Humanist Party and leader of the radar base protest, “allowed the opposition parties to understand the danger of the “Star Wars” project and the Greens to realize their politics was very distant from that of other European Green Parties.” In fact, the opposition of two Green Party members who distanced themselves from their party’s pro-military stance was the major cause of the fall of the government.

Czech Government Falls Over Star Wars Radar!

24 March 2009
- The people are no longer invisible
More details

New elections will be probably held next Autumn, but meanwhile the protest does not stop: during the recent  visit of American President Obama to Prague several initiatives were organized, including an “Invisibles” march through the city, a banner on one of Prague’s bridges and a human-made message “No Star Wars” body-painted on several male and female activists. Riot police blocked their path to the Congress Centre where the EU-US summit was taking place, denying for the first time since the fall of the communist regime the right to peaceful protest. Jan Tamas defined Obama’s speech “a grey picture”, with the exception of the nuclear disarmament proposal. We welcome Obama’s initiative on nuclear disarmament, but the rest of his speech seemed too much in line with the policies of the previous US administration” he said.

Prague filled with protests against planned US military base during Obama’s visit

5 April 2009 -
Several events and demonstrations took place in the Czech capital during
the recent visit of US President Barack Obama.



A spokesman called Obama’s speech “a grey picture”, with the exception of the nuclear
disarmament proposal. “We welcome Obama’s initiative on Nuclear disarmament,
but the rest of his speech seemed too much in line with the policies of the previous
 US administration”

Here is a short video about the events during Obama’s visit in Prague.

Anyway, surely the protest will continue.

I would like to end my speech trying to synthesize the elements that in my opinion are more interesting and meaningful:

  • the quickness of response: as soon as the agreement for the installation of the US radar base was discovered, an activity of denounce and popular protest started
     

  • the qualities of the protest: since the beginning the protest was nonviolent and tried to include every sector of society. It worked at the institutional level, involving mayors and deputies in Czech Republic and other European countries and MEPs,  but also proposed a kind of peaceful protest and a simple slogan (“No more foreign troops on our territory”) that was attractive also for common people, and not only for activists. This slogan expresses a deep feeling, that goes beyond political belongings and unites people.

    The movement protest used modern technological means (websites, videos, on-line petition), also to compensate for the silence and the defamation used by “official” mass-media
     

  • the international level: it was clearly stated from the beginning that this was not a “local” issue, but an international one. The activities included international conferences and simultaneous events in many cities in Europe and other continents, to reinforce the protest in Czech Republic and the feeling of a wide, common fight for disarmament and democracy. The research of important endorsements (Gorbachev, Chomsky, Mayor Akiba, MEPs and so on) and the involvement of many pacifist organizations in other countries came from this same interest.

I hope this experience can be useful also for activists of other countries.

Thank you.
 

 



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