GI’s in Czech

US military bases in the Czech Republic! There is now talk of that, and Czech politicians are now arranging themselves on either side of that issue.

The talk up to now has been not about the Czech Republic but rather about Romania and Bulgaria, which SACEUR chief General James Jones recently described as “extremely good candidates” for US military bases. Indeed, the Sarafovo airbase in eastern Bulgaria proved extremely handy during the recent war in Iraq as a location to base US refueling aircraft. But now it seems the Czech Republic is also in play – even though no official request or inquiry has yet been forthcoming from the American side.

The leading Czech business daily, Hospodárské noviny sets down the initial political alignment on the issue: President Klaus is against (he says it reminds him too much of Czechoslovakia’s having to “host” Soviet troops on its territory after 1968), and he said so in an interview that appeared last weekend in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung; but Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Cyril Svoboda is for. That’s not good – these two in recent weeks have already clashed with each other on enough foreign and security policy issues (they came close to an unseemingly wrestling-match for the pen when it came time for the Czech delegation to the Athens summit in April to sign the EU Treaty of Accession). As for Prime Minister Špidla, HN says he needs time to judge the pros and cons of an American military presence on Czech soil. To round things off: Minister of Defense Jaroslav Tvrdík (a member of the same party as Prime Minister Špidla, the Socialists or CSSD) is for, vicepremier and chairman of right-wing coalition party US-DEU is for, and Communist Party deputy chairman Miloslav Ransdorf is of course against.

As for the “shadow” Foreign Affairs minister from the right-wing opposition party ODS (President Klaus’ party), Jan Zahradil, he gets the opportunity to expound on the matter at length in an interview in (ironically) the left-wing daily Právo. He is for; he finds “a certain logic” to the concept of American airbases (especially) in the Czech Republic, given the way the NATO alliance is expanding eastwards. But isn’t President Klaus, eminence grise of his very same ODS party, and whom Zahradil accompanied to Munich, against? This calls for a bit of explanation: It’s not accurate to describe President Klaus as “against,” i.e. that he would refuse and block American bases, Zahradil claims. Rather, the President (along with Zahradil) merely has some worries about the whole matter – whether the Czech populace would welcome such a move, whether it would not just seem to them as post-1968 all over again, and the like. The Americans have not advanced a proposal of any kind yet, anyway; if anything, the ODS stands with Prime Minister Špidla in the position that it would certainly be something that they would have to think about carefully.

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