Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The nightmares of small countries

Go take a look at the first two pictures accompanying this post--no, seriously, go look, I'll wait right here; there's one right at the top and a second half a screen below.

They're taken from the terrace of the Czech embassy ... yes, of course, in Paris. After World War I, the new Czechoslovak state obtained the building from a lady, a French aristocrat, a fact which the author submits as evidence of what good connections the founders of Czechoslovakia had with influential people among the citizenry of important Western countries. He's sees connections like these slipping away, and he's concerned about the consequences for the modern Czech state.

What follows are excerpts from that post. In a couple of spots I've included a summary of connecting material in square brackets, or explanatory comments in curly brackets.

~ Karl

The Czech Republic lacks strategic allies among the citizenry in the West

- Jan Čulík

In the long run, has the safe existence of a democratic Czech Republic been secured from a foreign-policy perspective. Can we safely foresee what the situation in Europe will be five or ten years from now? We all know that in our unstable times, the foreign-policy situation can change radically. In 2007, who would have suspected that a serious economic and financial crisis would occur and that even the future of the euro, the Eurozone, and the European Union would be called into question? In 1932, who could have predicted that in ten years, Jews in Europe would be murdered by the hundreds of thousands?

… Historically, the Czech lands have always been the victim of the great powers and their influence. They have had to march to the colonizer’s tune.
This can be summarized in a clearly understandable metaphor, even if in the current situation it strikes some people as rather exaggerated: Can anyone guarantee that in Europe's medium or long term, it won't come to some sort of “new Munich”? {At a meeting in Munich in September, 1938, the leaders of Italy, France, and Britain agreed to hand over the Czechoslovak border lands to Hitler’s Germany, without consulting with the Czechoslovak government, thus sealing the fate of the first Czechoslovak Republic.} That is, after a possible disintegration of the European Union, might we witness a foreign-policy development that is unfavorable for the Czech Republic?

We all know that individual states, even in today’s European Union, rather brutally promote their own selfish interests. The smaller states are always at a disadvantage. You think that sometime, someone will take an active role on the Czech Republic’s behalf? …[We think our defense is 100% secure because we’re now in NATO.] A while ago I was speaking confidentially with some American diplomats about that, and they just chuckled ironically. The fact is, as Czechs know from history, that when it comes to a crisis, valid agreements are not fulfilled, unless their fulfillment is in the direct interest of the given power.

If sometime in the mid-term future there are again negotiations about the fate of the Czech Republic, “about us, without us” {a phrase from the time of the Munich meeting}, the Czech Republic does not have, among the citizenry of the Western countries that still determine the political course of Europe, more than a few allies who know Czech culture, Czech history, and the Czech political situation, and who would be willing and able during a crisis to speak out in public debate in defense of Czech interests. At the time of a possible future crisis, the Czech Republic will not be able to rely on any such personalities in Western Europe.

This is a problem even in a normal, non-crisis situation. It has been a mistake for the Czech Republic, in its more than 20 years of independent existence, not to have cultivated very many public figures in the West who would speak out in the public discourse in defense of Czech interests.


Perhaps Czech politicians don’t realize that Western politicians won’t advance their interests, because this reality is not evident in their day-to-day contacts with Western politicians. In the West, Czech politicians are politely and attentatively received by their local counterparts. A British, French, German or American politician hears out his Czech guest and speaks with him substantively, openly, and in an informed manner, even about rather confidential matters. This gives the Czech politician the impression that he’s part of the intimate inner circle of influence and that people are counting on him.

In reality, that’s just an appearance. The behavior of a Western politician toward his Czech visitor is just a manifestation of his professionalism. His attitude toward the Czech politician is unengaged. After the meeting, the Western politician doesn’t get back in touch with his Czech contacts, he doesn’t propose a further meeting, and he does nothing for Czech interests.

On Friday [June 15th] I was in Paris at the Czech embassy for a conference of professors and lecturers of Czech studies, mostly from France but also from several other countries. Western university systems today are going through a period of radical changes. They are being drastically commercialized. The worst situation is in America and in Great Britain, but the same practice is spreading widely across the rest of Western Europe.


Under the new French law on higher education, French universities have gained full independence from the state. The same thing is starting to go on here [in France] as is already happening in Britain. Universities here, too, now act from a commercial standpoint rather than an academic one. They are liquidating fields of study that seem to them commercially insignificant, fields from which great financial profit will never flow to them. In the new commercial situation, the study of languages and cultures is always among the threatened fields. The study of languages is difficult and expensive. For universities, it doesn’t pay. For them, it’s much more advantageous to sell entrepreneurial courses (Masters of Business Administration) for high tuition to interested people from distant lands, who have to pay, like China. This strengthens the one-way flow of information in Europe, which is already so fundamentally oriented from the West to the East. In the Czech media we know about every little rustling in America, while in the West hardly anyone knows about the culture and political identity of east central Europe, and in the future it will be much worse. In France, they are clearly going to close at least half of the ten university centers that currently spread Czech culture and teach the Czech language.

For the Czech Republic this is a development with can threaten its security in the medium and long term. It’s true of Britain, and also of France and the United States. The Czech Republic has not created any political and cultural allies among the local French population. This has been evident several times recently, most distinctly in 2009, at the time of the Czech presidency of the European Union. That presidency followed the French presidency, and voices appeared in the French press, clearly spurred on by then-president Sarkozy, that the French presidency should be extended by another half year rather than being handed over to an “immature,” “postcommunist” country like the Czech Republic. Nobody could be found in French society who would speak up in the media and point out the sophisticated history of Czech culture, and who would say to the French that the Czech Republic was a worthy partner. There was no Ernest Denis {a French historian who supported the creation of Czechoslovakia}.


It’s simply inarguable that university programs spreading the awareness of the culture and languages of the central European countries create long-term and influential allies for these countries, who will strongly support these countries in every crisis that arises in the future. The difficulty is that there are very few of these centers in Western Europe and now we’re seeing their widespread liquidation. Why? Because Western universities are turning into money mills. Any sort of academic aspects are ceasing to be important, and only the financial aspects are decisive.

... [Universities only understand money, and small countries will need to spend money in order for Western universities to preserve the study of their cultures.]

The smaller a country is, the more means it must expend on spreading the awareness of its history, politics, and culture in the countries where its fate will be decided. For over 400 years the fate of Czechs and the Czech lands has been decided abroad. The kind of political regime that prevails in Bohemia is always determined by the foreign-policy constellation. In its own interest, the Czech Republic must begin to influence the foreign-policy discourse to the benefit of its interests through the long-term creation of strategic allies in Western countries, made aware (by means of university programs) of its culture, politics, and history. This can be most effectively carried out in collaboration with the other central European countries. In every big West European country, the Czech government should secure, in cooperation with its central European partners, the permanent existence of one or two centers for the study of east central Europe. This may be the most important investment of great long-term significance that the Czech Republic could make at this time.


It is truly necessary for the Czech Republic to invest in this way in the education of foreign economists, political scientists, historians, specializing in central Europe, who will defend its interests in the coming crises. Nobody abroad is going to listen to Czechs during a crisis. But they will listen to French, British, and American citizens defending Czech interests.

This is an investment on which might depend the survival of democracy in the Czech Republic. Maybe the politicians who implement it will thus ensure that they won't once again—in ten years? Fifteen, twenty?—end up in some concentration camp or labor camp.

You think I’m exaggerating? Well, can you read the future?

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