Ludvík Vaculík - CZECH REPUBLIC

5 2004 Aktuality English
obálka čísla

The Guardian´s request for an article about the Czech Republic arrived just after I received a document that has an absurd relevance to our entry into the EU. It is a memorandum sent in August 1940 to Adolf Hitler by the then "Reichsprotektor" in Bohemia and Moravia, Von Neurath, and his secretary, K. H. Frank. Those gentlemen submitted to the Führer a proposal, fairly specific in certain respects, for the liquidation of Czechs in the "German space" of Bohemia and Moravia.

The liquidation was to assume three forms: the gradual Germanisation of amenable members of the nation, the resettlement of the intractable portion somewhere in the east, and the physical liquidation of the intellectual elite, which might be capable of organising resistance. The familiar expressions of Endlösung (final solution") and Sonderbehandlung ("special measures") are also empolyed. Well, it didn´t happen, and we Czechs are sometimes surprised at the surprise of the Germans that after the war, which they lost, almost the contrary occurred, with the exception of that Sonderbehandlung.

That history is being recalled here these days, just prior to our entry into the EU. I was sent the document by a reader of my regular column in Lidové noviny (a leading daily paper with an honourable pre-second world war tradition) who read that in the referendum on the Czech Republic´s entry into the EU, I had voted against. In his letter, that reader agrees with me and writes that the age-old-German plan for our nation´s liquidation is back on the horizon, but will be carried out by different methods.

The creation of the EU and our membership thereof is a historical inevitability: a kind of historical denouement, as far as we are concerned. For three centuries after the Battle of White Mountain (in 1620, when an Austrian Catholic army routed the Bohemian protestants in what turned out to be the first major conflict in the Thirty Years War), we felt threatened by the Germans, who were always expanding eastwards. In the 19th century, we were actually protected from German expansionism by Austrian expansionism. (Indeed, it has become fashionable to cite imperial Austria as a precursor, or prototype, of a united Europe.) But only those ignorant of certain important factors can have a romantic view of Austria-Hungary. In every Czech and Moravian village there stands a monument to the fallen, each with a long list of men who died in an Austrian war that we didn´t need and didn´t want. That is a very sensitive issue these days: the EU´s wars in Kosovo and Iraq.

Following the reawakening of the nations in 1848 with Europe in revolt, we battled with Vienna in favour of an administrative arrangement that would enable Czechs and "Bohemian Germans" to have equal rights. The Germans continuously thwarted it, even when they became a minority after the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1919. In fact, they are to blame for post-war communism, since they ensured that the Soviets took care of our liberation from Nazism.

But I can see that this reader´s letter might have caused me to overemphasise the German question, though it really is an important issue fot the older generation. Without doubt we are by now fated to have the Germans as neighbours and, I ask myself, what historical task should we undertake now that the struggle with the Germans had disappeared from the agenda? Or has it disappeared? The answer depends on whether Europe will be German or Germany European – partly Britain´s responsibility, don´t you think?

Pre-war Czechoslovakia, as it was created on the basis of the Versailles and Trianon treaties, felt threatened by Hungary. It sought to protect itself by means of the Petite Entente (the Declaration of Benes, between Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia in 1920) which didn´t help us in the least, and I can´t recall any instance when such a treaty of mutual assistance and security has ever worked. Membership of the EU finally promises us that kind of security.

I voted against joining the EU for cautionary and aesthetic reasons. My feeling is that this project has set its sights on being a giant economic enterprise. Its drive for collective security is not motivated by ideals or morals, but is a measure to protect capital now united at last. The underlying principle is the single market. After all, it is remarkable that the idea of a common Europe comes at a moment when we are increasingly governed by people no one has elected. Doesn´t it strike you that way in Britain? Now that the owners of everything have found each other and reached an agreement, they kindly take us nations and states into their common basket. They are the ones who will do everything to protect and disseminate an affluent way of life and philosophy, just at the moment when these are beginning to be the target of criticism in various countries. I don´t hear the Brussels trumpets calling for a stop to the destruction of the environment and the corruption of people.

In other words, the EU is not advancing human awareness and the development of Europeans but, on the contrary, will prove a major obstacle to them. From now on, whatever thoughtful and responsible people strive for will be that degree more prohibited. The EU´s constitution and philosophy are not incorporating the results of social, ecological and spiritual criticism. There is not even scope for the emergence of social or cultural movements that would have a hope of success if created on a smaller territory.

However, there are only a few of us with these fears on every street. The majority of people, particularly the young, and every fool, anticipates that they will be joining precisely the affluence and decadence that I described. Were I to take the liberty of wishing for some task we could assume in place of our contest with the Germans, it would be challenging the sickness that Europe perpetuates and fosters.

* Translated by Gerald Turner. Ludvík Vaculík is one of the most respected opponents of the communist regime of the former Czechoslovakia. The banning of his writting throughout the 70s and 80s turned him into a master of samizdat, with book such as A Cup of Coffee wit My Interrogator. And since 1989 he has fully maintained critical engagement with the new order.

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Monday April 26, 2004
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