Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 23
1 March 1999

Andrew Stroehlein C Z E C H   R E P U B L I C :
Promising Paradise

Andrew Stroehlein

As the Czech Republic is about to enter NATO, the most astounding things are being said about the alliance on the Czech political scene. It seems that Czech politicians are making all sorts of claims about NATO on par with late-night informmercials: "it cleans your cat's litter box, waxes your car and makes a delicious cup of coffee every time." The latest claim of the paradise to be achieved with NATO entry came from the Castle itself.

(cesky preklad v Britskych listech ZDE)

In an interview for Czech Radio last week, Vaclav Havel claimed that NATO entry meant the acceptance of certain principles including human rights, parliamentary democracy and a free-market economy. "Being accepted by the alliance is a clear sign that everyone accepts us as followers of these principles - as those who share these ideals and as those who helped form them in the past," he said.

Actually, of course, NATO is a military alliance designed to protect its members with a philosophy of "an attack on one is an attack on all." This basic mission has been extended in the 1990s to include various peace-keeping operations designed to prevent the spread of violent conflict.

These are laudable enough goals - there is no need to imagine NATO as some kind of "defender of human rights." It would be nice if it were, but it's not. NATO membership has little to do with human rights issues. After all, despite an atrocious human rights record, especially abuses towards its Kurdish population, Turkey remains a NATO member in good standing.

As Tomas Pecina said in ENP last Monday, people shouldn't fool themselves about NATO or attach more significance to membership than there really is. NATO membership, for example, is not going to guarantee human rights in the Czech Republic. That's the citizens' job: no military alliance is going to do that for the Czechs.

President Havel certainly knows better than to think otherwise. Since his conversion to the NATO membership cause about 8 years ago, he has fought very hard for the Czech Republic's entry. One finds it hard to explain why he felt it necessary to exaggerate what NATO means for the Czech Republic on this occasion. Is simply "keeping the peace" not enough?

Of course, if there had been any kind of Czech public debate about NATO membership in the first place, none of this would need to be explained, and the President would never get away with bending the truth to such an extent.

Andrew Stroehlein, 1 March 1999


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