On Tuesday evening, about 150 people attended a demonstration on Prague's Peace Square—or Namesti Miru. The gathering was organized by the Humane Party, a movement which includes numerous factions all united by their desire to prevent a possible U.S. anti-missile base on Czech territory.
The "No to Bases" protest on August 21 generated more attention than those previously organized by the Humane Party—and the approximately 150 attendees represented all sorts of opinions. Martin Mikule, running one of the stands with an anti-missile base petition, spoke to me about his group's position:
"I'm a member of a revolutionary youth organization called Revolution, and we are part of the initiative against the U.S. military base here."
Why are you opposed to the U.S. military base on Czech territory?
"Because we are opposed to the American foreign policy, which we see as the reason for the state of the world today, for the wars which are waged not only in Lebanon, but also in the rest of the world. The base here in Europe—not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Poland or Britain—is part of strengthening such hegemony of the United States."
During the demonstration, another group holding black-on-white banners along the edge of Namesti Miru—or Peace Square—was escorted further away by the police. The banners gave away the fact that these citizens came to express support for a possible U.S. missile base in the Czech Republic, and Jiri Stanislav explains what the scuffle was all about:
"The conflict is very simple. Some members of the group which is organizing this event here—against the American rocket bases—complained to the police that we have a different opinion, which is written on our billboards."
What do your banners say?
"Let's step in front of them and I'll tell you: 'Any form of defense which is able to save the lives of our citizens, and our allies, is legitimate.'"
Why is the Humane Party, who officially organized today's protest, upset by your banners?
"Because they claim that only those who were invited to this public square—in the most beautiful place of Prague—should be here, and that nobody else can stand here with their opinion. I think this is not democratic. It's absolutely against all principles, and Petr Uhl was here, and he said, "I agree. These people have a right to express their own ideas and their own feelings." And these are the feelings of some people. We believe that the way the Americans are presenting themselves is very diligent and diplomatic. They ask us if we will be interested, and that's it! And if we say 'no,' then they will never come. But, if something happens one day, they'll be saying, 'You see, you didn't want us.'"
Senator Jaromir Stetina was also in the crowd at the demonstration, despite the fact that the "No to Bases" organizers said that having Mr. Stetina speak "would not be appropriate." After the official proceedings, Jaromir Stetina told me where he stands:
"I wanted to say a few words here, but the organizers wouldn't permit it. Basically, I wanted to say that I think to choose August 21st as the date for a demonstration to protest against the U.S. anti-missile base, and in this way to compare the Soviet invasion, or even the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia with this opportunity, is simply not historically accurate. Back then, we were occupied by 600 000 soldiers and no one asked for our opinion! As far as the proposed U.S. missile base is concerned, this is a regular bi-lateral process between two states, and if our country will not be in favor, then there won't be a missile base here—and that's a diametrical difference."
So it's clear that Czechs are forming strong opinions on the possible U.S. missile base in central Europe, and we can expect further demonstrations regarding the issue. To date, approximately 6000 Czechs have signed the petition against the proposed base. Meanwhile, the Americans are deciding on whether to propose that a base be housed in the Czech Republic or in Poland—or perhaps both countries. The decision may be heard next month.