A Small, Weak Nation
Łukasz Grzesiczak interviews Alexander Tomský, a Czech political analyst before the American presidential election.
Lukasz Grzesiczak: While carrying out this interview here in Prague, Mitt Romney is competing with Barack Obama for the presidential office of the United States. Being conservative, would you support the candidacy of Mitt Romney?
Alexander Tomský: If I was American, I would of course vote for Romney. However, my decision to support him wouldn’t be based on any deep conviction but actually due to a lack of any other alternatives. Romney is quite strange as a presidential candidate. All we hear about him for the moment is commonplace. It remains completely unclear what he really wants to change in US foreign or economic policy. What also reduces his chances in this race is his religious denomination – Romney is a Mormon. The probability of him winning is quite small.
Do the Czechs, like the Poles, feel that they have been a bit abandoned by President Obama?
It is not only the Czechs and the Poles who feel abandoned, but also the Brits, who are so close to my heart. You will immediately ask me what the cause of the cooling down of American-Czech relations was? Also previously they were quite cold and even visa waiving didn’t change much. Washington wants to focus its foreign policy on Asia. This is an unchangeable decision and we have no choice but to accept it.
I also think that the media are overestimating the influence the president has on US foreign policy. American presidents have quite different power than French presidents or British prime ministers. American presidents need to have dialogue and negotiate with Congress.
We Czechs, because of our attitude towards Russia, have already accepted that Central Europe has already lost its meaning for the US. We accept it because we don’t feel any threat coming from Russia.
But Poland and the Czech Republic had two completely experiences with Russia…
By all means. The Czechs were never under Russian occupation, except for a short period after 1968. Later, during the 1990s, we were scared of Russia when we anxiously observed the revival of the Russian empire.
Today Russia is falling. Its infrastructure and the society are collapsing. Moscow seems to be as weak as it never has been before. There is an old rule that says that a collapsing empire will eventually collapse: there is no chance that it will recover its old charm. This is a lesson we can take from political history, starting with Syria, Egypt and India.
For the Poles, Russia is important because Poland is interested in Ukraine, shares borders with Russia, and as a medium-size country, has geopolitical ambitions. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, is a small country. We are such a sceptical nation in the centre of Europe. We feel relatively safe and the only threat that we see is related to the European Union.
Three years ago Russia unexpectedly tightened the gas tap for the Slovaks. The situation really seemed serious…
Three years is a long time. Today, the geopolitical situation is completely different. Russia needs increasing amounts of money, while the world prices for natural resources are going down. Remember that the Russian nomenclature is greedy. We occasionally host Russian students here, and seven out of ten of them want to work in state administration once they graduate from college. Gigantic corruption is eating Russia from the inside out.
And why do you think the European Union is a threat to the Czech Republic?
This threat is much more serious than Russia’s last imperial moves or the US disengaging with Europe. The EU has set a trap for itself by creating the eurozone. This is a huge and probably unsolvable political problem. Countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy shouldn’t be in the eurozone as the crisis may return and affect us all.
We are now in a situation without a way out: the Germans clearly won’t go back to a strong mark as this would block their exports. There is no prescription for the Spanish debt apart from a huge subsidy from the North. Germans are more and more sceptical towards Brussels while the French government includes politicians who were against the European constitution in 2004.
Are the Czechs more and more sceptical towards their membership in the EU?
Opinion poll research shows that there are more EU sceptics among Czechs than there are among Brits. As of now, almost every third Czech supports leaving the EU and 89 per cent is against the common European currency. In fact this is not surprising at all: a common European currency is a bad idea, one that is collapsing right in front of us. This scepticism doesn’t, however, translate into the shape of the Czech foreign policy as nothing like this even exists. We prefer to wait somewhere behind a tree and observe as things evolve. We are not capable of action. We are small and weak, this is our perspective of looking at the world.
We are also different when it comes to ideology. Despite not being very religious, Czechs are quite conservative and keep their distance from modern liberalism whose steadfast supporter is the EU. This is best illustrated by numbers. Thirty per cent of Czechs under the age of 35 live in informal relationships. Suddenly, as the statistics show, men, upon turning 35, get married. They have experience with one, two or three informal relationships, but when they reach the right age, they get married. In the West things are different: informal relationships can last someone’s whole life.
Our president, Václav Klaus, has convinced a large part of Czech society that the EU is a revolutionary and anti-conservative project. The EU is a continuation of the French Revolution, the one against which our greatest composer Antonin Dvořák wrote the opera The Jacobin.
Where does this Czech reluctance towards the EU come from?
It has its own rich tradition, as well as a literary one. Its roots go back to the scepticism in the writings of Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hašek. In the second half of the 19th century the area in which Czechs lived was a very affluent region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but their attitude towards Vienna and the burdening Austrian bureaucracy was far from enthusiastic.
Long before the EU, Franz Kafka described the mechanisms of its work. He had the mechanisms of Austrian bureaucracy right in front of his eyes. His protagonist, Joseph K., would meet civil servants and agents in the endless halls, and yet nobody could answer his question of why he had been arrested; but everyone had a document which confirmed his arrest. This is precisely a description of the reality in Brussels. These very same problems were presented, with a characteristically humorous way, by Jaroslav Hašek.
Do you think that this Czech scepticism can somehow influence the EU?
You are constantly trying to convince me into talking about Czech foreign policy. It is difficult to talk about something that doesn’t exist. We can’t do much. Just as we couldn’t in Munich in 1938 or under communism. We are always waiting for others to come and take care of things for us. The Czechs are not history’s agents, and thus I have geared our conversation more towards the topic of the Czech psyche rather than Czech foreign policy.
Translated by Iwona Reichardt
The interview originally appeared in Nowa Europa Wschodnia Issue 5/2012
Alexander Tomský is a Czech political analyst and publisher. After studying international relations at the London School of Economics he worked as a political analyst at the Institute Keston College, specialising in researching the church and state, state atheism and religious opposition in Central Europe.