Ne Základnám and Moving the Goalposts

13. 10. 2009 / Sam Graeme Beaton

As a supporter of the Ne Základnám (No Bases) initiative during my brief stay in the Czech Republic this year, I have been reading with interest the ongoing debate that has featured in Britské listy concerning the effectiveness of the organisation in achieving its aims and broadening out of the `Czech Sphere' into the international community.

A Czech version of this article is in CLICK HERE

The problem therein concerns the latter objective which any movement in Czech civil society needs to deal with, divorcing itself from organisational constraints of the past (the dissident movement within the regime), the border, and being able to branch out effectively. On this point, Čulík is right in his controversial articles of late -- yes, the No Bases initiative has been featured in several international newspapers and outlets, but no, it has not had any lasting effect in penetrating the conscience of the international community at large.

We need to understand, and quickly, how essential it is to build a broad international movement when challenging the monolith that is American imperialism. It is all well and good having relative shows of strength when Obama is speaking in Prague, and when there are rallies in Wenceslas Square, but are these demonstrations really reaching further than a couple of condescending articles in the middle pages of DNES?

I think this is made clear on Ne Základnám's website itself in a recent article by Jana Glivická, where she rightly observes that recent reshuffles in US foreign policy do not mean "the end of US anti-missile defence projects; discussion has already started about alternatives to the radar in the Czech Republic and to the missiles in Poland".

Is it really good enough, however, to enforce international links by briefly mentioning the Polish campaign? Are we as a movement really being effective by stating Slovakia and Austria's opposition to the radar and missile bases, yet resting on laurels without pursuing these avenues into the greater Europe? Where are the journal articles in Western newspapers capitalising on the news space created by international mass-interest in President Obama's foreign policy?

These are just a few of the contradictions that have surfaced in the past months and in my view, stop Ne Základnám from becoming an effective force. With Russia seeking clarifications on the true purpose of the bases and missiles, to the point that it is one of the priorities it will be pursuing in talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it is disappointing that Czech (and, in fairness, Polish) people's concerns will hardly, if at all, be mentioned. I don't see the point of waiting for a US "offer" to respond to the Czech Republic, as Štepán Steiger suggests: this is not the immediate priority of the administration, and nor will it be until a new and elected Czech Parlament is seated. Instead, we have to ask ourselves why we have not forced our way onto the agenda.

For me, this is all about the direction of the grassroots. Ne Základnám should be congratulated in many regards for mobilisations in difficult circumstances (I am of course talking about having a rally and march on the same day as Obama comes to Prague), the priority now is to think on an international level. This demo also happened to coincide with a mass movement of progressives from all over Europe in the anti-globalisation demonstrations in Strasbourg -- we should have had someone there for the summit. Ne Základnám may or may not have links with organisations in Central Europe but what about exploring the possibilities of tapping into Western European broad-based initiatives? The organisation has a large amount of talented writers, and links which can be put to good use -- let's take advantage of the talks with Iran and how this weakens the rationale of radar basis with a widely-available, press release in languages such as English, German and French. In recent months has there event been any attempts to contact foreign news outlets for interviews? During this crucial time we need much more effective responses than a brief statement proclaiming a premature victory.

Furthermore, questions need to be asked concerning the "referendum" petitions seen on most Ne Základnám stalls and marches: do we regard these as a tool in building up pressure, or a conversation point aimed at bringing more people into the organisation? I myself have heard nothing about what happens to these signatures once they have been signed, and surely it is time to start compiling these into something which can be presented. Extra weight would be added if we branched out these petitions past the Czech national border, in the same way that other civil society groups have done effectively in the past concerning human rights issues.

I think it takes a certain amount of naiveté for some activists and commentators to suggest that "we are winning" and that the "citizen's resistance" has the entire radar plan on the rocks. If anything, the biggest battles are ahead: this is not a US u-turn as much as it is a different implementation of foreign policy by a new Presidency in its infancy. There should be no doubt that these debates will be more frequent and more serious in the future, and these will go on far outside the borders of the Czech Republic and Poland. The point is, however, that we become a part of them; and this simply won't happen if Ne Základnám degenerates further into the culture of backslapping and does not seriously examine its tactics. Sentimentality will not stop bases being built -- but an effective mass movement that can carry the message will.


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