Czechs Should Approach Russia With Confidence

Prague, Aug 21 (CTK) – The 50th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia is an opportunity for Czechs to take a self-confident approach to the present Russia of Vladimir Putin, without extreme positions as taken by some of their neighbours, Martin Ehl writes in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) today.


On the eve of the August 21, 1968 invasion anniversary, Putin, the Russian president, made a trip to Austria and Germany. In Austria, he danced at the foreign minister’s wedding. In Germany, he negotiated about strategic issues such as gas imports and the war in Syria.


Watched through the lenses of liberal-minded Czechs, Germany and Austria are coming closer to the dangerous [Russian] regime, which still considers the Czech Republic its sphere of influence and which views human rights as nothing but a slogan used by the “effeminate” West.


The German and Austrian pragmatism towards Russia seems to be even more flexible than the Czech one. However, the situation cannot be, is not and should not be that simple, Ehl writes.


What the relation of Europeans to Russia is and what should it be like? he asks, and presents a few statistical data to illustrate the current situation.


In a July poll organised by the Post Bellum NGO, one quarter of Czechs were unable to say what happened in the country in 1968.


Another poll, released by Czech Television, showed that one third of young Czechs aged from 18 to 34 do not know that Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.


This has practical and very unpleasant consequences. The mass ignorance of modern history enables the followers of the Soviet imperialism, to which Putin openly declares his adherence, to successfully pursue the policy of dividing Europeans. It enables these people to control the public space and thereby shape the present as well as future developments, Ehl writes.


On the other hand, it would be unwise to ignore or even hate Russia. Western allies often accuse the eastern members of the EU and NATO of Russophobia, and these accusations are rightful to an extent, Ehl writes.


It would be good to refrain from extremes. The critical approach to Russia, its policy and influence in both the Czech Republic and Europe should not be blinded by neither phobia nor boundless admiration, Ehl writes.


The Czechs should follow the example of the Austrians and Germans with their more pragmatic approach. At the same time, they should not give up their own historical experience but should try to use it better.


To do so, however, they need to know their own history, which requires a change to the way of teaching history at schools. A stronger emphasis should be put on modern history.


Czechs should also find more courage to discuss history at home, including its role in their family stories, Ehl writes.


An Eurobarometer poll from early 2017 showed that in relation to Russia, the Czechs rank among the European average.


Only 35 percent of Europeans (and 41 percent of Czechs) believed that the EU’s political influence in the world is stronger than Russia’s. The same share of Europeans (and 40 percent of Czechs) believed that this would remain unchanged until 2030.


In accordance with expectations, an enhancement of the EU’s position towards Russia on the world scene was mainly wished by the respondents in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, i.e. those who have immediate (historical) experience with Russia.


The historical lesson says that it pays to be vigilant towards Russia, Ehl writes.


He mentions a year-old poll the U.S. Pew Research Center conducted in 37 countries, which showed that Russia is considered quite untrustworthy in the world, but only 31 percent of those polled said Russia poses a threat, about the same number as those who said this about China and the USA.


This shows that Moscow can use its negative image better or even has been maintaining it. Moscow not only wants to gain friends and allies, but also gain influence by means of intimidation. This trend is mentioned by the authors of a new U.S. theory of “sharp power”, which refers to a broad scale of mainly non-military but often brutal tools that Russia (and China) apply to gain influence in the world, Ehl writes.


Russians are somewhat rougher and more impatient in this than the Chinese, he says.


However, one’s fear is only as big as one admits it to be or as someone else manages to stir, Ehl continues, adding that self-confidence is what the Czechs and European lack in relation to Russia most of all.


Our self-confidence should stem from our knowledge of history and its lessons, and also from our awareness of who we are and where are we heading, Ehl writes, giving the Baltic states as an example.


The Baltic nations’ experience with Russia is much deeper and tragic than the Czech. Their past has developed into their clear vision of the future and their firm and multiple bound with the family of liberal democracies and free-market economies. At the same time, the Baltic nations have developed a pragmatic economic relationship with Russia, Ehl writes.


How should Czechs approach Russia? Extremes will be of no use to them. The Czechs do not have the strength of Germany, while Austria’s super-pragmatic approach justifiedly makes one sick now and then.


On the other hand, Poland’s constant running its head against the Russian wall seems to be ineffective.


Neither of these extremes would be good for the Czech Republic, which, nevertheless, still can be self-confident. It has to learn a lesson from its past in order to face the Russian bear regardless of its growling, Ehl concludes.