Friday, August 01, 2003

For some reasons I found an unusual amount of good reading on The Prague Daily Monitor (formerly Prague Monitor) today. To begin with, there's this Respekt piece posted a few days ago on TOL (Transitions Online), detailing how arms manufactured in a NATO country -- that would be little old Czech Republic -- often end up in rather "dirty" hands. You know, like those of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This admittedly dubious assertion comes from Roland Jacquard's In the Name of Osama Bin Laden. Respekt does little to back it up, but finds little to disprove it, either.

Respekt has in its possession a document permitting a company called Thomas CZ to export 120 T-55 tanks to Georgia in 1999. It was an extraordinary thing for a small Caucasian republic: It owned just 20 of them at that time.

Moreover, the sum the local army was to pay--just over 100 million crowns [$3.6 million at today’s rate]--was more than its entire budget for military hardware. Put simply, that year the army would not have been able to buy a single round for a submachine gun.
This is actually old news from 2000, but read more. It gets better.

Tracking down imported weapons in Georgia is an experience.... [Czech Ambassador to Georgia] Nekvasil refuses to cooperate with us in any way, even refusing to pass on the names of contacts. Why? Could the explanation be the ambassador’s good relations with arms exporters, a relationship that the owner of Thomas CZ Jiri Tomes likes to boast of?

“I know Mr. Tomes, but that has nothing to do with it. I simply think that you are not capable of providing objective information.”
Respekt has a habit, with in-depth reports such as this, of casting its net a bit too wide. Especially by the end of the story, I found myself getting a bit skeptical about some of its claims and insinuations. Still, the utter lack of transparency involved in such deals is pretty serious stuff, and the article is worth reading.

In unrelated news, here is today's press review from Czech press agency CTK, with yet more comments about the Klaus-Bush flap. The recent report that George Bush recently told Vaclav Havel he is not interested in meeting Havel's successor, President Vaclav Klaus, has received loads of attention here.

Lidove noviny's Frantisek Sulc writes (probably a bad CTK translation):

The reason for the row is not because the [Klaus] rejected the war in Iraq, but his insinuation that in the worst case scenario the Americans will alter evidence of weapons of mass destruction and his attempt to wriggle out of alliance.

The same as the problem is not that Vaclav Klaus does not want American bases in the Czech Republic, but his undiplomatic statement in this matter recalling historical experiences. In other words he is comparing Americans to Soviet troops.
In short, this writer thinks Klaus is one of the world's worst diplomats -- not to mention a real schmuck -- two things most of us have known for some time.

It appears Klaus knows by now that he'll never be a universally respected president, either inside or outside the country. His comments are designed to impress people like Milena Varadinkova, a commentator for Mlada fronta Dnes:

"Havel can easily recommend to Bush that [Prime Minister Vladimir] Spidla [(one of Klaus's many arch-rivals)] is America's best friend. That cannot damage our country. But he would certainly do so by making unfriendly remarks about the Czech President," Varadinkova writes.

She goes on to say that Havel might not make these remarks, but others, such as political scientist Jiri Pehe do and this creates the idea that Klaus is not well liked abroad.
Now where would that idea come from? When in doubt, blame Jiri Pehe!

"Vaclav Klaus for years now has been a respected guest at many public and expert discussion abroad and sometimes he is a tough debator because he defends our interests and stances. Or is a good president one who is universally liked abroad because he sells our skin cheap?" Varadinkova adds.
Radio Prague's Rob Cameron gives his take on Klaus's "bad week at work," which included a trip to the hospital. The Prague Post, meanwhile, opines on Klaus's oh-so-dignified response to an 81-year-old former political prisoner who politely questioned Klaus's apparent acceptance of his erstwhile enemies, the Communist Party.

Under Havel, the Czech (and before that, Czechoslovak) presidency was viewed as a sign of the Republic's democratic stability. Under Klaus, the institution is becoming virtually irrelevant, as most everyone inside and outside the country -- apart from Klaus's die-hard supporters -- have learned to ignore that petulant noise coming from the Castle.


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