Two Czech activists have been on hunger strike since May 13, in protest at their government’s intention to host part of the US’s ‘Son of Star Wars’ missile defence system. One of the two, Jan Bednář, was taken to hospital yesterday with liver failure. Despite being in critical condition, he says he cannot stop his strike.
Since they began their protest the issue has shot to the top of the Czech political agenda, and their request for a meeting with the Czech government was finally accepted yesterday. But Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, on the verge of signing the deal that looks likely to precipitate a new Cold War-style nuclear arms race with Russia, wasn’t giving an inch.
He dismissed the protestors’ arguments that talks with the Bush administration should be suspended given that the country is utterly divided, and that it would be much more sensible to wait for the next US administration and use the time to have a real and transparent national debate on the issue. Bitterly disappointed, the dangerously ailing Bednář slammed ‘the domineering attitude of our government which will impose its will at any cost. I cannot stop, it is an issue of democracy.’
The hunger strike is the culmination of two years of Czech resistance to the unpopular government’s intention to host this crucial radar base, bringing George W Bush’s fevered fantasies of ‘full spectrum dominance’ - total US military control of the world’s land, sea, air, space and information - a little closer.
There are also plans to site components of the missile defence system in Poland and Britain. The Czech activists’ bravery is helping breathe new life into resistance campaigns in those countries, and solidarity protests have been held in 30 cities around the world.
Since Bednář and his fellow-striker Jan Tamáš, founder of the ‘No Bases Initiative’ began their protest, several others have also gone on hunger strike: Dino Mancarella in Trieste, Italy, on May 14; Federica Fratini, Isabel Torres, Eduardo Calizza in Rome on May 19, and Josa Alvarez in Spain on May 22. They were joined on May 24 by US activist Bruce Gagnon and Korean Sung-Hee Choi, Gareth Smith in Australia and Joaquin Valenzuela in Bologna, Italy.
Kate Hudson from CND is calling this ‘the first great civil society movement in the Czech Republic since 1989’, and the activists, commanding such widespread public support, look set to hold out until the bitter end. I’m desperately hoping their sacrifice results in triumph, not tragedy.
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