>A spoonful of lustration makes the Euro-medicine go down?


Václav Klaus famously warned Czechs that their country risked dissolving into the EU like a sugar cube in a cup of coffee – now, in an ironic take on this (and Czechs of do irony, really well of course) the centre-right/Green government has issued a promotional video clip is promising that the Czech Republic’s forthcoming Presidency of the EU next year to sweeten our bitter, half drunk cup of coffee of a continent. In the clip we also get to see a table-ful of high flying Czechs doing things with sugar cubes which reflect their professions, while making amused or bemused expressions and giving the occasional smile – see the clip here with some drily humorous explanatory English subtitles added in.

Most non-Czechs watching will, like me, probably struggle to recognise the scientists and architects in the line up , but will clock hockey legend Jaromír Jagr (‘passes’ sugar cube using spoon) Chelsea goalie Petr Čech (‘saves’ sugar cube) and supermodel Tereza Maxová (finally eats sugar cube – must be starving). I haven‘t been following the politics of the Czech EU presidency as closely as I once would but, as the video shows, there seems to the a mixture of navel gazing about ‘How does the world see us?’ see forthcoming conference to be addressed by deputy PM and Europe supremo Alexander Vondra) and profile raising – rather depressingly reminiscent of the national zviditelňování of the early 1990s when Czechs could have been forgiven more for self-consciously trying to raise the international profile their newly (re-)founded state

But what distinct themes can the Czechs bring to Europe? The first – and rather wearyingly familiar idea – is that they can bring lessons from the experience of having resisted, or a least survived, communism. The latest version of this, a favourite with ex-dissidents, is contained in the Prague Declaration of the conference on Communism and the European Conscience in June where which Václav Havel was keynote speaker. The Declaration asserts in long-winded and legalistic terms that Nazism and communism, although different in some respects, were part of a common European totalitarian legacy; that ‘bad conscience’ over communism is a burden for future generations, a source of division between East and West and a block on national reconciliation; and that there is a continuing legacy of communism in the form of unpunished crimes, uncompensated victims and various authoritarian regimes around the world. The Declaration then calls the classification of crimes committed in the name of communism as crimes against humanity; a shared Europe-wide approach to totalitarian crimes backed by Institute of European Memory and Conscience and a pan-European museum/memorial of victims of all totalitarian regimes; and the establishment of 23 August, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in 1939, as a day of remembrance of the victims of both Nazi and Communist totalitarianism.

The same demands were recently reiterated more succinctly to the European Parliament by the director of the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Pavel Žaček. However, although the Czech Deputy PM for European Affairs, Alexander Vondra (an old Havel confidant) acted as patron of the conference, it seems stretching it a bit to see as a likely Czech initiative for sweetening up Europe this as suggested in report in EUobserver. Czech politicians from the main parties of government and opposition are notably thin on the ground among the 396 signatories and Vondra himself doesn’t seem to have signed it, although Bulgarian and Latvian centre-right politicians are well represented and, indeed, the Bulgarian parliament recently endorsed the Declaration.

Rather than being a beacon of conscience about Europe’s totalitarian past, the sugary little CR – under guidance of Vondra’s non-ministerial European Affairs Unit – seems set to push for mildly reformist, liberal agenda centring on competitiveness, energy security, budget reform and gaining a clear(er)place for the EU in the world: i.e. something capable of pulling together a reasonable large coalition and not explosive skeleton-in-cupboard issues of decommunization and historical justice. Now, in the credit crunch era, they could perhaps throw in the Czech Republic’s experience of mopping billions in bad debts through their effective nationalization.

The other main priority, of course, is not to demonstrate disastrous incompetence.

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