Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
If one were to believe the noise coming from right-of-centre politicians in Prague, the Czechs are on the brink of a Greece-style budget meltdown, and victory by the leftist Social Democrats in a May 28-29 election would plunge them into economic collapse.
An ad in newspapers this week from the right-wing Civic Democrats (ODS) showed masked Greek rioters in front of a burning barricade. “Socialists in Greece – the same as in the Czech Republic”, the headline read. Alongside, a picture of Jiri Paroubek, leader of the Social Democrats (CSSD) bore the caption “CSSD = State Bankruptcy”.
The ad angered the Greek embassy, which summoned ODS’s campaign manager to complain. It also puzzled many analysts as to why a country with relatively sound economic fundamentals could be worried about national bankruptcy in the short term.
The Czechs run in the middle of the pack in terms of European Union budget deficits, and they have one of the bloc’s smallest debt piles overall – only 35.4 percent of gross domestic product, compared with an EU average of 73.6 percent.
After just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration's decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other "rogue state". But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO's new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.
Diplomats say there is mild panic in the EU capital at the thought that the regular June summit — where the bloc is due to discuss the Lisbon treaty reforming the EU — could be chaired by Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
The Czechs appear to be riding out this crisis but it’s a matter of where you live.
The Czech opposition toppled Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s minority cabinet on Tuesday in a no-confidence vote. Three days earlier, Hungary’s prime minister said he would resign to let someone else pull that country out of its economic mire. Although serious, the developments were far from surprising if complaints about the economic crisis by anti-government parties and disgruntled voters were anything to go by.
Poles and Czechs, their economies still relatively robust despite global recession, are up in arms about what they see as international investors’ tendency to tar them with the same brush as their more troubled neighbours such as Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia.
But if history is any guide, investors are unlikely to be impressed, at least in the shorter term.
Russia’s angry response to an accord between Washington and Prague on building part of a U.S. missile defence shield in the Czech Republic is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Cold War. Although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Moscow still wants talks on the missile shield, his Foreign Ministry has threatened a “military-technical” response if the shield is deployed.
That phrase could have come straight out of the Soviet lexicon and seems more at home in the second half of the last century than now. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer called it psychological pressure to try to encourage opposition to the missile system among Europeans, and described it as “the same sort that was used in the 1980s by the Soviet Union when the United States deployed cruise missiles in Europe.”