On June 22, international opposition to a US-proposed missile defense system based in the Czech Republic and Poland ratcheted up as thousands of people around the world participated in a 24-hour hunger strike.
This action comes on the heels of a three-week hunger strike by two Czech peace activists, Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar, followed by a “chain hunger strike” that began on June 2 and continues today with Czech politicians, journalists, actors, dissidents of the former regime, athletes, intellectuals, and singers fasting for 24 to 48 hours. The people want a national referendum on the issue and an end to negotiations that subverts the will of the people.
I’ve written in the past of the folly and popular opposition to the missile defense scam. The Bush Administration – as Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione described to me – is “rushing to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist.”
Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison write in a recent and valuable Foreign Policy In Focus article that Tamas and Bednar “are part of the new wave of Czech activists” – activists who didn’t grow up in the Cold War or under Soviet occupation, but are a product of the grassroots, understand the power of organizing, and want no part of the Czech and US governments going over their heads to build a US military radar base that 70 percent of the Czech population opposes.
These activists are part of a great tradition of Central and Eastern Europeans who have sought a third way – independence and peace for their countries – and a way out of the endless arms race between the US and Russia. (As the great, late British historian EP Thompson described in his July, 1982 Nation cover story, “East-West – Is There a Third Way?”) They are building public pressure that challenges the sense of inevitability that US and Czech leaders are trying to create in order to deploy these weapons. Like dissidents in the Cold War, these new activists are forging a movement on behalf of citizens, their voice and their rights.
Landy and Harrison note that while the Bush Administration feigns a commitment to global democracy it demonstrates a pattern of contempt for the will of the people. We see it not only in the Czech Republic and in Poland – where the vast majority of people oppose the proposed US missile interceptor sites so that the US is now exploring possible sites in Lithuania), but also in Iraq where the Administration is hell-bent on building permanent US bases and continuing the occupation against the will of the Iraqis and their elected representatives.