Czech celebrities demand referendum on US radar

Close to fifty Czech cultural figures, scientists and musicians on Thursday signed a petition asking President Vaclav Klaus and the chairmen of both houses of Parliament to support their demand for a referendum to be held on whether the Czech Republic should host a US radar base on its territory. Their public appeal has pleased the Social Democrats and Communists, who are also pushing for a referendum, but the Czech government maintains that questions of defense are not a matter to be decided by the public.

Tana Fischerova
The list of names on the petition reads like a "who's who" in the Czech arts world: singer and former dissident Marta Kubisova, film director Vera Chytilova, actress and former parliament deputy Tana Fiserova, film director Zdenek Troska and actor Jan Kacer, to name just a few. The signatories say they are outraged by the way that the referendum issue has been handled, arguing that the public has a right to ask questions and get pertinent answers. "So far we have not heard any satisfactory answers - and a referendum is one way of making sure that we get taken seriously," former parliament deputy Tana Fischerova told the daily Lidove Noviny. Although their appeal carries moral weight there is little clout behind it. The government appointed "radar coordinator" and spokesman Tomas Klvana said there was no reason whatsoever to put this decision in the hands of the general public.

President Vaclav Klaus with Polish President Lech Kaczynski (left), photo: CTK
"This decision does not entail a loss of sovereignty on the part of the Czech Republic, it does not entail a Constitutional amendment - it is purely a matter of defense and security relating to the Czech Republic and Europe. The government does not see any reason at all - any rational or constitutional argument - why a referendum should be held on this matter."

Although President Klaus, who is on a state visit to Poland, has not responded to the petition - his spokesperson Vaclav Hajek said that Mr. Klaus had already made it clear that if a bill on a proposed referendum was put to him by Parliament he would not veto it. However such a bill would amount to an amendment of the Constitution and would thus require majority support in both houses of parliament. The centre-right Civic Democrats who are against it could easily block it in both the upper and lower chambers. As a result, the petition amounts to little more than a very public rebuke to the government.