Demonstrators end anti-radar hunger strike – but politicians to take up cause.

Jan Tamáš and Jan Bednář, photo: CTK

At midnight on Monday, protesters Jan Tamáš and Jan Bednář will suspend their three week hunger strike over the government’s plans to allow a US anti-missile radar base into the country. Their cause has received international publicity and sparked controversy in Prague where some politicians have called them blackmailers, while others have offered to take up their cause. On Monday Dominik Jůn caught up with a clearly malnourished Jan Tamáš to find out how he felt and whether the protest had had the desired result.

Jan Tamáš,  photo: CTK
“Physically, not to well, but mentally I feel very enthusiastic about what we’ve managed to achieve. At least to some degree, we’ve managed to get a debate going on the national level and especially on the international level – so that is a success.”

You have announced that you are going to end your hunger strike. What are the reasons for that?

“It is not that we got a signal that either the negotiations (with the US) will be stopped or that there will be a national referendum or that there will really be a very wide-ranging public debate within the Czech Republic. But I think that what we did manage to do is to inspire that debate - especially on the international level. Right now, there are people on hunger strikes in Australia, in Italy, in the United Sates, in Spain, in Germany and I think in some other countries as well as in the Czech Republic. All these people have managed to raise the profile of this issue, so from that point-of-view, it is a success. And we are not ending the strike - we are suspending it and seeing how this debate that we sparked is going to continue.”

Jan Tamáš and Jan Bednář,  photo: CTK
So what changed your mind from your initial position that you were going to strike until your campaign’s demands were met?

“There were several factors: We received several strong requests from high-profile people, including for example the vice-chairman of the European parliament Louisa Morgantini. She personally sent us a letter and requested that we end the hunger strike, promising that she will now take this issue to the European Parliament. We also received some strong signals from within the Czech Republic, especially from the Social Democrats and also the Communists Also, tens - perhaps even hundreds of people here in the country that said ‘please stop. We don’t want you to get hurt. We don’t want you to die, but we understand that this is really important and we are going to take this on.’”

Petr Uhl,  photo: CTK
You mentioned that some politicians have gotten involved in your cause and I understand that some have even offered to take part in a hunger strike – with one politician fasting each day. How exactly will that work?

Well, that was an idea that we had about a week ago. We would replace this hunger strike of Jan and me with a chain hunger strike, where people would fast symbolically for 24 hours. And today, we will be announcing the list of the first seven people who will be taking this hunger strike over from us and will continue for the next week. They include former dissidents, for example Petr Uhl; there are some actors, people from the intellectual community, we have an ex-soldier, we have a member of the Senate and we have a member of parliament. So it really is a very broad list of people who will now take this over from us and carry this on into the future.”