Letter from Prague

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It's time now for this week's Letter from Prague, and today Nick Carey takes a look at a subject that practically everyone in the Czech Republic has been discussing and has been making the headlines just about everywhere else...

I think that from that introduction alone you could guess what I am going to talk about. Yes, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th. Things have moved very fast in just under two weeks. Following a hot and pleasant summer here in the Czech Republic, the most exciting thing that people had to look forward to in terms of news was the next general elections in June 2002.

But all of a sudden, all of that was turned upside down for a few days. Looking back now, it seems almost like a dream. When those terrible pictures came through on live television of the World Trade Center as the two towers were struck, and then came crashing down, everyone I saw and met was devastated. An old woman I had never met held my hand in the lift the day after the attacks, when I was on the way up to the studio, and asked me, "Will there be war?"

That is the question that has remained on people's lips here in the Czech Republic. After the initial shock, and the massive outpouring of grief over the terrible waste of life in New York and Washington, everyone here started to try to get their lives back to normal. And after a few days, it was evident that they were succeeding.

But despite the casual appearances, there is a nervous tension visible on many people's faces. I have noticed far more people reading newspapers, or glued to radios or even television sets in shops, trying to get the latest news in a disaster that most Czechs, and indeed, most of the world, feel sure will end in further loss of life. Immediately after the attacks, a public opinion poll showed a full 81 percent of Czechs saying that America should take revenge, and that if it comes to a military conflict, the Czech Republic should provide any assistance necessary to the United States government.

When the Czech government held a press conference to announce that it was indeed ready to provide the Bush Administration with any logistical and military support that the American armed forces will require, I remembered the old lady's question, and have done many times since. The government, with broad backing from the opposition, bar the Communist Party, which has been largely ignored in all of the hullabaloo, has hammered home the point several times since then that the USA is a great ally of the Czech Republic, and that as allies, the United States can count on Czech support, no matter what.

I would be very curious to see what the results of an opinion poll conducted now would show. As the prospect of war sinks in, more and more people have begun to ask if it absolutely necessary. This, said a philosophy professor I interviewed earlier this week, is because they are not psychologically ready for war. But then again, he asked, how many people really are? And that point has stuck with me. Two weeks ago, no-one thought much about the prospect of war, as it seemed extremely unlikely that any of the world's most powerful countries would have any reason to start one. Now, all of a sudden, war is an immediate possibility. Throughout Europe and the United States, there have been calls for reflection and this has also happened in the Czech Republic. Fine, they say, someone should pay for these horrific attacks, but we should not rush into anything without first checking all of our facts.

So now everyone is waiting, although they may not know it, for the answer to that old lady's question: "Will there be war?"