Village of Trokavec says "No" to radar base in back yard

Photo: CTK

The little village of Trokavec, nestling on the edge of the Brdy Hills, found itself in the eyes of the world's media on Saturday, as local people voted in a referendum on plans to place part of the U.S. missile defence shield in its backyard. Trokavec lies less than two kilometres from the site of a planned radar station, and the inhabitants are almost unanimously opposed to the idea.

Photo: CTK
There are dozens of villages dotted around the Brdy Hills, much of which is a restricted military zone used by the Czech Army for target practice and manoeuvres. But the village of Trokavec - population less than 100 - is a stone's throw from the planned site of a radar station which would form part of the US missile defence shield. This weekend the village was the first to hold a referendum on the issue, and the result was virtually unanimous. Of the 72 people who cast their ballot, 71 were against. Jan Neoral is the mayor of Trokavec and is trained in military radar systems:

"The main reason is health, and the negative effect of radiation from the radar facility on the inhabitants of Trokavec and other villages. But there are also political reasons. Building this radar station will help to create a new arms race, new mutual suspicions and will violate agreements that existed when the Czech Republic joined NATO, in particular the agreement on short and medium range missiles. In other words, it's craziness, and we can't see a reason for it."

Jan Neoral,  photo: CTK
The referendum was non-binding, and has no legal weight. But Jan Neoral says the vote was a signal, not only to other villages to hold their own plebiscites, but also to the central government in Prague. He claims the right-of-centre cabinet is turning the area into a military target without consulting the people who live there.

Seventy kilometres away in Prague, activists opposed to the base marched through the city centre and peace campaigners lit flaming torches in the shape of the peace sign on the Old Town Square. Recent opinion polls show a majority of Czechs against the idea. But there's also a campaign in favour of the base. Film director and producer Vaclav Marhoul, one of the group's spokesmen, says people opposed to the radar station are ill-informed:

Photo: CTK
"Those people they do not have any information. They are mostly listening to gossip, to rumours, that mobiles won't operate, or that the TV signal will not be clear, or that they'll get cancer. It's absolute gossip. I'm really sure that those people do not have the information. Only technicians or scientists can really explain how the radar works."

The radar base is still far from becoming reality. The Czech government has said yes, in theory, but the facility would be manned by American soldiers. The stationing of any foreign troops on Czech soil needs the approval of parliament, and there the coalition has no guaranteed majority. And analysts point out that the plan to extend missile defence to Poland and the Czech Republic hasn't even been discussed yet by the U.S. Congress - and it's Congress which holds the purse strings.