Despite Success, Czechs Remain Wary: Germany, Russia Loom as Giants in History, Geography

By Barber, Ben | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 27, 1996 | Go to article overview

Despite Success, Czechs Remain Wary: Germany, Russia Loom as Giants in History, Geography


Barber, Ben, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


PRAGUE - The energetic crowd drinking amber Czech beer at the Golden Tiger - one of the last Old City haunts not turned into a boutique or fancy restaurant - soon turned the talk to Germany and Russia, as if the past 50 years had never happened.

Seated under a photo of Presidents Clinton and Vaclav Havel drinking at the bar during a 1994 presidential visit, a patron greeted the foreign visitor in a language that now dominates Prague's streets as well as its investment meetings: German.

Hearing it spoken, a well-lubricated customer on the other side of the bench interjected: "When the Americans are gone, the Germans will take us over like they did before. Then we will turn back to the Russians again. They are our people. It's the only way."

The drink-loosened predictions of that patron were echoed in a week of interviews across the Czech Republic this month.

Those old enough to remember the Nazi occupation expressed the most concern. Younger people seemed more intent on plunging into the new world of commerce.

Even Mr. Havel acknowledged the new passion. When he thanked thousands who came to visit the bier of his late wife, Olga, this month, he said they could have spent the time earning money.

But as Czechs dive headlong into making money, many are anxious about their location at the heart of Europe - between Russia and Germany, the two giants whose hot and cold wars have determined Czech history.

A diplomatic clash this month between Bonn and Prague over Czech refusal to apologize for expelling 3 million Sudeten Germans in 1945 has heightened fears that history could repeat itself.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky and other Russian nationalists make ominous noises in the East, worrying the Czechs, who were dominated by the Russians for 45 years. Germany flexes its reunited muscles in the West. So the Czechs are pressing for entry into NATO and the European Union as a way to guarantee their newly regained independence.

U.S. policy-makers have already said the Czech Republic is at the top of the list of countries seeking admission to NATO.

"We have a flowering partnership," said Eric Edelman, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy. "There is increasingly closer military consultations and ties."

In October, he said, the commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, Maj. Gen. William Nash, attended military exercises near Brno. In September, American, Czech and German troops held joint excercies.

Washington is considering leasing F-16 fighters to the Czechs as part of plans to make their military compatible with NATO.

In addition, said Mr. Edelman, Rockwell International Corp. …

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