Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Europe’s ‘ghost’

The Czech prime minister yesterday warned that the “ghost of appeasement” is haunting Europe, as Russia flexes its newfound political muscle against U.S. efforts to install a missile-defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Mirek Topolanek told the Heritage Foundation in Washington that some European nations are nervous about Russian objections to the planned missile shield and fear Russia could use energy as a weapon to get them to oppose the project.

The prime minister today is due to meet with President Bush to discuss final preparations to install a radar site in the Czech Republic as part of a system to protect the United States and Europe from missile attacks from rogue nations such as Iran. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is due in Washington on March 8 to discuss Mr. Bush’s proposal for 10 missile interceptors in Poland.

“We are seeing another ghost in Europe: the ghost of appeasement,” Mr. Topolanek said.

He criticized Europeans who are “living comfortable lives and don’t want to face the risk” terrorists pose against democratic nations. Mr. Topolanek credited “skillful propaganda from Russia” for stirring up domestic Czech opposition to the missile system.

Russia claims the missile shield is a risk to its security and has threatened to target missiles against Europe if the system is built. The threat also has raised concerns that Moscow could use its vast energy resources against Europe, which depend heavily on Russian gas.

However, Mr. Topolanek suspected that Russia’s real motives are to re-establish its sphere of influence over Eastern Europe that it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The main reason for their protest … is their desire to become a world power again,” he said.

Mr. Topolanek pledged that the Czech Republic will not cower under Russian pressure.

“We will decide on our internal affairs,” he said. “We must never again become a puppet nation.”

‘Ominous signs’

The U.S. ambassador in Zimbabwe yesterday urged citizens of that economic basket case in southern Africa to vote in next month’s national elections, despite “ominous signs” the ruling party has already rigged the outcome.

“While the Zimbabwean people do not have the power to ensure that democracy prevails, it will surely not prevail unless they play their part,” Ambassador James D. McGee said in an open letter posted on the embassy’s Web site (

President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, called snap elections on Jan. 25, angering opposition leaders, who complained they had too little time to campaign. The presidential, parliamentary and local elections are scheduled for March 29.

Aside from the short time period, opposition leaders also get scant attention in the press, now completely under Mr. Mugabe’s control. The government shut down the only daily independent newspaper and three weekly newspapers. State-run television in one week broadcast 72 positive stories about Mr. Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party and seven critical ones about the opposition, according to the independent Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies have run the country into bankruptcy. The International Monetary Fund reported that Zimbabwe had an annual inflation rate of 150,000 percent in January.

In his letter, Mr. McGee noted reports of “voter confusion and inadequate preparation, evidence of irregularities associated with registration and inspection of voter rolls” and fears of election violence.

“Despite all these ominous signs, however, we urge all Zimbabweans to vote,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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