According to Czech Diplomat Václav Bartuška, "If you quickly stand up to [demonstrators] head-on as they did in say, Odessa, where they simply burned them, or in Dnipropetrovsk, where they simply killed them and buried them by the roadside, then you have calm. If you do not do this, you have war. That’s all." Unreal.
Václav Bartuška studied journalism at Charles University - Faculty of Social sciences and belongs to the student leaders of the November revolution in 1989. At the age of 22 he became a member of a parliamentary commission to oversee the investigation into the events of November 17th . He wrote a bestseller about the work of the commission (not only limited to) – the book Partlyclear. Sales profits allowed him to set off on a trip across the world. This article originally appeared at Neovlivni. Translated for RI by Anthony Grulich
Václav Bartuška. Ambassador at Large for Energy Security. Close to top politicians not only in the Czech Republic, but also abroad for the last ten years. He is convinced that a small shock would benefit society.
It’s naive to think that Putin's soldiers will stop in the Ukraine and just simply end the undeclared war that we have been watching in the news headlines for over a year now. “We have to be realists... the Government has recently approved a proposal for the renewal of drafts of both men and women from the age of 18. Do you think that the government would be discussing something similar two years ago?” asks Václav Bartuška in a profile interview for Dead Line Media, publisher of the daily Neovlivní.cz (Neoinfluentials.cz), the second of which we present now.
The first part of the interview – in particular covering energy policy, influential people in the Czech Republic and the threat of a collapse, you can read here.
DLM: A large portion of our energy mix is met by imports from Russia. When you look at the events in the Ukraine and think about Putin’s neo-imperial cravings, can't you see any threat from this angle?
For what Putin is doing, I wouldn't use the word cravings. Let’s take him seriously. For the last fifteen years he has been saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. We may think something else, for us it can be the 1st or 2nd world wars, or Mao Tse-Tung's era in China. For him it’s the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bloodless, and peaceful in principle. Fifteen years he’s been saying that, fifteen years he’s been collecting the strength to be able to remedy that. So, that, what has begun in the Ukraine, more specifically in Abkhazia and elsewhere, will continue. Of course he will not stop with the Ukraine. If some people here at home have the feeling that this will end in the east of Ukraine, then they are very naive. At the beginning of March last year, after the occupation of Crimea and the beginning of the undeclared war, many journalists called me and the classic question was about how much more expensive petrol would be at the pump? I tell all of them, will you be interested in the cost of petrol at the pump, when you have a Russian tank in front of your house? They all took it as a hyperbole. But this is no exaggeration at all. Russia wants back what it calls living space, Hitler called it Lebensraum. Russia will do everything it can so that they are able to take it back. And it takes that, which lets itself be taken.
DLM: In Germany, it is said that Russia is there, where a Russian soldier has placed their foot. Does that mean that we should be afraid?
No not fearful. There is no reason to be afraid. We are part of NATO and the European Union. We should see reality as it is. Not have any illusions.
DLM: I want to believe, that this is also the opinion of the Czech government. But when I observe the views of the president and those close to him, I am concerned that the Czech Republic is perceived as a country, that isn’t completely clear on where it belongs and doesn’t take the threat from Russia seriously enough. And that, with our unclear position, we could appear as an unreliable partner within the framework of the EU and NATO.
The government has recently approved a proposal for the renewal of drafts for both men and women from the age of 18. Do you think that the government would have been discussing something similar two years ago? An enormous number of things are taking place that we are not speaking about. Without a doubt our (intelligence) services have started to monitor individuals, certain foreign citizens on our territory much more. This is undoubtedly true, I see no reason to have to drum it up somehow. I think that we are much more prepared for any little green men in Carlsbad or anywhere else.
DLM: Are we also ready for little green men let’s say, in Tallinn? We as in we the CR?
Estonians undoubtedly are yes. And no doubt they would even shoot. I think that even NATO is ready. A problem could arise should the Russians prove to be really clever. They could start with civilian citizen demonstrations in the Baltic region, in Narvě for example, which is more or less a Russian city, some 93% are Russians. Or even elsewhere. Such an action could overgrow into something more.
On the other hand, we have very closely monitored the model that was used in the east of the Ukraine, in Donetsk, Luhansk and in other cities. They occurred as if through copy paper (according to plan) and negates the theory of a popular uprising. A group of civilians occupy administration buildings, men, women, children. Within two days, weapons start being carried there, the women and children leave, the gunmen remain. If you quickly stand up to them head-on as they did in say, Odessa, where they simply burned them, or in Dnipropetrovsk, where they simply killed them and buried them by the roadside, then you have calm. If you do not do this, you have war. That’s all.
Estonians know this very well, Latvians too, Lithuanians too, Poles too. I think that Czechs are as well. Please do not underestimate how much our country has transformed in the last quarter of a century.
DLM: I have led a number of discussions with people, who do not belong in my “bubble” and are significantly influenced by massive Kremlin propaganda, not only on social networks. In relation to the American convoy it even permeated into reputable media outlets and created the impression that Czechs reject the transit.
And then you saw the reality.
DLM: Yes. That I fortunately saw.
Most people simply welcome that we are members of NATO and they perceive the threat from the east absolutely clearly. If anything has totally failed over the past year, then it’s this so-called soft power of the Russian federation. They have invested huge money into television broadcasting, into various groups, parties, movements everywhere in Europe, in countries near abroad, as they say. In the Kremlin they really expected that millions of people would rise up in the Ukraine. The fact, that in the end they had to send in regular units of their army, including heavy battle equipment, that no popular uprising was taking place, is by me absolutely the biggest failure they have ever experienced. And this failure is repeating again everywhere and everywhere. Even here. You take those pro-Russian elements such as Jiří Vyvadil seriously?
DLM: Personally no, but I am concerned that a whole number of people who, in a way nostalgically think back to the old regime, the old and young communists, but even extremists of any color that are receptive to it. And I meet with these views quite often.
I do as well of course. But at the same time, these are people who like Schengen, moving around Europe without a passport, who find it appealing that they have a decent salary, for vacation they would like to fly somewhere to the south of Europe, or Asia. Nostalgia for socialism? I think that apart from some small groups of communists, no one here is suffering from nostalgia for socialism. I definitely can't see it in my generation.
DLM: Do you think that the sanctions that the west has imposed on Russia, are they sufficient, that they’re working at all? What is your assessment of the position of the Czech Republic in this matter?
The Czech Republic fully supports the sanctions and says it clearly, again and again. By me the sanctions are extraordinarily effective. In December of last year, the Russian government itself stated that the sanctions, even if it includes the drop in oil prices, amounted to over two hundred billion dollars last year. They are doing well to include the price of oil because the decline in oil prices of more than fifty dollars within half a year probably wasn't a total coincidence. I would like to thank our friends in Saudi Arabia this way for their help.
I think that for Russia, a very tough year is coming. Actually it’s visible already, the middle class is disappearing in Russia. Those people have taken out mortgages in Euros for expensive Moscow apartments, and today don’t know which way to turn. Capital is massively draining out from Russia, those who can, rather buy something in London or Prague instead or convert their money to dollars, if they still have any. According to various forecasts, Russia has money for roughly eight to fifteen months. It will be a very interesting year yet. Then it will show.
DLM: Desperate people do desperate things. Aren’t you concerned that in the given situation, when the economy will probably be faring worse and worse, Putin could do something that could lead to a more fundamental military conflict?
I have met Putin personally several times, most recently in May 2013. I therefore, cannot speak of the current one. But he came to me as extraordinarily rational, cool minded person. He doesn’t appear to me as a person who wants to die. And an open confrontation with the world would mean the end for Russia.
Russia’s main problem lies in the south, in the Far East. It’s China. I have seen maps in China, where the entire territory of Russia from the Urals to the east is cross-hatched and have written in Chinese on them: “Chinese territory under temporary administration of Russia”. For centuries China received tributes from the Germans, Yakuts and other nations from the territories of today's Russia. Imperial archives of these tributes list (contain) – furs brought from these lands, from the Urals to the Amur. China has a reason to go there.
DLM: Europe is threatened by internal instability. The current events surrounding Greece are visible, but Italy, Spain, have financial problems. How do you see the future of Europe in this context? Is there a threat of a two-speed Europe? Can Europe cope with the existing crisis?
A multispeed Europe is long a reality. We mentioned Schengen. Not all EU member countries are in Schengen. Not all European countries have the Euro. There are many various islets and speeds. One undoubtedly perceives the guarantees of the Swedish government differently than the guarantees of the Greek government. One probably perceives the words of Angela Merkel somewhat more strongly than the words of the Maltese prime minister. If, you know his name.
What threatens Europe? If we work effectively, and that is the key point, then we don’t have many threats. The key problem in many countries of Europe is that people feel that they should have it good without the work. This is a mistake, it doesn't work anywhere. It may work a little while, but not for a whole country and not for decades. So I’m not concerned about Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, about many other countries of the north.
On Education. And a Small Hammer
DLM: So actually it’s not even about us, since we belong to the German economic sphere.
Yes. Over the horizon of centuries countries evolve awfully slowly. Countries that were rich in 16th century are rich even today. The centers of European trade in the middle ages are still those centers. Something has perhaps shifted from the Mediterranean to the north, west, of Europe but Antwerp, Hamburg, London, Paris, etc were and are economically significant centers. I am convinced that Europe is able to survive, endure all sorts. The key will be work ethic and education, I repeat again.
DLM: Key words, particularly that of education. But when I look at the Czech Republic, how little money is being invested in education, in culture, with which this is intimately related, then I personally don’t view that with complete optimism.
Wait, to that sum you have to further add the sum, which Czechs spend on schools, on various courses for their children from their own money. It is easy to criticize the state budget, but education starts with the fact that your children see you as you're reading a book, that they perceive books as commonplace. That is education also, you can’t put a monetary value on it.
I recently saw a beautiful analysis from New York City, where mayor de Blasio wants to replace the standards of one of the elite schools for poor children, an excellent one, a third of the children end in the Ivy League, at the best universities in the world. It is paid for them free of charge, including lunches. And 86 percent of those children are Asian, not Blacks or Hispanics. The mayor would like to change that, he has a policy that supports other minorities. In that context a beautiful statement was made by one very reasonable Black leader from the Bronx. He said that even if those standards change in any way, primarily Asian and White children will still be there. The reason is that the majority of Black or Hispanic mothers have one desire – to have their child not end up in prison, while every Asian family wishes to have their child end up at Harvard.
The relationship to education is not only school. When at six a child comes to school, it is way too late to build some relationship to education. Do not underestimate please, the influence of family and the environment in which our children move about. I can recommend a simple test. If you put a book in the hand of a three year old Czech child, most children will open it correctly, letters (right-side) down, even if they have no idea what the letters mean. I always do a similar test with a small hammer. If you do this say, in central Asia or in India, children there don’t know what it is. A three year old child here will take the hammer into their hand as they should and start breaking something with it right away.
On the Euro and Hobbitville
DLM: Adoption of the euro is an obligation of the Czech Republic to the European Union. However, it is constantly being debated. Recently, Mojmír Hampl has let himself be heard that we should not enter the euro zone at all. On the other side, there are growing voices, who want to see this topic on the agenda more often. How will it end up?
If we leave it as a purely economic topic only, then we will probably never enter because motivation will be lacking. The biggest part of the motivation to enter the Eurozone, we see it in the examples of Slovakia or the Baltic countries, is that suddenly one cannot talk one’s way around anything anymore. Take a laborer, who receives 16 thousand Crowns, net twelve thousand. When we will have the euro, then they will receive their 480 Euro and will logically ask why a laborer to the west of us makes eight times as much for the same work. We need this to give this country a kick-start. The Euro is a unified measure of performance, but also of success.
We are this unusual kind of Hobbitville. The Czech Republic is a place, where the roar of the war in the East isn’t heard much, even the economic situation of Europe is as if it is not much of our concern, the Euro crisis basically doesn’t matter to us. After all, we have our Crown!
Four years ago the Swedish government published a study dealing with the impact of the collapse of the Euro on the Swedish Krona. It’s an interesting work that locally almost no one has quoted, even though we would be in a similar situation – that is, countries that have their own currency but never the less the majority of their exports go to the Eurozone. The study concluded that in the event of a breakup of the Eurozone, all Swedish banks would be closed completely for a minimum of a week, financial operations would stop. The decline in GDP in that first period, perhaps half a year after the breakup, would be in the order of tens of percent. Not units, tens of percent.
It would be similar here. And to say, in a country, where 80 per cent of its exports are sent to the EU and is economically closely linked with Germany, that the Euro doesn't interest us, is a luxury.
DLM: The last question has to do with the Euro. In Germany the exit of Greece from the Eurozone, the so-called Grexit is taken as a given. The only question being discussed there is when it will occur. If it occurs, it will expose just how stable the Eurozone really is. What is your opinion, is there a threat of a “Grexit” and what impact could it have?
I hope there is a threat because the Eurozone needs stability and this is only possible when you have states with discipline. Those, who majorly break the rules, and Greece belongs among those countries, should just get out of the loop. And should the Czech Republic enter the Eurozone, then I would wish for it to be a Euro, which will even be capable of throwing someone out and not only let them enter.