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Rethinking Nuclear Weapons

An Interview with Vit Vanicek

Vit Vanicek , born in 1977, is based in Prague, Czech Republic. He is currently working on an MA in British/American Literature at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. He has already completed an MA degree in Cultural Studies. He is also a part-time teacher of English, and an Assistant to the Czech National Commissioner of the Czech Philatelist Society where he works on international and world philatelic exhibitions. Vit recently published an essay in the magazine "International Politics" concerning the civil-military relationship.

What is the general perception of nuclear weapons in the Czech Republic?

[In my opinion], they are perceived as lethal and ultimate. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki cases are quite alive in the minds of people; and nuclear energy, in general, is quite distrusted—we're close to Chernobyl, so it's quite obvious why.

Are students aware of the history and/or perceptions of nuclear weapons in other regions of Europe?

Not so much about weapons (though France is widely criticized among students for the tests), but there's a large concern about the use of nuclear energy in power plans. Our single nuclear power plant, Temelin, is widely criticized both by the Czechs as well as by our neighbors, the Austrians and Germans.

What programs are available to the public to promote awareness of nuclear weapons issues, specifically to the youth?

I'm no activist myself, but still, there's not much; although Greenpeace has quite a network in our country, nuclear weapons are so feared that they are dismissed in general, not discussed in any details. My parents' generation, for example, remembers all too well the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and that moment is inscribed in their lives as something too scary to speak about, basically. Shaking heads, that's what one gets.

Who do you believe is responsible for the education about nuclear weapons in Eastern European countries?

No idea. Probably the governments of the single states. And they don't want to speak about those very often, either.

Are there any unique cultural myths about nuclear weapons in the Czech Republic?

Hmm. Nothing as in the US. The older generation (grandparents) always points out that when the USSR and the US would "exchange" their nuclear business cards, our country would be just in the middle, to have it from both sides. Reagan's Pershings of the 1980s are well remembered and were feared a lot, but then again, the Czech nature is not to stick our noses in the game of the powerful, so that they could destroy each other and we could somehow survive. Cowards, that's what the Czechs are often called in Central Europe (the painful experience of the occupation by the Nazi Germany in 1939).

What is the Czech government's stance on nuclear weapons?

Quite similar to people's opinion. Deadly. Never to be used again.

Does the government deem nuclear weapons a required component of national security?

I don't think so. There is, of course, a great concern about rogue states, and terrorists' possible arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but then again, the pattern of "if we are silent, we don't have to be the target", comes.

Are there any regional collaborative efforts regarding the proliferation/nonproliferation of nuclear weapons?

Since no one from Central Europe is a nuclear power, I strongly doubt that there are any. There is the general diplomatic push for nonproliferation but on the other hand, as the recent events showed, the official Czech position is "to support the US in whatever it does" - does it mean even supporting the nuclear weapons used by the US? Vaclav Havel (former Czech President), in my opinion, didn't leave the luckiest message internationally; and in the context of his leaving the office last Sunday there is the question of his real concern with the situation - maybe he simply didn't care anymore.

What role do you think the United Nations should play in the regulation of nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe? around the world?

Multinational organizations should be the warranty (enforcer) of international peace/power of law. The UN is definitely preferred to the US hegemony - the Czechs don't like any superpower, as they have the experience with "the evil one". But with that one gone, which is certainly a good move in history, I strongly doubt the Czechs would happily embrace the position of another superpower, this time an unquestioned hegemon in the world. The role of multinational organizations should be as strong as possible, for these provide at least some chance for small countries to share in the decision-making processes.

What do you think the role of developed/industrialized nations should be in regulating nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe?

It should be decisive. The developed/industrialized nations should use their power/influence to prevent proliferation within the region. Should any of the countries gain nuclear weapons, the whole region would be strongly destabilized. The case of Ukraine (I think they traded the nuclear weapons placed on their territory for economic support) is exemplary. None of the nations in Central/Eastern Europe should get even close to getting/developing nuclear weapons. This is probably unanimous decision within the region.

Vit Vanicek