After the Slovak elections:

Is the Czech Republic facing the fate of a frontline state? Czech government will not fight disinformation. Shadow boxing with Russia

1. 10. 2023 / Karel Dolejší

čas čtení 12 minut
Photo: Czech right-of-centre PM Petr Fiala


Evil will prevail if good men do nothing, according to a statement attributed to Edmund Burke. It is still valid today. According to the findings of the Czech Security Information Service (BIS), there is concrete evidence of payments by a Russian agent to Czech citizens for the dissemination of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic. Journalists and other public figures were allegedly involved in this effort. The appearance of the BIS chief, General Koudelka, who talked about this before a parliamentary committee, while not entirely surprising, is nevertheless shocking in its own way.

 

The mere announcement that such things are happening in the Czech Republic as have been amply documented in neighbouring countries cannot be surprising. First of all, let us now mention Slovakia, which, due to years of massaging by pro-Russian propaganda channels, is on the verge of a geopolitical turn to the east.

The Czech Republic will not fight Russian disinformation

It is shocking to realise that the Czech government is not taking any action against the spread of Russian propaganda, even though it is obvious that after Slovakia we will be the first target of Russian subversives. Take, for example, any topic relating to the maintenance of internal security in the context of the biggest armed conflict in Europe since 1945. In virtually every case, the current Czech Fiala government is doing the opposite of what the experts have recommended.

The post of government commissioner for combating disinformation has been abolished, and no law against disinformation has been created. In the context of political developments in Slovakia, it is hard to imagine a more stupid and less qualified decision by the Fiala government.

In the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, the main line of defence against disinformation disseminated by a hostile power is through a high-quality education system that focuses, among other things, on teaching media literacy. In this area, the Czech Republic has not achieved any dazzling results. Nevertheless, the government has decided that it is education in the Czech Republic that should bear the lion's share of the state expenditure cuts while the Russian intelligence and propaganda war is going on. Unlike, for example, sport, which does not have to tighten its belt. The result in just a few years will be a greater number of disoriented and under-qualified frustrates looking for the culprits of their life failures within the "liberal system".

Shadow boxing with Russia?

Instead of a well-thought-out plan for the integration of Ukrainian war refugees, the actions of the Czech government in recent months have, on the contrary, excluded them from Czech society, stigmatised them, banished them to the grey or black labour market and indirectly pressured them to return to their war-torn country. Although it is very well known that one of the main weapons used by the Russians against the West is strategic corruption, we see examples right in the Czech government of its receptivity to such corruption.

It is, of course, ridiculous to ask citizens to tighten their belts over a conflict with a country whose agent of influence repeatedly meets with the minister of the strongest party in government. A casual observer of events must naturally think that the Czech government is at best playing at just shadow-boxing with Russia.

Bitter reactionary minorities are needlessly splitting Czech society by pushing a pro-Russian agenda of "fighting LGBTQ+ ideology". The  Czech Prime Minister has personally sided with them by refusing to support marriage for homosexuals, thus "explaining" to liberal voters that casting a vote for his party in the elections was a cruel mistake that they should not repeat. In the context of Russia's war against Ukraine, which is clearly marked by an emphasis on the importance of artillery, the main and historically largest investment in the numerically and capability-reduced Czech Army is to be the purchase of new combat aircraft.

On the other hand, the very type of self-propelled howitzer, which Denmark, having identified serious functional deficiencies within it,  recently completely got rid of by donating it to Ukraine, has been selected by the Czech government for modernisation of its outdated artillery equipment. In general, the Czech government routinely prioritises arbitrarily chosen ideological solutions (this includes extremely rigid, absolutist fiscal austerity without a realistic long-term outlook) and lobbying pressures operating behind the scenes over strengthening the defence capability, resilience and social cohesion of Czech society.

A modern Czech Republic - really?

Backward societies with a different cultural code can always be "modernised" (in the sense of brought closer to their more advanced counterparts) most easily in the technological sphere. However, such asynchronous modernisation may not always have the desired consequences. As an example, consider the penetration of portable transistor radios into Islamic societies, which has been occurring since the 1960s.

Masses of illiterate populations could suddenly be easily radicalised by zealous Islamist preachers who advocate a return to an idealised past, not modernisation. Simple technical change has helped to push many societies backwards in terms of civilisation, suppressing the results of Western emancipation of women or liberal attitudes towards minorities.

In the Czech Republic, which is under a massive influence of fossil and nuclear energy lobbyists, there is extreme distrust towards the introduction of modern renewable energy sources. In contrast, the scenario of universal digitalisation looks politically unproblematic. Unfortunately, however, only at first sight. Even after many years of operation, the widely digitised electoral process in the US is still under serious threat from hackers. Coupled with the doubt offered by the impossibility of physically recounting paper ballots, this plays enormously into the hands of anyone interested in challenging the integrity of the democratic electoral process. The narrative of Joe Biden's "fraudulent" victory, which has circulated among Trumpists for years, has greatly destabilised American democracy.

It is undoubtedly advantageous to have access to global news coverage online and not be reliant on studying reams of printed newspapers on a daily basis. However, when we consider the potential advantages of electronic voting in elections, they are all many levels below the main disadvantages - the greater fragility of the electoral process and the ease with which the integrity and legitimacy of elections can be challenged. In terms of equal rights for all, the Czech Republic still has not  given its compatriots living abroad the possibility of a traditional postal vote. However, to link this eminently sensible change with plans to digitise voting, as has already emerged in the public debate, is inappropriate and counterproductive.

The dangers of digital Leninism

The "spontaneous" transition to the Internet of Things also carries risks that are rarely mentioned. As a rule, networked appliances are insufficiently protected against possible hacker attacks. Of course, the level of protection can theoretically be increased, but this comes at a cost, making the appliances in question more expensive. That is why manufacturers have resigned themselves to NOT increasing security.

It is a big question as to what major benefits you get from having your washing machine, dishwasher or fridge connected to the internet. What is unfortunately certain is that once this happens, your home could potentially become a target for hackers who turn a set of once harmless household objects into automatic disseminators of malicious content. And so, a significant portion of the tasks previously performed by, say, troll farms in St. Petersburg, can suddenly be taken over by a clothes dryer, coffee maker or food processor in your home. Whether it is really necessary to risk such scenarios is, of course, a question that is practically non-negotiable.

Finally, there is the vision of a cashless society that takes all payments into the virtual space. We sometimes hear celebratory tirades about a completely digitalised system, for example from people living in Norway. In an article possibly titled Cashless Society as the Basis of Digital Leninism, sinologist Lukáš Zádrapa warns that "innocent" infrastructure modernisation changes combined with changes in the political system - for example, the rapid shift of Central Europe towards the anti-liberal Hungarian model - may bring unexpectedly great risks to our freedom.

"China is a paradise of cashless payments, just as it is a champion of digitalisation. The 'smart' phone is used there for a wide variety of tasks and it is really almost impossible to live a normal life without it. The Chinese regime uses a wide range of tools to totally subjugate the population to its needs - a system sometimes called, rather fittingly, digital Leninism... Now we can expect this whole monstrous machine to become much, much more efficient with the advent of artificial intelligence," warns Zádrapa. "If we introduce here, however nobly or practically motivated, a system endowed with such power that is easily abused, it too will one day be abused, and with crushing consequences."

The troubles of the "frontline state"

The more successful the pro-Russian political forces are in Slovakia, Austria or former East Germany, the more the Czech Republic will approach the status of a "frontline state" in a -  hopefully -  mostly cold war with Russia.

The role of a frontline state brings numerous disadvantages plus a number of dilemmas regarding key political decisions. A major Globsec study highlights some of the dilemmas from the perspective of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

According to the analysts, the costs of continued direct military and economic support to Ukraine during the current war for the frontline states are significantly lower than those that would have to be paid in the event of a "frozen conflict" in Ukraine or even a Russian victory.

In the event of a victorious Russian invasion, the combination of rising defence costs, falling foreign investment and rising debt could subsequently plunge Central Europe into an economic abyss. Defeating Ukraine would mean additional costs in excess of €25 billion for Poland alone - equivalent to eight times the aid that Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania have provided to Kiev.

It is almost unbelievable that, instead of having an informed debate in the Czech Republic over a cost-benefit analysis similar to the one produced by Globsec, it is only the Czech President who is currently trying to stall the government's naive and futile efforts to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. We see no government effort to explain in detail to the electorate the reasons for the clearly pro-Ukrainian positions which it had assumed at the outset of the conflict. Nor do we hear a sensible debate about why the Czech Republic did not clearly support Ukraine in the grain export dispute.

The Czech government, incapable of communication


A substantive debate on the issues mentioned above may be missing mainly because the government is communicationally incompetent and unable to communicate essential information to the public in a comprehensible way. Or perhaps it is because there is no basic consensus within the Czech government on the contours of a sensible foreign and security policy in the face of an unprecedented security situation on the continent. So there is only improvisation and brinkmanship.

The Prime Minister occasionally heads demonstratively to Kiev, and once upon a time we sent surpluses from Czech army stores in the same direction. The Czech government also initially boasted of significantly reducing dependence on Russian natural gas. However, in the meantime, the share of imported Russian oil has risen from some 40% before the outbreak of the war to 65% today. Still other purchases of Russian crude involve the state's strategic reserves. In the race to mobilise economic resources for the war in Ukraine, the Czech Republic is thus contributing petrodollars increasingly to the Russian war piggy bank. This cannot be summed up in any other way than that we are de facto cutting the branch on which we are sitting.

Next year, the total volume of Western military aid to Ukraine is likely to fall. For despite all the 'brave' talk, there has not been an adequate mobilisation of the industrial base, even in the area of artillery ammunition production, in which the politicians of the European Union have stepped in quite unexpectedly and with unprecedented vigour. However, the planned production of a total of one million artillery shells is in practice running into administrative obstacles - and still represents only half of Russia's annual production. Currently, Moscow produces seven times more artillery shells than the entire West combined.

In this situation, the Czech Republic is helping Russia to meet its war aims by providing funds for the operation of the Russian arms and war machine through the purchase of Russian oil. However, I do not know of a single politician in the Fiala government who finds any problem with this fact or who is concerned about the lack of a coherent policy towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Czech Republic is therefore perfectly 'on track'. It is well on its way to losing the conflict with Russia, which is taking place in a number of non-military domains, long before it possibly turns into an armed phase.

Czech original is HERE

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