The Czech Persuasion: Against grandiose ideas & miraculous solutions in the Mid-East

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H/T Evelyn Gordon

Following the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich in March 1938, Hitler assumed the role of advocate for ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering the “Sudeten Crisis”. In April, Sudeten Nazis demanded autonomy.  

In September that same year, French Prime Minster Édouard Daladier and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to Hitler’s demand on the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. 

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938.  However, the Nazis weren’t appeased for long.

The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in March 1939.

There was not to be “peace in our time”.

The question of why the Czech Republic, alone among the 27 EU countries, voted with Israel and only seven other countries at the UN on November 29 against upgrading the Palestinian status at the UN is likely related to Czech history, but is also informed by a broader understanding of the world – one quite at odds with the modern political zeitgeist,

In an interview following the recent Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya, Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar responded to the suggestion that there are historical parallels between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the pressure exerted on Israel today to agree to partition Israel and create a Palestinian Arab state.

He cautioned on imputing too great of a political parallel with the situation in 1938 in Central Europe, but still, he said, there are similarities.

“There are certain parallels in that Czechoslovakia was the only democratic country in the entire region at the time…There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them.”

Pojar said that in addition to his country’s tragic experiences during World War II, it also had experiences under the yoke of Soviet totalitarianism. 

However, more intriguing that the historical questions are the cognitive-political habits which Czechoslovakia’s dark history seems to have imbued in the modern Czech Republic.

Pojar added:

“We don’t believe in miracles, and we don’t believe in political miracles and the solutions of ideologies that [posit that] something can be easily implemented and solved.

It is not only either war or peace… Even some interim solutions are sometimes better than crumbled expectations because of grandiose ideas.”

Pojar’s political temperament seems to be shared by an increasing number of Israelis in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Islamist) Conflict – political sobriety about the limits of big, radical solutions to the intractable problems of war and peace in the Middle East.

The paternalistic, imperious and often hubristic lectures by Americans and Europeans on the pressing need for Israelis to be “saved from themselves”, rescued from the morass of short-shortsightedness, shown the enlightened path towards co-existence and reconciliation with the Palestinian “other” within the framework of the “New Middle East”, seem frighteningly unmoored from the reality of our existence in the region.

Putative peace agreements, sweeping final-status proposals and unilateral withdrawals have not appeased, nor in the very least even-tempered, our neighbors’ insatiable Judeophobic antipathy.

Pojar, when asked if Europe takes Hamas’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel seriously enough, said he could not speak about the EU, but that he did not feel the “mainstream European elites” did so. The elites, he added, were “sometimes detached from reality”, and not only about the Middle East and the threat posed by Islamists.

After two decades of “noble and naïve ideas” that left the country “battered and bloody”, Israelis understand with a lucidity unburdened by puerile dreams or illusions that land is not valid political currency in the quest to acquire peace for Jews in the Middle East. 

The margin for error in such political calculations are minuscule, and the stakes are enormous.

While the comparison between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Israel in 2013 can, of course, be overblown, our friends in the democratic West should at least view the dangerous failure, in the first half of the 20th century, of Europe’s stubborn belief in universality of reasonableness, the assumption of good will and the projection of our own positive-sum calculus to zero-sum political actors as a cautionary tale.

The wisdom of the ‘Czech Persuasion’ simply can not be easily ignored.