By Gwynne Dyer
“I wish you a world without Babiš. Forget about Babiš. Try to live without Babiš,” said former Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš on Saturday after his campaign for the presidency failed to convince the voters. “Stop waking up in the morning with hatred towards Babiš and falling asleep with hatred towards Babiš.”
Just your standard billionaire populist having a massive public sulk after suffering political rejection, it would seem, and he certainly deserved to be rejected. It was a dirty, bad-tempered campaign in which a fake website and emails hosted by Russia’s Yandex server falsely declared that Babiš’s opponent, retired army general Petr Pavel, had died.
Babiš denied any involvement in that deceit, but his campaign tried to drum up fear of war between NATO and Russia and stressed that he was not aligned with the ‘reckless’ West.
“I am not going to drag the Czechs into war,” read the posters that Babiš plastered all over the country. “I’m a diplomat, not a soldier.” But he’s actually neither of those things, and most Czech citizens
saw right through him.
Of course they did. Czechs lived under Communist rule for more than forty years, and when they tried to throw it off in 1968 Moscow sent troops in to crush the peaceful revolt by force. That hasn’t been forgotten, and they can clearly see the analogy with what Russia is doing in Ukraine today.
So 57.3% of the voters cast their ballots for the pro-NATO candidate, Petr Pavel. But what were
the other 42.7% of Czech voters thinking?
Most of them were thinking: “Sorry about the Ukrainians, but I don’t want my childen to die in a
nuclear war.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine must be resisted, but the doctrine of nuclear deterrence,
which is supposed to prevent that resistance from escalating into a nuclear war, is unreliable. The problem
is not just this or that war, but the entire institution.
Wars were always about territory, and they used to make sense after a fashion. Land was the only real source of food, of wealth, and of power, so we built ever bigger and more complex military
institutions to protect and expand our lands. The societies we live in today were the winners in that
However, for the past two centuries, since the industrial and scientific revolutions, land has no
longer been the principal source of wealth and power.
Moreover, the level of destruction is so high that even the winner rarely makes a profit in the wars of the
20th and 21st centuries. The military institutions should therefore be shrinking by now, but they are not. The number of casualties has dwindled over the past 75 years and no nuclear weapons have been used, but we are suffering from a bad case of cultural lag.
It’s not that people are unaware of the problem. The effort to replace the military ‘balance of power’ with civilian international institutions that would arbitrate between countries and prevent aggression began after the two world wars of the last century (the League of Nations and the UN) and continues today, but progress is very slow.
And what has all this to do with the outcome of the Czech election? Just that the arguments of the two sides, however partial and distorted they may be, are just one more round in a debate that is already
more than a century old, and still nowhere near a conclusion.