Obituary for a NATO Referendum
With Tuesday's decision by the Social Democratic caucus to support NATO entry without a pre-ratification referendum, it now seems certain that the idea for a referendum on NATO is completely dead. Too bad.
Of course, it wasn't so much Solana's assumed authority which changed the party's stance as Havel's sharp criticism. Though earlier in the week Zeman had first defended his party's position with the foolish insinuation that the President had shown "contempt for the Czech nation", the Social Democratic leader soon realised that in a showdown with the popular President, he could only lose. Thus the party caved in.
It is a shame that the opportunity for the citizens of the Czech Republic to express their views on this historic matter has now been lost. The citizens of Hungary had their chance to express their voice a referendum, and the results there seem to show relatively strong public support. In contrast, the citizens of the Czech Republic were told by their politicians to keep quiet.
There were many reasons given for not holding a referendum, but everyone over the age of ten knows the real reason. Powerful politicians at home and abroad were too worried that the Czech public might say no.
The other reasons given were all transparently nonsensical. Some critics of the referendum claimed that it simply could not be organised before the general election. Surely, however, it could have been organised along with the general election. One more piece of paper for each citizen to fill out on election day does not seem to be an insurmountable technical hurdle.
Other critics said that NATO does not affect the sovereignty of the state, so a referendum is unnecessary. This maybe true, but joining NATO will certainly affect the wallets of the Czech taxpayer greatly, and, much more importantly, NATO will put the lives of Czech citizens at risk. This means you and your sons, after all. That seems important enough to me to have a referendum about.
No, the real reason for the idea's death, as everyone knows, is that too many people in high places felt that the citizens might "vote incorrectly". This has happened before, of course. For forty years, the citizens of Czechoslovakia were not allowed to vote in free elections, because the regime believed that they might vote them out of office. The rabble could not be trusted to make the decisions the regime wanted, so the elections were fixed and the regime made the decisions alone.
A more recent example was seen in 1992, when the political leaders decided to split the country against the citizens' will. Then as now, the leaders felt that the citizens would vote in a manner opposed to their own plans, and so the decision was made not to officially ask the citizens how they felt about their country disappearing.
This is inherently undemocratic thinking of the type "the people cannot be trusted to decide matters so we will make the decisions for them", and it is very dangerous. The citizens are not just some inconvenience for politicians to work around when making policy. The citizens are the source of democratic power, and their will must be respected.
This not the same as saying that the anti-referendum elites are showing "contempt for the Czech nation". Refusing to allow a referendum because they think the citizens might vote contrary to the establishment's desires, these elites have shown contempt for the foundation of democracy. Ultimately, the citizens of the Czech Republic (not "the nation"!) are the source of political power. If politicians start justifying their actions by saying that the people's will is not important and that the citizens cannot be relied upon to "vote correctly", then a principle democratic value is damaged.
Such thinking, if continued in its logic direction, only leads to trouble of the totalitarian kind. If the powers that be can stop citizens from voting in this case (and in 1992) because those powers may not like the result of the vote, what is to stop them from cancelling general elections when the polls show that the results will not be to their liking?
Obviously, the death of the NATO referendum doesn't mean the death of democracy in the CR, but the reasoning behind its denial is depressing for those who cherish democratic values. The people cannot be trusted to vote as the great authorities in Prague and Brussels think they should. Why let the buggers vote at all then?