Eyewitness: Czech plant causes reaction

November 17, 2000

The diplomatic fallout over the opening of a nuclear power plant near the border with Austria has raised questions over the political readiness of the Czech Republic to join the European Union.

Prague's decision last month to commission the Temelin nuclear power station, to be sited some 50 miles from the border, has infuriated its nuclear-free neighbour and sparked a rash of people-power border blockades at up to 15 crossing points.

The blockades - including a demonstration of anti-nuclear-placard-waving children lead by Austrian far-right leader Jorg Haider - have infuriated the Czechs and brought relations with Austria to a low point.

Although protests by the Austrian side were suspended last weekend, allowing a more diplomatic route to resolving the crisis to be explored, Bavarian environmental activists in nearby Germany have warned they may begin border blockades if the Czechs do not agree to further safety tests and inspections of the plant.

George Schopflin, professor of politics at London Uni-versity's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, said the Temelin dispute reflected the psychological lack of preparedness of the Czechs for entry into the EU.

"The Czechs need to be sensitive and aware of what they are doing. Psychologically and emotionally, other members of the EU have to be special to you.

"The Czechs have an inability to understand the world around them. To build a nuclear station 50km from the Austrian border is not a Czech sovereign decision alone; it is a European one."

The Austrian protests spring from an active culture of civic society, Professor Schopflin said.

But Prague-based political analyst Ivan Gabor said the row demonstrated an undiminished Austrian arrogance towards its neighbours, with roots stretching back centuries to the imperial past of the Austro-Hungarian period.

"Temelin is the tip of the iceberg of poor relations between the Czechs and the Austrians, and the Czech government won't stop Temelin unless there are technical problems with it."

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