by William Nattrass
Tuesday, 1
November 2022
Analysis
07:00

Ukraine is tearing the Czech Republic apart

Protests on either side are becoming increasingly heated
by William Nattrass
A pro-Ukraine protest at Wenceslas Square in Prague. Credit: Getty

Prague

Eastern European governments are among the world’s firmest in support of Ukraine, but Putin’s war is also ushering in a new era of popular division over culture and identity in the region.

This weekend’s events in Prague showed that there’s more than meets the eye to the Czech Republic’s portrayal as a bastion of pro-Ukraine solidarity. On Friday, the latest in a series of huge anti-war and anti-government protests was attended by tens of thousands of people, before similar numbers flocked to a counter-demonstration on Sunday evening.

The pro-Ukraine rally profiled itself as an “anti-fear” demonstration, and organisers told me it rejects “extremists” who are becoming “louder and louder.” The intention, they said, was to “spread hope instead of hatred.”

Their language echoes rhetoric used by the Czech establishment when talking about protestors who object to support for Ukraine. No matter how much one agrees with pro-Ukraine sentiments, this should be cause for concern. There’s something jarring, in a country with a painful history of enforced ideological conformity, about dismissals of protestors as “extremists” guided by a “fifth column” hostile to the state. This is especially true when such claims are being made, among others, by the nation’s prime minister.

The Ministry of the Interior’s Putin banner

But rhetoric is just as heated on the other side, with anti-war protestors claiming the West sees Czechs as “slaves” and that institutions such as NATO and the EU are inimical to national sovereignty. The government is feeding this oppositional environment, too. On Friday, the Ministry of the Interior hung a huge banner between the Czech and Ukrainian flags depicting Vladimir Putin in a bodybag. The display was interpreted as a rebuke to the anti-government protests taking place that same day, with the Interior Minister saying “the enemy” would not be allowed to “steal the concept of patriotism or our flag.”

Such bitterness shows that this dispute is now about much more than Ukraine. Russia’s invasion is the focus for a wider culture war building in intensity and acrimony.

Unlike in Britain, where support for Ukraine is widespread among both conservatives and progressives, here attitudes towards the war are broadly reflective of divisions on the Czech Republic’s place in the western international order. Support for Ukraine, support for membership of the European Union, support for progressive values and support for a technocratic style of government tend to go hand-in-hand. This could be clearly seen in Sunday’s pro-Ukraine demonstration, which also advocated for LGBT rights and was marked by an abundance of EU flags.

Indeed, some social parallels can be drawn with British social attitudes towards culture and identity during the Brexit vote. The Czech Republic’s metropolitan pro-Ukraine, pro-EU faction sees itself as “on the right side of history,” while opponents feel ignored by an elite which they claim is more concerned with international interests than their own.

This merely shows that similar social divides can latch onto wildly different causes depending on a nation’s geography and history. Divisions aren’t the same throughout eastern Europe, either. Poland is another country where social conservatives and progressives are united in loathing of the Kremlin. Still, in parts of this geopolitically contested region, the narrative of East vs West in Ukraine is feeding new battles at home over culture and identity.

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chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

Everyone i speak to is disgusted that we are sending money we don’t have to Ukraine when our own people cant afford to put the heating on and are struggling with the ever increasing price of food.

Last edited 1 month ago by chris Barton
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

I find it odd that this comment is downvoted. Is the person responsible disputing Chris’s experience, indicating a comment of this type is unacceptable (expressing a desire for censorship) regardless of veracity, disputing the nation can afford it, or is there some other reason?

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago

Just the usual war hawks that are stuck in the cold war.

Rob Cameron
Rob Cameron
1 month ago

@Aphrodite Rises, I suspect the downvotes are to show Chris Barton that he’s ‘anchored’ to his own social network and needs to meet more people who might display a different view.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Cameron

Maybe, but surely it would be better to state the objection.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago

I dont see a down vote

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Upvotes neutralise downvotes. I have suggested to Unherd they separate the two but either it is too difficult a task for the techies or they don’t want to for some reason they don’t wish to share.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aphrodite Rises
Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 month ago

As near as I can tell, it’s being upvoted by many.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

True . But when I posted my comment the ‘score’ was -1. My comment about downvotes neutralising upvotes has received many downvotes but 1 more upvote. I am mystified as to why a statement of fact should be downvoted.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Everyone i speak to”, maybe you should try getting out more ?
If the signatories of the Versailles Treaty (however flawed) had spent more time, effort and money on enforcing the terms of the plan, a lot more money, not to mention much else, could have been spared later. Ukraine all ‘seems’ so very far away, until it isn’t, much like Czechoslovakia must have seemed in 38. In this regard Putin is ‘probably’ far closer to AH than any, so called, member of the Asov battalion.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Standard tactics which have been used to sell every war snice WW2 – The new threat is Hitler (Putin) and must be stopped, those that are in favour of war are Churchill (Mr Johnson) and anyone who doesn’t want to go to war or has any doubts is Chamberlain. I’ll never understand the people in this country who forever want us to get involved in wars we have no direct interest in, wars over the last century have diminished us as a country the best example being The 1st World war which turned us into a debtor nation forever. Can always pack your bags and head off to the front Tom.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

The ‘bes’t type of wars are foreign wars – it is far better for a country to fight its wars on someone else territory than on its own.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Especially when somebody else is doing the fighting. Just think they might even bring back conscription since our army’s a bit small.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Chamberlain, Roosevelt too.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anna Bramwell
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

It would be interesting to ponder what would have happened if we had not fought the First World War, or the Second. But if we hadn’t we would be a supplicant subservient state of Germany and would not be in any position to do any pondering.

If we.want freedom to survive from time to time we have to fight for it. This is one of those times

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

“supplicant subservient state” Erm have you heard of this thing called the EU? Run by and for the benefit of Germany. I’d also argue that’s exactly what we are to the Americans snice Suez.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

You seem like a nice chap, and certainly entitled to your opinion, but one that needs to be a little more informed about history. When another country attempts to invade your country with the intention of full control over your people and way of life it demands a response, does it not?

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

I’m not keen on the EU (understatement) but there is no comparison with the Nationals Socialist dictatorship. And to suggest such a thing about the Americans is preposterous

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

I don’t believe you had a choice in WWII. When the Germans started to bombard your island, it sort of forced the issue, no?

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Except they didn’t bombard our island, did they? And don’t kid yourself Poland wasn’t liberated until,1991.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

No, it didn’t.
Too many broken promises by Hitler; the bombs came quite a while after the declaration

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

There is always a simple choice in these matters. You can either fight to preserve your culture and language or agree to live under the culture and language of others. It’s the history of the world.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Funny how you go straight to the Hitler comparison with Putin then try to minimise the Azov boys, you know actual Nazi’s.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

That comment clearly shows your colours… If you don’t understand that letting aggressors succeed when they start their aggression then I am afraid when they come for you it will be too late. We must always defend right and principal; appeasement invites contempt and further aggression.

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Brown

My colours? being against actual Nazis, right ok. Have you not seen the Russian army’s performance? its honestly pathetic compared to the picture that the media have painted all these years. The Russians don’t have the means or manpower to take and hold eastern Ukraine let alone re impose the borders of the USSR.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Are you thinking of the League of Nations? The terms of Versailles contributed to the 2WW.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Maybe the signatories of the Minsk agreement should have stuck to it, the first time Ukraine ignored it there army got surrounded by the DPR militia. They needed NATO to get them out and then Poroshenko proceeded to ignore Minsk 2. If the Russians go west I wouldn’t blame them for the theft of there assets and the British state terrorism.

Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Do you know the Munich Agreement ? It is the treaty which allowed Hitler to take Czechoslovakia – the British and French Appeasers gave Cz to Germany although the Cz had sufficient Military to resist very strongly, and if GB and Fr had not agreed, the three of them could have easily defeated Germany before it had real power. Instead the very strong Cz military became part of Germany military. The Munich Agreement was the real Start of WWII by the West appeasing the tyrant.

This in no way is anything to do with Ukraine today.

Allowing Germany to have Cz caused WWII. Allowing Russia to have Ukraine would have avoided WWIII. Do not go conflating total opposites because they sound similar, yet are complete opposites.

Rob N
Rob N
29 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Munich Agreement did not ‘gIve’ CZ to Germany rather ‘only’ the Sudetenland.

Russia is in the wrong in invading Ukraine BUT they have been manoeuvred/pushed into doing this by lies about expanding NATO etc from US, UK etc and by our support for the Maidan coup.

Sadly there is now little difference between US and Russian Governments and beginning to wonder which would be better to live under. US only better at the moment as a lot of the US is fighting back against their own Govt. If the Govt wins….

Vít Samohýl
Vít Samohýl
29 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

Munich definitely gave whole of Czechoslovakia to Hitler…
Russia has not been “manoeuvered” to anything. “US government is bad too” is the height of moral relativism and also “Govt” isn’t going to win in the US.

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

We obviously speak to different people. I form the opposite impression.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Interesting perspective. Was it disgusting that the United States of America decided to send money, supplies and a large chunk of it’s young men, in the 1940’s, to save Europe and your island nation, from potentially speaking German and living under tyranny?

chris Barton
chris Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

You seem ignorant of the USA’s behaviour before it entered the war. The USA only agreed to lend us more money after it had audited us and found out that unless they gave us money we would have to stop fighting. Britian also had to sent most its gold reserves to Fort Knox before any loan was given. I was referring the 1st World war (which set up the 2nd) in my original comment and you skipped straight to the 2nd WW with your moral superior tone reply.

Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

The amount we send to Ukraine is minimal and would do little to help in the cost of living problems. Standing up to Russia is a vital major strategic responsibility. If we give up on Ukraine you think that Putin will stop there ? Anyway, your comment has little to do with the article which is about internal ideological conflicts within a country caused by the Ukraine war.

Iris C
Iris C
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

I think you are right and would hazard a guess that the majority of people in the UK would put the welfare of their families, their mortgages and their future livlihoods before destroying (and then having to rebuild) a country on the outskirts of Europe which has no chance of victory. The conflict will just go on and on unless the UN steps in and brokers a peace deal. (When it was discussed in the UN originally I think only 43 countries gave support with 37 abstentions)

Michael Stewart
Michael Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  chris Barton

Where are these everyones? Sure your telling the truth about what you’re hearing but it would be interesting to know what part of the U.K. and who you’re talking about. In east london this is for sure not the chat at the bus stop…

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago

It’s getting to the stage where I can’t even look at that repulsive p and tears flag of theres. If you want to support a bunch of violent bigots who feed their army(sic) psychotropic drugs and little else, be my guest. But you know you are supporting terrorism by UK forces which will have serious consequences for us and you know we wouldn’t last long against the Russian army.
We’ve less than 15, 000 infantry for goodness sake, get a grip!

Helen E
Helen E
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Andrews

What’s the p and tears flag, sorry? Trying to keep up.

Northern Observer
Northern Observer
1 month ago

If you’re not pro Russian by now you’re just not paying attention.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago

I just think it’s the suppressed bigotry and superiority complex inherent in all Europeans (especially us Brits) coming out. We can legally hate Russians, great! Just please dont bring back conscription and make us actually fight them.