OUR perceptions, in Johannesburg at least, of the Czech Republic are skewed. We forget Pilsner Urquell, Bata Shoes and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra as our minds race to peroxide-blonde bouncers in a steroid rage and heavyset women reporters holding microphones up to the mouths of insensate gangsters emerging from courtrooms after yet another tepid bollocking. We think of the murdered corpses of naughty or just unfortunate men, or of cagefighting or indiscriminate mockeries of justice. There is no talk of Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera or Vaclav Havel — but there is no talk of Czech coal either.
That is both surprising and not. The latter, it could be argued, because many locals are too busy, say, fiddling with credit card scammers, contemplating their next tattoo or going to the bathroom all over themselves when they see a photograph of Julius Malema.
But what has happened in the real Czech Republic and Poland is strange and goes against the grain. It is a rare case of small countries confronting a big bully — the biggest of them all, the European Union (EU).
The EU’s proposals on climate change involve a series of targets: under Connie Hedegaard, the commissioner for climate action, it committed to reducing carbon-dioxide levels to 20% below 1990 levels. At the same time, legislation has been adopted to raise the involvement of hydroelectric, solar, wind and biomass energy to 20% of market participation.
No doubt arranging these targets and associations was one of the most bureaucratic exercises ever undertaken, so it must have been infuriating for the unelected commissioners with their calculators and spectacles and ill-fitting suits to tolerate Spain’s abolition of solar photovoltaic subsidies in July, or the UK’s decision in August to freeze solar subsidies for the rest of this year.
But the Czech Republic didn’t just denounce renewables. Like Poland, it declared that it would double its reliance upon the most vulgar, explicit word in energy — coal.
It’s a funny situation, but Brussels isn’t laughing. Behind the dour expressions of its middle-management equivalents, the European Commission is livid because of the well-documented fact that it doesn’t like its members — whom it treats like petulant children — to think for themselves, exercise any form of sovereignty in its energy policies or even consider what might be best for their own citizens.
Against a set of one-size-fits-all policies and projections, Poland and the Czech Republic have been brave enough to say the costs associated with renewable programmes are not conducive to their own economic growth. But this position will inevitably pit them against the environmental lobby groups that the EU has inexplicably accommodated in policy formation units. It remains to be seen whether these two countries will be censured for their insolence.
In 2011, the former president of Czech Republic addressed an audience in Sydney, Australia, where he drew parallels between communism and the global warming doctrine. Those who declare Poland and the Czech Republic’s respective decisions to revert to coal as sacrilege should remember two important points: first, no economy wins any prizes for poverty; second, these countries happen to know a totalitarian movement when they see one.