A dispute has arisen within the Czech Republic over Bush administration plans to set up a “Star Wars”-type anti-missile base south of the capital, Prague, and another in Poland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted angrily to the plans, which he denounced as a revival of Cold War tensions. Although Bush claims that the base is intended to protect Europe from possible rogue missile attacks from Iran, Putin obviously suspects that it is a foot in the door for the United States to bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe, and is aimed at Russia and not Iran.

After an exchange of angry statements between Russia on the one side and the Czech and U.S. governments on the other, Putin countered by offering to set up an anti-missile base to be run by the U.S. and Russia jointly in Azerbaijan, which is much closer to Iran. (Presumably Azerbaijan will at some point be asked for permission to do this.)

But the Czech government made it clear that it actually wants the base, in spite of the fact that surveys show that three-fifths of the Czech population is against it, and despite many organized protests against it.

The dispute about the base points up the degree to which the Czech Republic, since the collapse of socialism and the breakup of Czechoslovakia, has become a principal collaborator of imperialism in European affairs and beyond.

The restoration of capitalism in the Czech Republic has gone to great extremes, as have efforts to crush anything that smacks of communism and socialism. Recently, the youth wing of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia was ordered dissolved by the Czech ministry of justice because its advocacy of socialization of private property was deemed illegal. (The communist youth are not taking this lying down and have been involved in the protests against the missile site).

Czech politicians have made a special project of Cuba, being the chief opponents in the European Union of those leaders like Spanish Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero who call for a positive engagement with the Cuban government. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Jan Schwarzenberg has developed connections with Cuban exiles and dissidents whom he compares to Eastern Europeans like himself who were exiled or repressed or, especially, whose property was nationalized by the socialist governments.

Schwarzenberg, who is a close friend and longtime supporter of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, was appointed by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the right-wing Civic Democratic Party earlier this year. He is the head of what was formerly the wealthiest landowning family in Bohemia, and outside the Czech Republic (where the use of titles of nobility is not allowed), he is referred to as his Serene Highness, Prince Karl zu Schwarzenberg, Duke of Krummau.

The Schwarzenbergs are a German family that accumulated vast estates in Bohemia after picking the winning side (of the Catholic Habsburg emperor) in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). When not bedeviling Cuba and fronting for the Bush administration on the matter of the missiles, he is involved in legal cases which have the purpose of getting back the various estates, castles and palaces that were confiscated from the Schwarzenberg family after 1945 by the pre-socialist government of Eduard Benes and later by the socialist government.

Oddly enough, his highness represents the Czech “Green” Party in the coalition cabinet, illustrating a rightward move in the European Green movement in general. Though Greens are supposed to be worried about the environment, Schwarzenberg has made contemptuous comments about people in neighboring Austria who have expressed a possibly well-founded worry about a Czech nuclear power plant, calling them “fools.”

The actions of the Czech government at home and abroad are justified by the rhetoric of “freedom from totalitarianism.” People like the Schwarzenbergs moan about how they were mistreated under socialism, implying that their main complaint is that their freedoms were unfairly restricted (Schwarzenberg went into exile in Austria).

But back in power, they show (for example by their efforts to destroy the Czech communist youth league) that their main interest is not allowing freedom of expression, but preserving their precious and sacred property rights.