Protesters at the foot of Prague's Wenceslas Square express

opposition to the U.S. Army's convoy from Latvia through the

Czech Republic on its way to Germany at the end of last month.



U.S. Army March Encounters Surprising Czech Opposition (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany)


"At the Czech border crossing at Harrachov in the Giant Mountains, leftists wanted to block the convoy’s passage and on social media called for the use of force. … A complaint was even filed with the attorney general’s office in Brno against Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek and Defence Minister Martin Stropnický. They are being accused of 'high treason' for approving passage of the convoy. … Anti-American upwellings of this magnitude last erupted in the Czech Republic eight years ago in connection with the-then planned construction of a satellite radar station as part of the missile defense system."


By Karl-Peter Schwarz*



Translated By Stephanie Martin


April 4, 2015


Germany - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Vienna: Last week, a convoy from the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, consisting of 518 soldiers and 118 military vehicles, mainly Stryker Armored Combat Vehicles, made its way from the Baltics to the Upper Palatinate. On a stretch of roughly 1,800 kilometers, the convoy crossed six NATO countries - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany - on its way to the Vilseck Military Base. The soldiers were returning from joint maneuvers with the Estonian armed forces.


Instead of, as usual, transporting their vehicles by train, the U.S. Army decided on a "road march" to demonstrate its ability and willingness to defend NATO countries to the east [operation "Dragoon Ride"]. Along the way encounters with the local population were planned in order to - according to a spokesman for American forces in Europe - "deepen their appreciation of the cultural diversity within the alliance" and "enhance the relationships that are essential to building and maintaining mutual admiration, respect and trust among allied militaries."


On the afternoon of March 26, the convoy reached the Czech Republic border crossing at Nŕchod and Bohumín. At this point the soldiers must have become aware that people there are not as happy to see them as in the four NATO countries bordering Russia in the northeast. Here and there they were indeed received in a friendly manner with the Slavic custom of bread and salt. In Reichenberg (Liberec), where some of the soldiers spent their first night, the community organized a meeting with citizens, and Czech soldiers volunteered to escort their American comrades.


Resurgence of anti-American movements


On March 28, a demonstration organized by the Communist Party and several nationalist, pacifist, and radical leftist groups "against the American military invasion" took place in Prague’s Wenceslas Square [photo, top]. Roughly 300 opponents of the convoy took to the streets. About as many gathered in Wenceslas Square to demonstrate solidarity with America and the NATO military alliance. Riot police separated the two camps. At the border crossing at Harrachov in the Giant Mountains, leftists wanted to block the convoy’s passage and on social media called for the use of force.

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A complaint was even filed with the attorney general’s office in Brno against Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek and Defence Minister Martin Stropnický. They are being accused of "high treason" for approving passage of the convoy.


Anti-American upwellings of this magnitude last erupted in the Czech Republic eight years ago in connection with the-then planned construction of a satellite radar station as part of the missile defense system. Tempers cooled only after Barack Obama, to appease Moscow, gave up the plan which was pursued by George W. Bush. In the meantime, Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine has again polarized public opinion and given new impetus to the anti-American movement "No to the Bases."


Pragmatism is more popular than loyalty


The debate, complained Defense Minister Stropnický, is gradually taking on absurd proportions. The Czech Republic joined NATO out of its own free will after all, not as a result of American pressure, and as a member of NATO, the most "compact and efficient defense community," it enjoys a level of security never seen before. The protests against the passage of American soldiers is simply "embarrassing," Stropnický said. Conservative opposition politician Miroslav Kalousek warned of a mobilization of "post-communist Zombies," and President Miloš Zeman, who for the sake of simplicity divides the world into Zemanists and idiots, said he opposes "anti-American idiots" just as much as the "anti-Russian idiots" on the other side.


Zeman’s position likely corresponds to the current Czech mood. They are used to having their president give expression to their national uniqueness, which was already the case when the government was oriented in the opposite direction under Zeman’s predecessors Václav Havel and Václav Klaus. Equidistance is popular and pragmatism even more so than foreign and security policy loyalty. Since the annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in east Ukraine, the government of Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has adopted an ambivalent course that on the one hand seeks to avoid offending partners in the E.U. and NATO, and on the other urges a weakening of sanctions to appease Putin.


Zeman to Attend Victory Parade in Moscow


The alienation between Poland and the Czech Republic became obvious in Austerlitz (Slavkov) at the end of January when Sobotka, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann advocated a gentler approach toward Russia.  Notwithstanding historical differences among Vienna, Prague and Bratislava, particularly on issues of energy policy, they agreed on an annual trilateral meeting following the Austerlitz format. In the previously dominant regional group, the Visegrad Group (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary) there is no common stance toward Moscow.


Czech President Zeman will attend the Victory Day Parade in Moscow, which is being boycotted by the United States and most E.U. countries. In addition to Zeman, so far Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Serbian President Tomslav Nikolić, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as well as leading politicians from China, Cuba and Vietnam plan to attend. It remains unclear whether Austrian President Heinz Fischer will be going.


The Czech opposition and the Christian Democratic Party, which is part of the opposition coalition the Christian Democratic Union, are criticizing Zeman’s decision to go to Moscow. Prime Minister Sobotka endorsed the decision, although he himself will not travel to Moscow. In an open letter, prominent Czech intellectuals demanded Zeman’s resignation. Meanwhile, Slovak President Andrei Kiska declined Putin’s invitation. "Given the events in Ukraine and Crimea, I do not want to take part in a celebration of military might," said Kiska. On May 8th, he plans instead to visit the graves of fallen Slovak soldiers.


*Karl-Peter Schwarz was born in Villach (Austria) in 1952, has a Master of Arts in history and languages in Vienna and Rome, had his first experience in journalism as foreign policy editor of Austrian newspaper Die Presse (1982 to 1984), then in the newsroom ("Zeit im Bild") of Austrian television channel ORF, 1986-1990 foreign correspondent for ORF radio and television in Rome, 1990-1995 foreign correspondent for Die Presse in Prague, 1996-2000 deputy editor for Die Presse. After moving to FAZ in November 2000, he was correspondent in Prague for ten years.     



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