A story of two eights – 68 and 08.

Photo: CTK

The recent conflict in Georgia came at an unfortunate time for Russia - the fortieth anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Indeed, such comparisons have been banded about both by politicians and NGOs critical of Russia’s actions against Georgia. But it is in the Czech Republic that such metaphors have been heard the loudest in recent days. George Archemasheili is a senior counselor to the Georgian Ambassador in Prague. We asked him how he viewed the Czech reaction to the events taking place in Georgia:

Photo: CTK
“The first thing that I want to outline is that we feel great support from the government of the Czech Republic to the Georgian people. It should be noted that the Czech Republic was one of the first countries to provide humanitarian assistance to the Georgian people, together with the United States. And in this regard, we are grateful for that. And on every level, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic has expressed his support to the Georgian people and to the government of Georgia.”

The Czech president Václav Klaus has made some statements that you would perhaps not agree with – that Georgia is to blame for this incident – what is your reaction?

Photo: CTK
“Once again, I want to state that the government of the Czech Republic has expressed its support for Georgia. That is the most important thing. I can’t make any comments on the president’s interview.”

And a lot of people are making comparisons with what happened in 1968 – the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – and what is going on now…

“There is a great similarity between those two situations. In 2008, the Russian Federation has occupied Georgian territory. And the aim of this occupation was to change the democratically elected government of Georgia by military means. Fortunately, they did not succeed - and there is an absolute similarity with this situation [apart from this failure to change governments] and with what happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968.”

And as to the future, there has been word that maybe Czech peacekeepers could be sent to the region as part of an EU peacekeeping operation. Is that something that the government of Georgia would welcome?

“The government of Georgia would welcome the presence of observers and peacekeepers in the conflict region, and of course, we would welcome peacekeepers from the Czech Republic as well.”

Do you feel that ordinary Czechs have a great deal of sympathy for what is happening in Georgia? Have you heard the word on the street?

Photo: CTK
“During these events, four demonstrations were held in the Czech Republic – three in Prague, one in Brno. Czech citizens and many non-governmental organizations participated in the demonstrations and a condolence book has been opened at the Georgian embassy in Prague, and lots of Czechs have come to express their condolences to the Georgian people. We see and we feel the support from the Czech people and the Czech government and we are grateful for it.”

Should Russia not fulfill its pledge and leave Georgian territory, is there anything more then that you would like the European Union including the Czech republic to do?

“The president of the Russian Federation signed a cease-fire agreement, according to which they have to withdraw their armed forces. Unfortunately, at this stage, the forces of the Russian Federation still remain on Georgian territory. And on Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, spoke with the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvdev and he promised that from Monday, the Russian Federation would start withdrawing its forces. We hope that this process will start and be completed soon.”