Czech and Slovak soldiers making a good impression together in Kuwait

Czech-Slovak unit, photo: CTK

The presence of Czech troops in the Middle East is an issue which people and politicians alike tend to disagree over. Should the anti-chemical unit go to Iraq? Should the Czech Republic support the United States? These are some of the questions that Czechs are asking themselves since the onset of war. The fact of the matter is that Czechs, along with the Slovaks, do have troops in Kuwait. Though it may be uncertain what Czechs think about their presence in the Middle East it is however clear what the presence and cooperation of the Czech-Slovak unit means to Kuwaitis, as I found out when I spoke to Czech Radio's correspondent in Kuwait, Vit Pohanka.

Czech-Slovak unit,  photo: CTK
"Well I do have to say that the Czechoslovak troops are really doing a lot for the name of the Czech Republic. I mean they are very well known here, there has been tremendous media attention devoted to them, there have been reports on CNN and BBC television. I have been reporting on their exercises, there was a group of about 50 different journalists from various media organizations. In the local press, I think it was Saturday, I saw another photograph of Czech and Slovak soldiers monitoring the situation in Kuwait City. So, yes the local population must be aware that the Czechs are here and I can myself when I say that I am Czech to the local people they start mentioning the Czech and Slovak anti-chemical unit. So they are doing a tremendous job for the Czech Republic."

Its interesting how the unit is made of Czechs and Slovaks, it is essentially a Czechoslovak unit. How do the soldiers feel about this, the cooperation between the two countries?

"Yes this is a very interesting point, they themselves say it doesn't matter whether you are Czech or Slovak they just work together. So basically you can have a patrol which is half Czech, half Slovak, or it can be completely Czech or Slovak, they say they are on the same boat. There is one commander, General Lupuljev, who happens to be Czech and he is the commander of all the troops. There is no special line of command for the Slovaks. But there are interesting moments, like for example when the Czech president Vaclav Klaus sent a letter to the troops. Of course he sent a letter to the Czech soldiers and not to the Slovak soldiers which I wouldn't say was insensitive towards the Slovaks. But, it seams to me that the Slovaks are lacking the same sort of support coming from Bratislava, coming from the Slovak Republic, and one does have to feel a little sorry for them. I am just judging them from talking to them, I mean they wouldn't say that they would like Prime Minister Dzurinda or someone else to send them a letter but you do sense and you do feel some sort of disappointment."