Czech forces in Macedonia

The first detachment of Czech troops arrived in Macedonia on Friday and Saturday as part of the NATO operation "Essential Harvest" to help stabilise a shaky peace deal in the country. The Czechs were the very first NATO troops to arrive and this has been hailed by the Czech media as a significant symbol. Olga Szantova asked Radio Free Europe commentator Jan Urban, whether he agreed with this evaluation of the Czech role within the NATO mission.

Czech NATO troops in Macedonia
"After ten years of cooperation between the Czech army and NATO armies, the Czechs were given confidence by NATO authorities to allow them to be the first, or among the first to start the operation Essential Harvest in Macedonia. I think that it's more symbolic and of political importance than a military one. You must not forget that the Czechs still remember being treated as a second class in the Warsaw pact."

Coming to the situation in Macedonia itself, what role will NATO troops actually be able to play within the country and in the peace-keeping operations there and what role will the Czech military have?

"Operation Essential Harvest is described as a simple weapon collection, meaning that they will agree with the Albanian rebels on the location where the Albanian rebels themselves will lay down their weapons and only after that a NATO convoy will come in, collect the weapons and extract them from the territory. The idea is to eliminate, as much as possible, direct contact between NATO troops and the warring sides. The Czech troops are allocated of guarding detachment for operation headquarters and possibly some reconnaissance. They are not expected to perform any combat roles."

What has the relationship between the Czech Republic and Macedonia been?

"Macedonia was understood as part of Yugoslavia and the relationship between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was very friendly. But after 1991, when Yugoslavia disappeared, the Czech Republic forgot that there is a place called Macedonia and we do not even have an embassy in Skopje, the relation is run from Belgrade, so the relationship needs to build from new."

And is this NATO mission a step to build on?

"NATO is not a good brand name right now in Macedonia and everything depends on the success of the mission. If the mission is successful, and the situation calms down and political and constitutional reforms go down easily, then I think it can influence relationship between Macedonia and the Czech Republic for better. If we meet with problems, and hard-line nationalists on the Macedonian government side will use it for an anti-Western campaign ahead of the January elections, then I am afraid we will have to swallow a few very sharp words from Macedonia."

Author: Olga Szantová
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