V. Klaus, E. Filipi or K. Schwarzenberg?

If something is called double-track, it mostly implies that it is hard to coordinate. Czech foreign policy is usually double-track. The Ministry of External Affairs says one thing, the President something else and the Prime Minister has a third view. Sometimes, the whole issue gets even more complex; which can be seen through the inter-departmental conflict between economic diplomats. However, with regard to the conflict in Syria, Czech foreign policy underwent a specific triple split– between the official stance of the ministry, the President and the Czech ambassador in Damascus. To crown it all, an Arabist Jan Čuřík commented on the complicated situation: “At present, it is neither within the power nor in the interest of Czech foreign policy to influence any of the parties in the Syrian conflict.”

From a broader perspective, it is important to look at the situation with reference to the main protagonists in relation to the Syrian conflict, namely, the President Václav Klaus, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Czech ambassador to Syria, Ms. Eva Filipi. There is nothing to be gained by disproving their opinions. As for the ambassador, I have already criticized her elsewhere. The conflict in Syria is so confusing that any piece of advice is valuable and a discussion about “what is actually going on” could continue indefinitely. The President’s speech has already been criticized by another author. Everyone should reach their own conclusion.

Instead of tacitly accepting the arguments of one of the parties, this article highlights the basic dilemmas preventing an observer of the conflict from reaching a clear conclusion about what is happening, especially about the way out of it. When looking at the perception of each participant in the Syrian conflict I draw on the President’s speech at the UN General Assembly and on the extensive interview Ambassador Eva Filipi gave to ČT24. Jan Čuřík was right to say that since August 2011 the Ministry of External Affairs has not commented on the conflict. Nonetheless, in such cases we can ask the minister directly why this is. That is what I did and, within the period established by law, I obtained quite a lengthy answer, which I quote here. The following is a brief summary of the opinions of each participant.

1) Václav Klaus – “Let them deal with it themselves”:
The failure of the intervention in Libya clearly demonstrated a similar repetition would not make sense. An intervention in Syria is therefore out of the question. We have to let the parties in the conflict agree upon a solution on their own and in their own way (that is, it makes no sense to rely on special ambassadors like Kofi Annan).The conflict has no immediate solution, which is why the Czech Republic should focus more on humanitarian aid. We should also consider the developments in Syria from a broader and long-term perspective and ask ourselves what needs to be done in the future.

2) Eva Filipi – “It all got muddled somehow”:
There is no civil war in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad wanted actual reforms, but foreign powers and the rapid development of events did not allow him to carry them out. There is no point in talking about the violation of human rights because they are also violated by the opposition. At present, in the words of the ambassador, the regime “has no time to behave nicely” to the foreign media. Local Christians are united in their support for the regime, while the opposition is a disunited and dubious collection of organizations and individuals with terrorist or criminal motivations. The European attitude to the conflict is wrong and the conflict cannot be solved by negotiation at the present time. It should also be mentioned that all Syrians, according to Eva Filipi, appreciate that the Czech Republic has not closed its embassy in Syria.

3) The Ministry of External Affairs – “Let us help the suffering”
It is hard to predict what will happen in the future. The opposition is disunited and the Czech Republic is inclined to agree with “the suggestion of certain countries that the priority is to help the opposition groups reach an agreement on a transition plan. Only then should a temporary government be instituted – a government that would help to restore peace in Syria and lead the country to a democratic election.” The Czech Republic will try to find a solution to the conflict in cooperation with “other allies” and support the effort of the special ambassador of GT OSN and LAS Lakhdar Brahimi who succeeded Kofi Annan. The Czech Republic will decide to close its embassy in Syria only if its further activity is prevented by security considerations. Last but not least, the official notice of the Ministry of External Affairs emphasizes the humanitarian aid the Czech Republic has already expended and will continue to expend on the conflict.

Different voices – different opinions
All three attitudes share the common belief that a highly complex conflict is taking place in Syria, whose development in the near future is hard to predict, and which cannot be solved by negotiation in the short-term – no matter how desirable that is. That is more or less all that they share, even though. Eva Filipi denies the fact (adhered to for example by the UN or the Red Cross) that there is a civil war in Syria, and if we read between the lines, she gives an impression of supporting the current regime. The ministry, on the other hand, stresses the cooperation with international partners, while expressing its determination to participate actively in a change of rule in Syria. The Czech President, for a change, advocates letting the locals deal with the conflict in keeping with their traditions and wait for future developments.

If one were to stress something about these attitudes, one should, with a certain irony, at least appreciate that they are not completely out of touch with the realities of the situation: for instance, they are not calling for a massive military intervention at the moment. The standpoint of the Ministry of External Affairs seems to be the most realistic one; after a long interval it is followed by the stance of the President because his wish to let the locals deal with the conflict on their own is simply utopia. One could also add that Václav Klaus emphasised the topic of the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Czech Republic at the UN. Despite all its humanitarian aid activity the Czech Republic more or less plays dead to the conflict in Syria.

What is really important is that the ministry and the President realize that providing humanitarian aid is the current priority. There is the terrifying fact that winter is coming and therefore, most probably, also a humanitarian catastrophe. The falling temperature and food crisis in a country torn apart by war mean no great prospects for the Syrian refugees both outside and inside the country, and it is our human duty to help them survive. We should also be prepared for the fact that the conflict might continue for ages and chemical weapons might become used sooner or later. Then we would have to think also about our own security – irrespective of the confused nature of Czech foreign policy and the inclinations to search for cuts. Let us hope for a coordinated approach in such a situation.

Jan Kužvart is an analyst of the Association of International Affairs (AMO). The above-stated opinions are only his own. For more information about what’s happening in Syria and the surrounfing region you’re welcome to follow his twitter.

published: 28. 10. 2012