The students of the History and International Relations Department of the Saint Joseph University, Beirut gathered on March 14 for a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and debate with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, H.E Jiří Kozák. The department is no stranger to welcoming important high ranking guests both local and international. However, this specific meeting is quite unique as the invited representative represents a country whose relationship with Lebanon is rarely spoken of and mentioned, although important cooperation is always underway. The Czech Republic has found itself lately on the world scene, as protests have caught the eyes of the world, demanding economic reforms with an end to inflation, and most importantly an end to unconditional support to Ukraine. Similar to Ukraine, the Republic is almost right next door with a history of Russian interference, even though today they are a part of NATO. In this article we will be summarizing the answers and positions his Excellency took to the questions asked. Giving us an even bigger glimpse of who Jiří Kozák , the Deputy Minister touring the world in the name of democracy, taking stance against authoritarianism and projected as a strong candidate to assume the presidency in the future.
Jiří Kozák was a former teacher of international relations himself, at a private university and think-tank, the CEVRO Institute, affiliated with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), the party Mr. Kozák is a member of. He is also an advocate of human rights, presiding over NGOs. He is in Beirut as part of the three Czech officials visiting the country because they consider the latter important for the region’s stability and to continue cooperation on multiple scales, mostly the economic one.
The questions ranged from the war in Ukraine and the role that the Czech Republic plays in this conflict, to the political scene in the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
Concerning the war in Ukraine, Mr. Kozák is vehemently against the Russian government and its president. He speaks firmly in defense of NATO and Ukraine as was clearly heard in his answers. The first topic was the Czech protests. Thousands of people gathered in a square in the Czech capital Prague on Saturday as part of a demonstration under the slogan "Czech Republic against poverty". They are in favor of continuing aid to Ukraine only on humanitarian grounds. The Deputy Minister downplayed these protests claiming that they “appear bigger than they seem “and that the people protesting are nothing more than Russian supported extremists. While he admitted that they protested within their rights and that their economic situation is gloomy with inflation reaching as high as 17%. He also said that these extremists have virtually no political power but they pose a danger by spreading misinformation which may mislead some people who, as he claimed, are not “educated enough to analyze false information”. A follow up question was asked by one of the students regarding whether it is better to keep on supporting Ukraine economically or to focus on the internal problems, Mr. Kozák chose both, as focusing on the two problems is important.
While inflation is a threat to the country’s stability, the Russian war in Ukraine is also a threat to the Czech Republic and its borders and security. The Czech Republic has received an influx of Ukrainian refugees, and a question has been asked regarding whether they will be integrated into the society or sent back to their country. The response was that it is hard to keep track of the refugees even though the aim is to get them back to Ukraine once the war is over. In the meantime, he added that his country is providing refugees, especially children, with healthcare and shelters as well as education. And even, he took great pride in the fact that the citizens of his country have opened their own houses, homes, flats, even rooms… for these refugees.
The questions circled back to Russia, with one asking « Does the Czech Republic stand with the western narrative of the unprovoked war in Ukraine? And concerning the propaganda is all propaganda looked down upon and not tolerated or only Russian propaganda? » to that Mr. Kozák spoke against all sorts of propaganda saying that they threaten the system especially if lies are involved, and accused Russia of spreading false information that it is merely defending itself, stating that it mostly targets the uneducated people. He has also refused to accept the narrative of the unprovoked war claiming that multiple Russian journalists, politicians… are claiming that the Russian army will stop in capitals like Paris and Brussels.
He also accused president Vladimir Putin of being responsible for the war but he isn’t the only one to be blamed, accusing the chain of army command as well. Finally, while asked about the relations with Russia and when will more ammunition reached Ukraine, His Excellency had another moment of pride, saying that the relations with Russia are frozen after a terrorist attack orchestrated by Russia in 2014, and to his country’s honor they have been placed on Russia’s list of non-friendly countries (which basically only involves them and the US). As for the ammunition, although the answer lies with the Czech Minister of Defense, it is getting very hard to produce ammunition because the industries have reached full capacity.
On the regional scale, the Deputy Minister was asked about the recent Iran-Saudi Arabia diplomatic move last Friday, commenting on it he said that it shows very positive signs yet it is still early for anything concrete yet Chinese involvement worries him greatly. Then questions were asked about Syria and if Assad is viewed as a partner, the answer being no, the Czech Republic rather deal with the NGOs even though the situation is becoming more complex specifically after the recent earthquakes. Same cooperation is happening to help the refugees to get them back step by step to their country from wherever they are like Lebanon.
Speaking of Lebanon, a big number of questions was asked specifically about the current crises whether political or economic. To which every answer came as follows. Jiří Kozák stated that Lebanon is an important country and that the Czech Republic will keep on defending it on the world scale, specifically in front of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which they preside and Lebanon is applying for it as well for next year. Lebanon can become an economic powerhouse, and for it to return to this status, himself and other diplomats are pressing the politicians to elect a president so the internal crises could be resolved. Until then they will continue working with organizations and providing the necessities for hospitals and schools.
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