Debate ahead of US troop convoy seen as boosting public support

30-03-2015

Thousands of Czechs have been lining roads and motorways to welcome US soldiers passing through the country after manoeuvres in the Baltics. This public support has reportedly been more enthusiastic than on other stages on their trek – evidently in response to anti-American rhetoric heard in recent weeks.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Around 500 soldiers from the US Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment crossed from Poland into the Czech Republic on Sunday. They are on their way back to Germany after taking part in exercises in the Baltics.

The soldiers have encountered protesters bearing anti-American and anti-NATO banners.

But in the main they have been enthusiastically welcomed by large crowds, some waving the Stars and Stripes and waiting hours in the rain.

The trek, which includes organised meetings with the public, is aimed at showing solidarity with America’s allies in the region in the wake of Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine.

The “dragoon” convoy – in reference to the unit’s nickname – was on Sunday welcomed in that spirt in Pardubice by Jarmila Stibicová, a Charter 77 signatory and activist.

“It is a certain symbol, and it’s necessary to show our solidarity, like the Baltic States and Poland. To show we’re on their side and that we’re not disgracing the Czech nation.”

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Support for the Americans has reportedly been more enthusiastic in the Czech Republic than on the previous stages of the “dragoon ride”.

This follows media attention given to vocal critics such as ex-politician Jiří Vyvadil, who describes Ukraine’s Maidan as a Western-sponsored putsch.

Journalist Daniel Anýž covers US-Czech relations. He says many Czechs turned out for fear that mainly anti-NATO voices would be heard.

“I think that was a useful clarification, this convoy and mainly what happened before – I mean the propaganda from the other side.

“Suddenly the question was quite simple: Do you still believe that we are part of NATO and that we should still value membership? And when that question was asked in the light of the convoy, they just came out.”

So if it was something of a propaganda battle, did the US side win? Prague-based American commentator Erik Best says it may not be so simple.

“It’s hard to say what exactly they wanted to achieve. If they wanted to achieve the same thing that they got in the Baltic countries and in Poland, where it was almost just positive, then you can’t really say that that was achieved here.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK “If the objective was to raise a controversy and to show that more pro-Americans are going to turn out than pro-Russians, then again they succeeded.

“But it’s really hard to say what the objective was, because really what we have now is more of an awareness that there is a potential conflict with Russia. And I’m not really sure that was the objective of the US side.”

The American troops have been arriving in Prague on Monday. They will return to Germany in two days’ time.

30-03-2015