Czech Republic Consul-General to Erbil Michal Svoboda speaks during an interview at Rudaw headquarters in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, on March 19, 2019. Photo: Rudaw video
Michal Svoboda, the consul-general of the Czech Republic in Erbil, is in his first year of his post in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. During an interview with Rudaw English on Tuesday in Erbil, he spoke about his experience so far and relations between Prague and Erbil.
The CG says he appreciates how music and dancing can supersede, perceived religious, ethnic and language barriers, so he strongly believes in culture and the arts. He expressed this is a shared trait between the Czech Republic and Iraqi Kurdistan.
On Newroz: “I am very much enjoying and looking forward to the celebration, the peak of the celebration, so I would be very happy to share my wishes to every citizen in Iraqi Kurdistan, all the Kurds around the world,” he said.
The European country has been a strong supporter of the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga. Svoboda acknowledged the contributions, but added that the humanitarian sector is also very important.
Rudaw: There is a musical group from Czech who are visiting. I wanted to ask you about the importance of sharing cultures between the two peoples.
CG Michal Svoboda: It is really what I strongly believe in. I believe that culture, arts and music is the medium, the means of how people can understand each other better. Music does not have any boundaries, does not recognise any language barriers or ethnicities or religious inclinations - it's just the general message through music, through people singing. So this is very important for people to get together. And music is helping people to sing and dance together and understand each other, so when problems come or situations come, by knowing you better we will understand each other and we can solve difficult problems as well. So it's helping very much.
I am very much in support of it and this is something I would like to do in Kurdistan - to bring more culture and as the culture exchanges between Czech Republic and Iraqi Kurdistan and promote the culture of Czech Republic here, promote the culture of Iraqi Kurdistan in my country, so both places, both countries, both people and really understand much better about each other.
This is your first year as consul general here. Tell me a little about the development of the relationship between Czech and the Kurdistan Region. I know that military support and humanitarian aid have been a big part of your work here.
That's correct. We have been part of the coalition. We helped also in supporting the fight against ISIS. There were some supplies and also we focused very much on humanitarian support. For example last year we had a couple of projects in the Mosul area and Nineveh that were very much needed focusing on sanitation, on job opportunities, on enhancing and reconstructing schools. These are the areas. Education, health, access to health services and this is something we would like to continue also this year.
We also focused a bit on the area of Sinjar and the Yezidi community. One of my favourite projects was the project of the small bakery which we built in Khanike close to Duhok. And this bakery is actually making very good bread, I tasted it myself, and actually serving as the bakery for the village, and the profit is also used to supply the bread for IDP camps or for the orphans, so this is something that's becoming a part of the community. People are taking care of it, it became sustainable, and at the same time it's also helping those in need.
It's an interesting project of IDPs and refugees learning to help themselves. I wanted to ask specifically about the work in Sinjar. Are you optimistic that the Yezidi population is going to be able to recover?
I think we all must be optimistic because the people should have a right to go back to the places of their origin. We also tried, and will continue with, in the years before, we also built a small medical point in Sinjar in the area of Sherfadin and then this year we will continue to build another small hospital, supporting the doctors, supporting the medical supplies.
And then in a certain way we are really creating the situation where people can come back, they'll have access to health, health services, and I really hope this will come, the Yezidi community and every IDP can come back to their homes to live their lives again, to thrive, and to help develop this country, not only Iraqi Kurdistan but Iraq itself as a whole country.
The recovery and reconstruction of this region depends on economic development in Kurdistan. How is Czech involved with that?
Well of course Czech companies are generally ready to come and be part of reconstruction of this region, with the reconstruction projects. There is a tradition and some kind of history of very good relations between Czech Republic and Iraqi Kurdistan in the field of trade and commercial activities. So we're very much hoping with the new government that we could also join the others in helping reconstruct this region and the country.
One of the key issues worrying European governments right now is the return of ISIS members, ISIS fighters. From the point of view of a European diplomat, what do you think European states should be doing on this issue? Do you have faith in the Iraqi justice system to process these people?
Well I think this is a difficult question, a quiet complex issue. And I don't have simple answers. There are some, let's say, concerns and difficulties and discussion about how these people should be treated, what the world should do with these tendencies. And then it would require more discussion and thorough thought of what would be the best approach.
Kurdish New Year is coming up this week, Newroz. Would you like to share a message for the Kurdish people?
Yes, I am very much enjoying and looking forward to the celebration, the peak of the celebration, so I would be very happy to share my wishes to every citizen in Iraqi Kurdistan, all the Kurds around the world, and all those who are celebrating Newroz. And wishing people prosperity and happiness in the new year and faith in a good future.