29th Feb 2024


A Syrian legion for the Levant

  • Czechoslovak emigres understood that 'Freedom is not free' (Photo: Josh Zakary)

The country known from books of politology as a hero of a some difficult 20th centurty moments, Czechoslovakia, might offer inspiration for the present situation with Iraq and Syria.

Its freedom was at stake in both World Wars, but it was overwhelmed by a more powerful neighbourhood. This is why the brightest chapter of its military tradition comes from the armed units of Czechoslovak emigres fighting for the freedom of their country from abroad.

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Czechoslovak legions were instrumental for gaining independence in 1918, fighting on the Russian, French, and Italian fronts.

Their sons and daughters then fought Nazism in the colours of the British Royal Air Force or Army, American, or Soviet troops.

To win peace will take a battle

But where is the connection with Syria and Iraq?

In the history of Europe you can hardly find a more massive wave of immigration than the current flow of people, mainly from Syria and Iraq.

Many of them, young men, saying their dream is to return home, currently languish in establishments for asylum seekers, in fact, in former military barracks in European countries.

They came yesterday; they don’t have plans for tomorrow, waiting offers of integration.

After Paris we’re all asking ourselves: How do we address the core of the crisis?

How do we stop and defeat Daesh [another name for Islamic State], while avoiding the accusation, especially by Western neo-Marxist intellectuals, Muslim brotherhoods, or the Arab street of “Western hegemonic war”?

How do we end the medieval, barbarian terror and avoid the scenarios of Afghanistan and Iraq? There, gaining hearts and minds of the local population was hard, and was often destroyed by the populism of local leaders and the disunity of the international community.

One thing is clear. To win peace in Syria and Iraq will take a battle. But who has the biggest credibility and the motivation fight it?

The answer is, in my opinion, two-fold.

We have an international coalition against Daesh, which must continue. But we have to do more. A credible peace can be brought only by Syrians and Iraqis themselves.

So far this year, close to 1 million people have come to Europe, mainly from Syria and Iraq. Just two percent of that is almost 20,000.

If there are 20,000 eager to liberate their homeland, aspiring to build a better future for their children, this would already be a substantial force.

If they were well trained, motivated, payed, equipped, deployed, and supported, they can succeed better than anyone else. Their main support should come from the coalition against Daesh and from the brave Kurdish forces.

Not the geographic and cultural “West”, but peace loving forces joining against evil without a hidden agenda.

Many Europeans do not trust refugees. For an important part of the European population, the migrants (at least part of them), face an image problem.

People ask, perhaps, politically incorrect questions: Are they really fleeing evil or just seeking better jobs? What will happen to Syria if it’s left empty?

A joint campaign by the international coalition and the emigre compatriots would certainly change this.

Yes, there is a complex political theatre and an even more difficult battlefield.

But this new force should go into a field made ready by diplomacy. With clear, negotiated rules of engagement and a sound democratic mission statement, such a force can work miracles.

'Freedom is not free'

It won’t be easy to put together. But it’s not the first time in history we’ve managed to work wonders.

The late Czech president, Vaclav Havel, was the kind of patriot who wanted to change things in his homeland despite the high costs at that time.

Later he gave us more insight into his motivation, when he said: “I don't think it hurts occasionally to remind people who live in totalitarian states, subtly perhaps, that they might also do something about their own domestic totalitarianism, instead of just running away from it. If I demand that Westerners not think merely of their own particular interests and that they behave as all of us should behave - that is, as though we were immediately responsible for the fate of the whole of society - then I see no reason why I shouldn't demand the same of people living in totalitarian countries.”

The next page of Syrian and Iraqi history deserves to be more positive.

It needs to be written by Syrians and Iraqis themselves – regardless of their religion or ethnicity. It won’t be easy. It probably won’t be popular. But it can bring peace and dignity.

Czechoslovak soldiers abroad understood what US air force colonel Walter Hitchcock later formulated in four magical words: “Freedom is not free.”

Jaroslav Kurfurst is the Czech ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, writing in his personal capacity


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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