Kurdistan: From the Perspective of Slovakia
Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself and what you are doing right now?
My name is Pavol Demes and I’m a foreign policy analyst who lives in Bratislava, Slovakia. I have formally worked with several NGO’s also served the Slovak government. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 I worked at the Ministry of Education. Then, I became the foreign minister and foreign adviser to the president of Slovakia. Currently, I’m a freelancer and a political analyst as a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund.
I’m aware of your recent visit to Iraq and Kurdistan. Can you tell me more about that?
I visited Iraq last year, twice. I was a guest of our embassy there and I went to learn more about Iraq and Kurdistan. My second visit was an invitation from your Minister of Human Rights to moderate a panel at a conference about terrorism in which I had the privilege of visiting Kurdistan. I flew from Baghdad to Erbil where we have a Slovak consulate. I visited several cities in Kurdistan and met with the locals and the Christian community as well as several religious leaders in order to have a better understanding of Kurdistan. Impressed – it is the least I can say about my views on Kurdistan. Not only was I amazed by the historical context but also by the level of construction and progress in the growing region of Iraq.
In a more political context, what’s your view of the ongoing developments in Kurdistan?
Generally speaking, Iraq is currently in a very complicated political situation, there are concerns about the future of Iraq and whether it will survive as one country or not. There are signs of many dividing lines in the political lives of the people in Iraq, also clashes between various religious groups are striking, especially between the Shiites and Sunnis Also, for us Christian Europeans to see a large number of Christians in danger in Iraq who are forced to migrate to Kurdistan, Europe or the USA shows that Iraq is currently in turmoil. I’m hoping that these issues will be settled peacefully and the Iraqis will soon find peace in their country.
You have previously stressed on the point that you believe Kurds are already mentally detached from Iraq, what is your vision for the future of the Kurds?
I believe that the KRG in comparison with the rest of Iraq is a developed region that is a homogenous part of Iraq where identities are clearly defined. It’s not hard to see that it is a secure place, and economically, rapidly developing region. People in Kurdistan are investing a lot into their education, infrastructure, as well as developing their relationships with other regions and other countries. I was surprised to find the number of diplomatic ties and consulates in Kurdistan. The future of Kurdistan is intertwined with the stability of Iraq but also with a broader regional evolution in the greater Middle East and I think it is causing a lot of dilemmas for politicians in Kurdistan on how to handle both domestic situations or evolution with a broader region, because on one hand you can think about independence and self determination but the lesson in central-eastern Europe is that after the changes you need to not only work on development inside your country but also ties and understanding in the broader international community. You need to develop relations. I think that the future of Kurdistan will be dependent on both domestic and international relations.
Given your experience and knowledge about issues between minorities in conflict with majorities in several countries such as the Czech-Slovakia split how do you view the similarities and differences between those states and Kurdistan-Iraq?
I think the differences between Kurds and Arabs are bigger than the differences between Czechs and Slovaks, but even we were unable to live together in one state. On the other hand you also have other ethnically divided nations that live together in one country such as Belgium and Spain or Britain, which are democracies that have figured out how to live in harmony. It’s also a matter of mutual interest and a matter of belonging to international groups such as the European Union which holds these countries together. What I see in Kurdistan and Iraq now, after the militarization of clashes and conflicts, I think that Maliki and his government cannot survive. I think that he just proved that he is not a leader who could hold a country together and someone who could resolve many conflicted situations. He cannot hold the central government and the KRG together nor can he hold the Shiites and Sunni’s together. He mishandled the situation and created further divisions in Iraq. So for that reason we will see that how leadership in Baghdad will be able to resolve these military operations that have occurred which are far from standard politics and what the new leadership will be able to offer Kurdistan. Whether Kurdistan should or should not remain with Iraq is currently an open question.
And your last thoughts about Kurdistan in general?
What I saw during my visit to Kurdistan were only symbols of Kurdistan and not of Iraq. I saw how proud people are to be Kurds and how they are, in the middle of chaos and instability, building something stable. For me the comparison between Baghdad, where I could not even go to a market without security, whereas in Erbil I was walking around freely, I found that the KRG and Iraq two different worlds. During my visit I was quite impressed with the booming of infrastructure, economy, and education in Kurdistan. From an EU point of view, I can say that to us Kurds are often associated with the rest of Iraq believing that in terms of chaos and instability they are the same. Therefore I believe that the Kurds should spend more time and energy on public relations and telling the world who they are and how they operate within Kurdistan and this should be irrespective of how the future of the country will evolve. Developing better communications with Europe and the rest of the world will help you become better understood. I believe that there are still chances for the Iraqi citizens of Iraq to live together in harmony. During this chaotic time in Iraq a generally approved-of leader is needed that can not only raise people’s morale about a brighter future in Iraq but also act as a mediator for the citizens to the rest of the world.
Interview by: Biza Barzo
Interviewee: Pavol Demes