Czech Defense Minister unshaken by poll revealing extremism in the Army, sociologist says it reflects society
An opinion survey among soldiers that discovered some Czech Army personnel hold extremist views also revealed some positive results, according to Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnický (ANO). "The soldiers have my full trust and I stand behind the Army 100 %," he said after Chief of General Staff Josef Bečvář presented the findings of the survey to MPs on the Defense Committee in the Czech lower house on 7 October.
The Army will continue to analyze the results of the poll, which was commissioned two years ago. Stropnický said he does not want to commission more research now but will review the conditions under which the current survey was conducted.
The Czech Defense Minister said a positive finding of the poll, for example, is the way soldiers view their commanding officers. Trust in commanders is at 84 % and trust in the Chief of the General Staff and Defense Minister are at similar levels.
More than three-quarters of the soldiers expressed their willingness to defend the current democratic regime. The chair of the Defense Committee, Czech MP David Kádner (Úsvit - Dawn of Direct Democracy) said he considers the survey to be a useful aide to legislators' work.
After a one-hour meeting on 7 October, the committee will return to the survey results in an upcoming session. The 7 October convening was closed to the public, but the opinions of the soldiers had already been leaked by the Prima television station.
Stropnický called that publicizing of the internal survey results a total failure. Czech MP Jana Černochová (ODS - Civic Democratic Party), who is a Defense Committee member, told journalists that the survey's information about whether soldiers are satisfied with their arms, equipment and training system is beneficial to the MPs.
The Czech News Agency reported that Czech MP Ivan Gabal (KDU-ČSL - Christian Democrats) said Prima had engaged in sensationalism by reporting the information about soldiers' attitudes out of context. Bečvář also said the information publicized had been taken out of context.
The Chief of the General Staff pointed out that the other findings were favorable to the Army. For example, 95 % of respondents said they support the sovereignty of the state.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD - Social Democrats) said some of the soldiers' responses were thought-provoking while others seemed like warning signs. "Nevertheless, I would greatly dislike it if a sole survey were to distort people's views of the Army of the Czech Republic. My experience during the year and a half that I have been in contact with the Army command and the Army rank and file has told me something that is quite different from what the survey found," he said.
Prima reported that the survey found some soldiers would support radical political groups and that 5 % of currently serving soldiers attend extremist demonstrations. Roughly half of the soldiers said they would support a political party offering a radical solution to the "Romani question".
The internal survey was commissioned in 2013 by then-Chief of General Staff Vlastimil Picek. Military psychologists from the General Staff surveyed 1 615 soldiers from various military units.
Gabal: Survey of Army was well done, the Army is a reflection of society
MP Gabal, who is a sociologist by profession, responded to news server Romea.cz's questions about the results of the survey of officers and soldiers. "It's a robust, standard piece of research that has contributed quality results. It is neither a manipulation nor a slur," he said.
Prima's recent reportage pointed out that 75 % of the officers and soldiers surveyed find Romani people absolutely unacceptable, 71 % consider the biggest danger facing the country to be refugees, and every third member of the military surveyed believes the USA, a NATO ally, poses a security threat to the Czech Republic. The television station also reported that according to the conclusions of the survey, every eighth employee of the General Staff is a security risk.
Stropnický has not denied those results. Gabal told news server Romea.cz that "I publicly told Patrik Kaiser of Prima that his work was not professional because he took those results out of context."
"The survey contributes very essential findings about the internal climate in the Army and the degree of trust among its members, both horizontally and vertically," Gabal continued. "As far as critical reservations go, the soliders feel the main problems are to do with arms, equipment and financing, which we have constantly been discussing and for which we are seeking reforms."
As an experienced sociologist, Gabal was not surprised by the "scandalous" results of the research: "When it comes to basic attitudes about ethnic relations, etc., the survey is a mirror depicting Czech society and the Army is simply no different than the rest of society." He said it is important to follow conditions in the Army, to know the soldiers' opinions and positions, and to take the survey results seriously as essential information and work with its facts.
"The media should approach the reporting of any information about our defense capabilities responsibly and debate what is essential, not take partial, problematic results out of context to create a tabloid scandal," he concluded. Gabal believes it would be appropriate for the ministry to deliver the research results to journalists or at least make a substantial portion of them available.
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