Recently, the Prague Forum has travelled to Israel, where the Director Hans Weber has met in Tel Aviv with the Czech Ambassador to the country, His Excellency Martin Stropnicky, The conversation has followed many directions.

Prague Forum:  Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself?

Ambassador:  Thank you for asking. Men love to talk about themselves. But don’t worry, I will try to keep it short. To say something about myself? I am a man of many occupations and interests. I am an actor, director, song writer, occasional book writer, diplomat, member of the parliament, minister. I believe it is enough. I promise, I will not become a doctor.

Prague Forum:  What led you to study at DAMU and your acting career?

Ambassador:  Originally, I wanted to study Foreign Trade at the Faculty of Economics. But since my family didn’t have the best reputation with the communist régime, these studies were not an option for me. Paradoxically, as a student of the Theater Faculty, I wasn’t seen as „any threat“ to them. Just another example of how foolish the communist regime was.

Prague Forum:  Could you please tell us something about your diplomatic and political career’s main steps before being appointed as the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Israel? Is it the first time you being an Ambassador?

Ambassador:  After the velvet revolution in 1989 we could finally decide about our life freely. How magical! So, people started fulfilling their dreams which were unrealistic until then. I came across an ad in the newspapers, went for an interview and suddenly became an employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry was full of various people compromised by their cooperation with the previous regime and thus accepted newcomers. Soon after, I was sent to the diplomatic academy in Vienna, where I studied for a year. When I returned, Czechoslovakia was about to split into two states and therefore there was an urgent need for forty new ambassadors representing the newly established state, the Czech Republic. An opportunity like this happens once in a thousand years and I was lucky to be part of it. Consequently, President Václav Havel sent me to Portugal. Later, I was sent to Italy and then to the Vatican, where I spent the Jubilee year 2000. I was just lucky. Israel is therefore my fourth diplomatic mission.

My political career would make for a novel. I will cut it short. In 2013 the political scene in Czech faced serious government crises and a new party was established (“hnutí ANO”). A general disgust for politics reigned throughout the society. At that moment, the center-right party “Hnutí ANO”, offered a promising change to the public. We came second in the early elections and thus became members of the government coalition. I became a Member of Parliament and Minister of Defense. Many thought that I would be replaced by someone else in a few weeks, but I was the first Minister of Defense who served for the entire mandate of four years. Following the next successful elections, I was named Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister. However, the government did not pass the vote of confidence and I returned to diplomacy. I am sorry, I could not say it more concisely.

Prague Forum:  Have you been able to travel across the country where you serve (pandemic allowing it)? What has impressed you the most?

Ambassador:  I am just starting my fifth year as Ambassador of the Czech Republic in Israel, so I had the opportunity to travel the country quite thoroughly. It is an extremely diverse and beautiful country: lowlands, mountains, rivers, desert, Dead Sea, Sea of ​​Galilee, rocks, cliffs and beaches on the coast. The sea is almost everywhere. In addition, there are a number of completely unique monuments in Israel. Jericho, probably the oldest city, was founded 9000 years before Christ. Nazareth, Bethlehem, Hebron, and of course Jerusalem – the cradle of civilizations and cultures. After my stay in Rome and the Vatican, I thought that nothing more could surprise me, but I was wrong.

Prague Forum:  Could you please tell us about the major topics in the relationship between the Czech Republic and Israel? What are the economic and diplomatic relations between Israel and the Czech Republic?

Ambassador:  Relations between Israel and Czechia are traditional and very strong. Diplomatic contacts date back to 1926, when the Czech consulate was established in Jerusalem. The following year, President T.G. Masaryk visited Israel as the first European head of state. In 1948, Czechoslovakia provided much-needed weapons to Israel when the small state was fighting against multiple invaders. In 1990, President Václav Havel continued the tradition of this mutual friendship. Friendship with Israel is a constant in our foreign policy. We often defend Israeli interests in international organizations, such as the UN or the EU. Business relations between both countries are also intense. We export goods worth approximately one billion US dollars to Israel. But I guess we will probably talk more about economic cooperation later.

Prague Forum:  Czechs have historically had a strong Jewish minority. Are there a lot of ethnic Czechs in Israel (also counting second or third generations)? If so, how do they feel about their Czech origin?

Ambassador:  Yes, many people of Czech origin live in Israel. On the one hand, there are seniors who came here after the war as children with their parents, but we also register a number of mixed marriages from the period after November 1989. Czech women are popular wives in Israel. Naturally, they have children with their partners, which is why we founded the so-called Czech school, where little Israelis of mixed origin learn Czech words, songs and the like. There is a lot of interest in the school. Mothers want their children not to lose their ties to Czechia.

Prague Forum:  Could you please tell us about the main economic opportunities that the Czech Republic could offer to Israeli companies and the other way around?

Ambassador:  Mutual trade exchange is intense. Our exports to Israel are dominated by passenger cars. Škoda is the best-selling European brand. Israel mainly exports electronic and control devices, chemicals and pharmaceutical products to the Czech Republic. The investment possibilities are considerable: water management and waste industry, railway and rail transport, the energy and chemical industry, the information and communication sector and, last but not least, the defense industry.

Prague Forum:  How is the current ongoing war in Europe perceived in Israel?

Ambassador:  About one million Russians and Ukrainians live in Israel. This is not a circumstance that makes things easier. However, the position of the local political representation on the issue of the war in Ukraine is clear. Russian aggression was and is unequivocally condemned, however Israel needs to maintain some sort of political truce with Russia over access to Syrian airspace, which the Russians control. Israel provides significant humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has also built a large field hospital there. Israel also helps in the field of increasing the defense capability of the Ukrainian army, providing specific technology.

Prague Forum:  Israel has been among the leaders in the vaccination campaign. How has the COVID-19 impacted ordinary lives, and how is it affecting them now?

Ambassador:  Israel managed the covid pandemic as one of the most successful countries in the world. Israel didn’t discuss too much, but acted. Right from the start, Israel contractually secured a large number of vaccines and introduced many emergency measures. There was also no confusion about competences or public information, as in many European countries. Israel is simply used to handling emergency situations rationally, making decisions with energy and courage and therefore also taking responsibility. This had a major impact on handling Covid. Of course, everything was not easy here either, but as a whole, Israel coped well with the pandemic.

Prague Forum:  What are the Israelis like? What are their traditions and customs? Could you compare them with Czech citizens? Do Israelis tend to perceive themselves as part of the Western world?

Ambassador:  Well, that’s the million dollar question. The inhabitants of Israel come from almost every corner of the world, so it is really impossible to put them in one box. Still, I’ll try a characterization. Generally, they are very bright, self-confident, assertive and goal-oriented.

They love life, have big families, have a sense of humor and are extremely proud of their homeland. I don’t need to say that they are very good and tough businessmen, it is widely known. And, they like Czechs!

Prague Forum:  How do you see the evolutions in the relationship between the main ethnical communities in Israel?

Ambassador:  Perhaps everyone in the world knows about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many at least have an inkling of its history, vicissitudes, irreconcilability, complexity, duration and extremely difficult path to correction. The peace process is stagnating, and frankly, I don’t see much of a way for the situation to improve in the foreseeable future. But this does not mean that the approximately one million Palestinians who live in the state of Israel are suffering and are a threat or a source of permanent tension for the Jewish population. Of course, I’m not talking about militant groups or even terrorists. But a Palestinian who has a job in Israel, a decent salary and quality services definitely has no reason to move somewhere. But if you’re asking if there will ever be peace in the Middle East, I can’t answer that. But if someone succeeds, the Nobel Prize will not be enough for him.

Thank you!

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