Czech the News

July/August 2003, Volume XII, Number 4


Premier Spidla Visits the USA, Meets President Bush

Vaclav Havel Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Message from the Ambassador

News in Brief

Texas Countrymen Welcome the Prime Minister

Peter Rafaeli Receives the Gratias Agit Award

Czechs Continue Their Support to Cuban Exile

Group of Czech Governors on Study Tour of US

Introducing the Czech Government: Defense Minister

Minister of Industry and Trade: Milan Urban

Czech Business Delegation in the USA

Genealogical Conference to be Held in Houston

US Imports From the Czech Republic in 2003

What is New in the Czech Economy

Study in Prague with AIFS

Celebrating Czech Heritage: 42nd Annual Wilber Czech Festival

Premier Spidla Visits the USA, Meets President Bush

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla visited the United States from July 14 to July 20, 2003. His visit included Washington, DC; Norfolk, VA; Houston, TX; and Miami, FL. Mr. Spidla, who led the Czech government delegation, was accompanied by three members of his cabinet, Minister of Foreign Affairs Cyril Svoboda, Minister of Defense Miroslav Kostelka, and Minister of Industry and Trade Milan Urban.

On July 15, Prime Minister Spidla received a warm welcome from President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. They spent almost an hour (twice as long as scheduled) discussing transatlantic relations, reconstruction of Iraq as well as bilateral issues. Prime Minister Spidla reiterated the Czech offer to assemble a battalion to combat weapons of mass destruction. "Relations between the United States and the Czech Republic have a deep basis," said PM Spidla after the meeting. Later on, Mr. Bush talked about Mr. Spidla as "his friend and great man," whom he trusts. The new White House spokesman, Scott McClellan quoted George Bush as praising the Czech Republic as "a close friend and ally."

While in Washington, PM Spidla also met Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans. The Secretary of State Colin Powel accepted an invitation to a reception held by the Czech Embassy and attended the event in person.

After visiting the US capital, the Czech delegation made a brief stopover in Norfolk, VA to see the Norfolk Naval Station, including the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. From Virginia, the Czech "Air Force One" headed to Texas. In Houston, the Premier met the city's Mayor Lee Brown and visited the Hewlett Packard/Compaq Company. In the evening, Mr. Spidla addressed the Baker Institute. In his speech, entitled "The Czech Republic and Europe, the Future of Transatlantic Relations from the Czech Republic's point of view," he stressed the eminent importance of the Czech-American alliance. "The Czech Republic is one of the countries believing that NATO could and should play even a greater role in the fight against the danger of terrorism," he said. "NATO does not have a substitute."

From Houston, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla flew to Miami where he met with exiled Cubans. He also met with Honorary Consuls of the Czech Republic, and promoted Mr. Alan Becker (Fort Lauderdale) and George Novak (Atlanta) to the rank of Honorary Consul General.

Vaclav Havel Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, whose second term in office ended in February this year, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 23. Mr. Havel received the highest American civil award personally from President George W. Bush as a recognition of his achievements not only as the Czech President, but also as a dissident in communist Czechoslovakia.

Vaclav Havel, at that time a playwright, was a strong critic of the communist regime and spent several years in prison. "Vaclav Havel ridiculed the pretensions of an oppressive government and was viewed as an enemy of the state," said President Bush. "The most subversive act of this playwright was telling the truth about tyranny."

Before the ceremony, Vaclav Havel and George Bush met for a half-hour private conversation. President Bush also gave the medal to another ten personalities ranging from political figures and scientists to sportsmen and entertainers. Former President Havel is the first Czech to receive this prestigious award. Roughly 20 non-Americans out of approximately 300 awardees have previously received such an honor including Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Placido Domingo.

Message from the Ambassador

The key topic in the summer issue of our newsletter is the visit of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla in July. This grand visit turned out to be a great success. It was by far the largest trip of Czech government officials to the US in my career as Ambassador to Washington. The delegation included the Head of Government, three other cabinet ministers, including my "boss," Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, Czech entrepreneurs and members of the media. The warm reception of Prime Minister Spidla by President Bush is a valuable endorsement of the high standard of Czech-American relations and offers a good base for the future. Our countries are not only "allies" in the political and military sense of the word; the Czech Republic and the United States are also close friends and belong to the same, "western" civilization.

The good relations between our country, a future member of the European Union, and the United States, could also contribute to the gradual "healing" and betterment of relations between the Americans and some of the European powers, key members of the EU.

The debate on Transatlantic relations and the future of the US - Europe relationship was accentuated by Prime Minister Spidla at a dinner in the US Congress, where he said that he does not share the opinion that a conflict between Europe and the United States is still ahead. The Czech Republic will certainly be able to capitalize on its excellent relations with both the US and EU countries.

News in Brief

Beloved Czech Goalie Announces Return to NHL

One of the Czech Republic's most celebrated professional athletes, hockey goalie Dominik Hasek, announced on July 8 his return to the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings after just one year of retirement, Czech and international media reported. Arguably the best NHL goalie of all time, the "Dominator" secured a place in Czech hearts when he and Jaromir Jagr led the country's hockey squad to an improbable gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. "I'm hungry to play again, to fight for the Stanley Cup. I'm looking forward to being with my teammates again," Hasek said.

Czech Foreign Minister Visits Iraq

Cyril Svoboda met with U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer on July 12 and with senior Israeli leaders the following day during a major Middle Eastern diplomatic tour. In Baghdad, Svoboda reopened the Czech Embassy closed on the eve of the U.S.-led military operation to unseat President Saddam Hussein. Svoboda also discussed Iraqi reconstruction with Bremer, who said his Coalition Provisional Authority has studied Eastern European transformation and "welcomes any sort of advice from the Czech side." Foreign Minister Svoboda also visited the Czech military field hospital in Al-Basrah.

Following his trip to Iraq, FM Svoboda visited Israel, where he focused on economic issues. In talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister SilvanIraq Shalom on July 13, Svoboda discussed possible aircraft and truck sales to the Israeli Army.

Moving of Radio Free Europe agreed

Czech Foreign Minister, Mr. Cyril Svoboda, announced the agreement of Czech Republic and the USA on moving the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) premises from downtown Prague. The announcement came after the meeting with his American counterpart, Mr. Colin Powell at the end of July. The new location has been long sought for security reasons following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA. The new address of RFE/RL's headquarters has not yet been made public.

Texas Countrymen Welcome the Prime Minister

One of the destinations of the Czech delegation during the one-week visit to the USA in July was the city of Houston. Texas is a home of the world's largest Czech-American community. In the last census conducted in 2000, about 190,000 people throughout Texas claimed Czech origin, but the estimates of Czech descent are reaching almost a million. The visit of the Prime Minister Spidla was the first Czech official visit in this state.

Besides the scheduled political and business meetings, Mr. Spidla found time to meet with his fellow countrymen. He visited the construction site of the future Czech Cultural Center in Houston with his wife Viktorie. The Center is to open next year. Later he attended a social event organized by Czech countrymen associations. In front of several hundreds of Czech Americans, Mr. Spidla gave a short speech and thanked them for remembering their roots and original homeland. The evening continued with folk and country music, dancing and informal chatting. The Prime Minister shared his impressions of the evening with the Czech media: "I have enjoyed this evening a lot, because it was spontaneous. During a political career, you experience only a few simple and nice things like this."

Peter Rafaeli Receives Gratias Agit Award

Czech Cultural Center Houston Among Institutional Recipients

Fourteen individuals and three institutions from around the world received the Jan Masaryk Gratias Agit 2003 Award in Prague on June 19, 2003. The award is presented annually for promoting the good name of the Czech Republic. The award, given out since 1997, is named after Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovakia_s late Foreign Minister who died mysteriously in March 1948 shortly after the Communist coup.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, JUDr. Cyril Svoboda, presented this year's only U.S. individual recipient, the Hon. Consul General Peter A. Rafaeli, with the award. The presentation took place at the Cernin Palace in Prague - the official site of the Czech Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year's only U.S. institutional recipient was the Czech Cultural Center in Houston, TX.

Czechs Continue Their Support to Cuban Exile

During the last fourteen years, the Czech Republic has had a strong record in initiating and supporting international diplomatic actions aimed at promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world, including Cuba.

Following the recent oppression of dissidents on the island, Czechs were strong supporters of the EU position towards Cuba.

Prime Minister Spidla, while visiting the USA, have paid a two-day-visit to Miami, FL. His main goal there was to support the Cuban exile. On Fisher Island and later in Bongos Café, he met with prominent Cuban dissidents, freedom fighters and former prisoners of conscience.

Mr. Spidla sees a certain historical parallel between communist Czechoslovakia and today's Cuba. "The circumstances do not differ a lot, but that doesn't mean automatic guarantee that the change will be peaceful." said PM Spidla. The "velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia is an example for many Cubans, which they would like to follow. Spidla thinks that the peaceful transformation in Cuba will depend to a large extent on the approach by the Cuban-American community. The peaceful Czech experience could be of great inspiration in this process.

Group of Czech Governors on Study Tour of U.S.

Three Governors and two Vice-Governors concluded a study tour of the United States under a program run by the U.S. Department of State as guests of the U.S. Government. They visited Washington, DC; Louisville and Owensboro (sister city to Olomouc), KY; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Pittsburgh (sister city to Ostrava), PA; and New York City. The thrust of the study tour was to learn about local and regional municipal development. The intensive study tour included meetings with Mayors, municipal officials and other specialists.

In Pittsburgh, PA, they were treated to a dinner organized by the local chapter of SVU, the Pittsburgh-Ostrava Sister Cities Committee and Nadace VIA. The group was welcomed to the Czech Embassy by Ambassador Martin Palous before leaving Washington, DC and greeted in PA by Peter A. Rafaeli, the Honorary Consul General in Philadelphia.

Contributed by
Mr. Peter Rafaeli

Introducing the Czech Government: Defense Minister

Miroslav Kostelka, the new Minister of Defense and successor to Jaroslav Tvrdik, was appointed by President Vaclav Klaus on June 9, 2003, on nomination by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla.

The appointment of Minister Kostelka has taken place at a time when the successfully initiated reform of the armed forces won support in the Czech society, but it will need to be adapted to the newly defined financial framework. This framework will be based on the re-assessment of the priorities and possibilities of the country. For its long-term outlook, the Government of the Czech Republic has decided to place emphasis on the economy and financial stability of the Czech Republic, and that requires a reform of public finances, which will result in allocation of lower financial resources than originally planned and stipulated, also for the Army.

What is essential, on the other hand, is that the principles and aims of the reform are not changing. What is to be reviewed are the numbers of soldiers and civil employees, the proposed structure of control and command, the force structure as well as major projects, the proposed dislocation and the number of military garrisons.

Minister of Industry and Trade: Milan Urban

Mr. Milan Urban was appointed the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic in March 2003. Prior to his appointment as a Minister for Industry and Trade, he held the position of Chairman of the Social Democratic Club in the Parliament of the Czech Republic (since 2002). In his previous parliamentary term (1998 - 2002), Mr. Urban played a significant role in shaping the Czech economic environment. He was a member of the permanent commission for the supervision of the banking sector and a member of the Supervisory Council of the Czech Consolidation Agency. Mr. Urban is the successor of Mr. Jiri Rusnok.

Czech Business Delegation in the USA

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, accompanied by Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Milan Urban, other cabinet members and a business delegation, visited Washington, DC, Houston and Miami from July 14 - 20, 2003. In Washington, Prime Minister Spidla met with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Evans, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, members of Congress, and the representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In Washington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a Czech - U.S. Business Council lunch where Prime Minister Spidla and Minister Urban discussed EU accession, Czech energy policy, investment opportunities in biotechnology and other sectors, Czech participation in the reconstruction of Iraq and the development of small and medium size businesses.

Minister Urban addressed a business forum of Maryland based business representatives at the World Trade Center luncheon in Baltimore and also at a business seminar hosted by the Houston Business Partnership in Houston, Texas.

In his speeches in Baltimore and Houston, Minister Urban endorsed the positive effects of EU accession on Czech -U.S. trade and investment: "For U.S. firms, the Czech Republic's EU membership translates into better transparency of legislation and easier logistics. The outside border will disappear and the country will be a part of the European single market, the world's largest single market. [...] Our country has a sincere interest in further development of bilateral trade and economic relations with the U.S. More Europe does not mean less America," Mr. Urban said.

The Prime Minister, Minister Urban and business mission members met with representatives of U.S. engineering companies Bechtel, KBR, Halliburton and Schlumberger. Prime Minister Spidla and Minister Urban endorsed the readiness of Czech companies to team up with U.S. prime contractors in Iraq's reconstruction projects. The Czech companies offer expertise and design know-how in Iraqi oil explorations and refining. In the past, about 60% of oil refineries in Iraq, along with projects in other sectors, were accomplished by Czech consortia.

During the visit to HP/Compaq Center in Houston, Prime Minister Spidla and Minister Urban stressed the country’s interest to attract more activities of hi-tech multinationals such as HP. The government investment incentives for strategic services, in particular software development, research and development, maintenance, service and call centers, introduced in 2002 have been designed to foster the attractiveness of the country to hi-tech industries. Thanks to the involvement of Hewlett Packard in the Czech Republic, the country has become a leading European exporter of information technology and computers.

Genealogical Conference to be Held in Houston

This year, the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International prepares to host its 9th Genealogical and Cultural Conference in Houston, Texas where 187, 729 Texans who consider themselves to be of Czech heritage live. Specifically, the conference will be held from October 15 to October 18, 2003 in the Omni Houston Hotel Westside.

The CGSI was founded in 1988 in St. Paul, Minnesota and to this day welcomes anyone whose roots originate in the Czechoslovak area as it was in 1918 - comprising of Bohemian, German, Hungarian, Jewish, Moravian, Rusyn, Silesian, or Slovak ancestry. Currently, CGSI consists of 3,600 members from 50 states and 9 foreign countries.

The October Conference will consist of presentations on the following topics: Beginning Genealogy, Czech and Slovak Immigration History, Czech and Slovak Music, Folk Art and History, Religions, History of Sokol, Czech Passenger Arrivals, and Travel.

Conditions in Slovakia During the Period of Mass Immigration to US; Research of Birth, Death and Marriage Records in the Czech Republic; Preserving Our Slavic Roots in the 21st Century; Experience Using Austrian Military Records and Regimental Histories; and Some Favorite Czech, Moravian and Slovak Children's Stories are among the many issues that will be discussed.

Karel Kysilka, Commercial Attache with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin will join other speakers, such as Mirek Koudelka, Professional genealogist from Olomouc; Martin Pytr, Professional genealogist from Morkov, Czech Republic; and Daniel Necas, Assistant Curator at the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.

For more information please contact CGSI at P.O.Box 16225, St. Paul, MN 55116-0225; call 763.595.7799; or visit

U.S. Imports from the Czech Republic in 2003

In the period of January -May, 2003, U.S. imports from the Czech Republic stood at $546.9 million, up $97.8 million. This suggests that the total imports in 2003 will reach over $1.3 billion. The leading imports are ($ mil.):

Electronic, electro-technical components: 87.4

Steel, steel products: 38.5

Organic and inorganic chemicals: 31.8

Agricultural tractors: 27.4

Glassware and glass beads: 26.9

Pumps for ignition engines: 23.2

Aircraft parts: 20.3

Optical devices, components: 18.7

Rubber and plastics: 16.1

Furniture, chandeliers: 12.3

Turbines and aircraft engines: 11.2

Arms and ammunition, explosives: 11.4

Other significant imports from CR are industrial machinery, engineering components, industrial fittings, transport vehicles (including public transportation), toys and sports equipment, beer, confectionery products, textiles, apparel and footwear. N

Economic Digest

Growth of Industrial Production 3.2%

Czech industrial production grew by 3.2% year-on- year in May, down from April's 5.6%. The industrial output has been growing for nine consecutive months. The growth in May was based on increases in rubber and plastics industry, transport equipment, electricity, paper and metal.

June Inflation Below Forecast

The Czech economy got out of deflation in June and consumer prices started to grow again. Most analysts put month-on-month inflation for June at 0.2 percent and year-on-year CPI growth at 0.5 percent. 2004 prices are expected to grow faster, in particular due to EU accession, which will bring more tax burden.

GDP Growth Forecast for 2004 from 3.0 to 2.8 pct

Finance Ministry revised its forecast of Czech economic growth for next year from 3.0%, estimated in April, to 2.8%. Economic growth in 2003 is estimated at 2.4%.

Czech Currency

During the period May - August, the Czech crown (CZK) was trading in the range 26.40 - 29.10 CZK per 1 USD, reflecting the decline of USD exchange rate and strong position of Central European currencies.

Czech Wages increasing

Wages rose by 7.4% in the first quarter to Kc 15,407. The recent growth matters to companies more than the strong Crown. The wage rise in the private sector was 6%. Companies are saving by reducing the workforce. In the state sector, the average teachers' salaries grew by 16.7%, healthcare workers 14.9%, state employees by 12%.

Study in Prague With AIFS

Aside from reading our newsletter, many other opportunities to learn about the Czech Republic exist by living and studying there. The American Institute of Foreign Study is one of the notable organizations that offer year-round as well as semester-long programs for study-abroad in the Czech Republic. No prior Czech language knowledge is required as AIFS offers all its classes in English, excluding the first two weeks of intensive Czech language study.

AIFS offers a wide selection of 16 courses. American Literature from a European Perspective examines some of the most distinguished literary figures such as Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway, who left America for Europe. Among other things, the Sociological View of Societal Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe focuses on the rejuvenation of Czech economics and the shifts between social classes.

Other courses offered include Czech Film: One Hundred Years of Czech Cinema, 20th Century Central European History, European Culture and Religion in Prague, Bohemia and Central Europe, etc. All courses are taught by Charles University's staff.

One of the obvious advantages of studying abroad is that learning does not stop in the classroom. The resident halls, located near the Prague Castle, integrate Czech students with AIFS scholars, providing for a mix of interests, perspectives, and backgrounds.

Prague itself presents a wealth of theater, cinema, opera, art galleries, concerts, and coffee houses. AIFS also includes a three-day stopover in London at the start of the program and a weekend excursion to Vienna. Among others, the cities of Budapest, Berlin and Munich can be easily accessed from Prague.

The AIFS fall and spring semester programs are designed for students in good standing, who hold a minimum 2.5 GPA. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can apply and choose from a lengthy list of courses coupled with a wealth of cultural excursions. The courses are held at one of the oldest Central European Universities -- Charles University, founded in 1348 by emperor Charles IV, has a long history of hosting many bright minds, including the universally celebrated Franz Kafka.

The academic year begins on August 20, 2003 and ends May 7, 2004. Fall semester applicants have until October 15, 2003 to postmark their applications.

The program fees for the fall and spring semesters total 8, 995 U.S. dollars, and 16, 990 dollars for the academic year. AIFS also offers a variety of scholarships. The scholarship application deadline for the full academic year is April 15, 2003, but spring semester applicants have until October 15, 2003. To learn more about studying in Prague with AIFS, contact the Resident Director, Marketa Lepicovsky at, or call (420) 2-2416-2006. Also, do not forget to apply for a visa with the Czech Embassy by contacting their consular section at 202-274 9103 or

Celebrating Czech Heritage

42nd Annual Wilber Czech Festival

An estimated 40,000 people from throughout the United States came to the Czech festival in Wilber, Nebraska to celebrate Czech, Moravian, and Slovak culture and customs from August 1-3.

Wilber kicked off the annual festival with parades, brass bands and accordion bands, traditional performances of polka and Czech beseda dancers, sporting events, and much more. A highlight of this year's festivities was the Miss Czech-Slovak USA Pageant, where Czech and Slovak young ladies demonstrated their traditional beauty, charm and personality. Thanks to its founder and main organizer, John L. Fiala, the contest already has its 17-year history and so far almost 140 Czech-Slovak American beauty queens have taken part. This year's winner was Stasia Krivanek from Iowa.

During the festivities, visitors not only enjoyed the music and dancing, but also tasted Czech delicacies such as duck with sauerkraut and dumplings at the Hotel Wilber. They finished off their dinners with Czech "jitrnice" and "jelita" from Mayor Russ Karpisek's supermarket. For dessert, families savored traditional Czech pastries including kolaches at the Czech Bakery.

After enjoying Czech flavors, visitors could delve into Czech history and personalities of the Czech past by watching an outdoor theatre performance. A very emotional Czech Historical Pageant presented the most significant episodes and personalities of Czech history and legends (among others Father Cech, The Knights of Blanik, King Charles IV, John Huss, John Amos Comenius, T. G. Masaryk or Vaclav Havel).

Meanwhile, The Wilber Czech Museum (opened in 1965) presented exhibits from Czech(oslovak) history in the three-level building. Visitors had the opportunity to meet Ms. Irma Ourecky, the First Lady of the Czech Heritage in Nebraska, who offered assistance at the museum. Additionally, the Dvoracek Memorial Library and its Czech Heritage Room provided visitors' curiosities with various treasures, including Czech books, maps and jewelry.

From the food to the spirited dancing and history, the Czech character of Wilber can be traced to places like the "Food Misto" supermarket, or the "Czech Craft Shop" boasting with Czech national costumes, ceramics and handicraft items. The elderly can find their new homes in "The Czech Village." One of three local churches, "St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church," began to serve the Wilberites in 1949.

Wilber was founded in 1873 and already in that time the first Czechs started to settle there. Recently, the number of inhabitants is almost 2,000 with 70 percent claiming their Czech descent. Thanks to the numerous Czech community, Wilber became "The Czech Capital of Nebraska" in 1963, and on July 10, 1987 the then American president Ronald Reagan proclaimed the town "The Czech Capital of the USA."

Charlie Keller, President of the Nebraska Czechs of Wilber, his colleagues and all the volunteers deserve a great credit and applause for what they have achieved. Their hard work, dedication and personal engagement were praised by all guests of the festival, including the Honorable John Gale, Nebraska Secretary of State, and Colleen Seng, the Mayor of Lincoln, capital city of the state of Nebraska.

The festival has its followers and admirers among children and teenagers. The devotion of younger generations is particularly important to continue remembering and celebrating Czech heritage. Please mark your calendars for next year's Wilber Czech Days from August 6 - 8, 2004 where Wilber and America will continue to celebrate Czech culture and customs.

Contributed by
Ivo Broskevic