Full-Text-Interview-with-Czech-Amb.-In-Seoul
Shown above is a bird’s eye view of Praha, the capital city of the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of Czech Republic Embassy in Seoul

H.E. Gustav SLAMEČKA invites Korean companies to the Czech Republic

The Korea News Plus had an exclusive interview with Czech Amb. H.E. Gustav SLAMEČKA regarding Czech’s investment environment and the prospect of bilateral ties between Korea and the Czech Republic on the occasion of the 2021 Czech National Day, which falls on October 28. _ ED.

 

Q: First of all, please introduce the significance of your Independence Day on October 28 and make an independence Day message to our readers.

A: It’s also known as Foundation of the Independent Czechoslovak State Day. On October 28, 1918, the first independent Czechoslovak state was founded from territories that were previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

President Tomáš G. Masaryk became the leader of a state that had been based on the President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, especially the principle of self-determination.

Czechoslovakia became one of Europe’s first successful multi-party parliamentary democracies, and it was stable enough to withstand the international depression of the 1930s. The “First Republic” only lasted two decades until Nazi Germany occupied the Czech lands in 1938-39.

Although Czechoslovakia no longer exists today, Czechs continue to view October 28 as the day of their national founding. On this day, the president of the Czech Republic, together with key members of the government, places flowers on the grave of President Masaryk.

In the evening, the Czech president presents state honors to the leaders of cultural and social life in the Czech Republic. The ceremony takes place in Vladislav Hall at the Prague Castle.

In October 1919, the first authorized national holiday was October 28 – the day of the birth of Czechoslovakia. Already in the interwar period, October 28 was the day of rest – for its violation, even the fine could be imposed.

Probably the saddest celebrations of October 28 were celebrated on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1938 when this day even remained a normal working day. It was shortly after the Munich Conference, and instead of celebrations, being prepared for over a year, the nation was grieving.

The Lidové noviny newspaper appeared with the title “Celebration in tears.” Almost the same day, exactly twenty years after the legalization of October 28, it was canceled in October 1939. Nevertheless, this day was the day of the largest demonstrations for the entire Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia area.

Two years later, London’s foreign resistance leadership planned this day as the original date of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. After the war, the status of October 28 gradually changed dramatically. The Communists, who had already fought for the abolition of this national holiday in 1925, tolerated it only until 1951, when it was replaced by Nationalization Day.

Shop windows were on this day decorated by posters with the inscription: “There would be no October 28 without November 7,” reminiscent of the importance of the October Revolution in Russia.

In November 1951, the only national holiday was on May 9 – the Day of Liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army. Days of rest remained, except for January 1 and December 25, 26, only Labor Day on May 1, and Nationalization Day on October 28. 

In September 1988, October 28 – the day of creation of an independent Czechoslovak state, was added to May 9 as a national holiday. So this day, celebrated in the year of 70th anniversary of the Republic’s birth, became a celebration of the approaching end of Communist power.

At the end of October 1918, long-standing efforts of the Czech political representation and the Czech nation as a whole were crowned, and the independent state was established. Nowadays, we memorialize the Day of the Declaration of Czechoslovakia as a national holiday.

In the course of autumn 1918, the end of World War I was drawing near; it was a terrible conflict, which irrecoverably marked Europe and influenced the lives of millions of people. Austria-Hungary, not loved but tolerated state by Czech people, inhabited by a number of other nations of central and Eastern Europe, was at the end of its tether.

The way to independence, about which they had not dreamed of, became open to national entities. The Czech political representation concentrated in the national Committee was preparing for gaining independence. Nevertheless, it had not expected such a fast breakdown of the monarchy at the end of October 1918.

It can be documented by the fact that some of the leading representatives of the National Committee were not present in Prague then as they left, upon permission of the Austria-Hungarian government, to Geneva where they intended to meet the representatives of the exile political representation.

Not even the exile representatives concentrated around the subsequent president T.G. Masaryk did not expect such a fast end of the war. Edvard Beneš expected the end of the conflict as late as in spring 1919 when the will of states of the so-called Triple Entente supported by American troops on the west front was expected to prevail.

In spite of this fact, the exile representatives a made number of steps to markedly strengthen the position of exile organs; these steps resulted in the acknowledgment of the Czechoslovak National Council, the supreme organ of the national revolt, as a future Czechoslovak government from the side of the individual Triple Entente powers in the course of 1918.

An imaginary full stop that followed these efforts was the proclamation of the so-called Washington Declaration on October 18, 1918, in which T.G. Masaryk declared in the name of the interim government the future Czechoslovak state, including its basic principles.

As it has been mentioned, at the end of October 1918, part of the leading political representatives was not present in Prague. Those who had not left for Geneva took advantage of the fact that the population understood the publication of the Andrássy Note as the end of the monarchy.

In fact, the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gula Adrássy only asked the American president to start peace negotiations based on the preliminary formulated conditions. However, among those conditions, there was also a point concerning the right of nations to self-determination.

People gathered in the streets, and a spontaneous removal of monarchy symbols began. The group of five significant politicians, later known as so-called “men of October 28” – Antonín Švehla, František Soukup, Jiří Stříbrný, Alois Rašín a Vavro Šrobár started to negotiate with the Austrian authorities.

One of the most important acts was the takeover of the Corn Office in Prague, which was in charge of supplying Czech countries with foodstuff. Its distribution was one of the most burning problems, and therefore, the control over this office provided great power to the “men of October 28.” All the efforts were crowned by the adoption of the first law of the independent state, declaring that the Czechoslovak state came true.

In the days that followed, the news on the establishment of the state was disseminated outside of Prague. Despite having no inkling on Prague events, representatives of the Slovak nation stood up for future Czechoslovakia at the gathering in Turčianský Svätý Martin on October 30, 1918.

The foundation of the state was definitely crowned after the arrival of the delegation from Switzerland. At the meeting of the National Committee on November 14, 1918, the interim constitution was adopted, and the first Government of the Czechoslovak Republic headed by Karel Kramář was appointed. T.G. Masaryk was unanimously elected as the first president.

 

Q: Please introduce prevailing industry and special products of the Czech Republic.

A: The economy of the Czech Republic is a developed export-oriented social market economy based on services, manufacturing, and innovation that maintains a high-income welfare state and the European social model.

The Czech Republic is also the most industrialized country in European Union. Industrial production accounts for 37.8 percent of the economy, while services account for almost 60 percent and agriculture for 2.5 percent.

More than half of Czech industrial production is exported. The biggest trade partner of the Czech Republic is the EU. Intra-EU trade accounts for 84 percent of the Czech Republic’s exports. In terms of imports, 76 percent come from the EU Member States. 

The most important branch of the Czech industry is vehicle manufacturing, including motorcycles and trailers, which has more than doubled in the past decade. The Czech Republic has a long aviation tradition and has always had a strong presence in the aerospace sector. 

The other main pillars of the Czech industry are the mechanical engineering, metals, chemical, and food sectors. The energy, construction, and consumer goods industries are also important components of the Czech economy.

The major services are research and development, ICT and software development, nanotechnology, and life sciences, among others. 

 

Q: Please explain the investment environments of the Czech Republic for potential Korean investors and any special favors to foreign investors.

A: The Czech Republic is one of the most successful Central and Eastern European Countries in terms of attracting foreign direct investment.

The main reasons to invest in the Czech Republic are a safe investment environment; a skilled and well-educated workforce; favorable labor costs and price stability; a central location in Europe; dense and high-quality infrastructure; and a transparent system of investment incentives.

Also included in the reasons are a strong focus on R&D; a stable social and political system; EU membership; mentality, culture, and attitudes similar to those of western countries; and high quality of life

 

Q: What do you think would be the most attractive industrial sectors for Korean companies to invest in the Czech Republic?

A: The change in the structure of foreign direct investment indicates a new trend in the Czech Republic. The number of demanding projects in the fields of research, development, and business support services is rapidly increasing.

New investors, as well as those companies that formerly only came to the country with a production program, are now transferring their higher-value-added development activities (technology centers and business support services centers) to the Czech Republic.

The most attractive industrial sectors for Korean companies to invest would be information and communication technology; life sciences; nanotechnologies and advanced materials; technology transfer and applied research; business support services; and the retail sector.

 

Q: Please introduce some outstanding Korean companies’ activities in the Czech Republic.

A: More than 70 Korean-owned companies currently operate in the Czech Republic, including major international companies such as Hyundai Motor Group, Nexen Tire, GS Caltex, Doosan, Hanwha, Hyundai Mobis, Plakor, Sungwoo Hitech, Kiswire, and Koswire, which chose the Czech Republic as a gateway to European markets or for their EU headquarters.

Korean companies employ over 16,000 people in the Czech Republic. The most active sectors include the automotive industry, plastics and metal processing, high-tech manufacturing, IT and software development, environmental technologies, and finance.

 

Q: Please introduce tourist attractions of the Czech Republic for Korean tourists abroad.

A: We can expect the whole tourism industry to resume in post-COVID-19 times in a bit different way than we were used to. Travelers and tourists might be more sensitive about healthcare, destination safety, social distancing, shared accommodation, etc.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that we might see more people searching for travel to nature, rental cars, or even solitary evenings of watching stars in deserted places. In this sense, Slavkovský les (Slavkov Forest) of the famous spa city of Karlovy Vary and its healing valley offers a great opportunity for strolling and forest therapy.

On the other hand, while driving rental cars, Korean travelers could easily organize a romantic tour around many Czech castles and chateaux forts – we have technically around 2000 of them in the Czech Republic.

But I would recommend the South Moravian UNESCO area of Lednice and Valtice castles that are located in the midst of wineries and are surrounded by a peaceful landscape and preserve local Moravian folk culture, costumes, and music till nowadays.

 

Q: Please let us know your point of view on how to strengthen further the close economic and cultural ties between Korea and the Czech Republic in the years to come.

A: South Korean government has introduced its strategic mission for the country’s future called “New Deal.”

Likewise, in the Czech Republic, we also have a strategy called “Innovation Strategy of the Czech Republic 2019–2030”. Part of the strategy is the introduction of a new brand, “The Czech Republic: The Country for The Future.”

In this strategy, we have major pillars like financing and evaluation of research and development; national start-up and spin-off environment; digital state, manufacturing, and services; innovation and research center; smart investment; mobility and construction environment; and smart people.

These strategies introduced are very similar to the Korean ones in terms of the contents. This indicates that we two countries can closely cooperate in many more fields in the near future as we head with significantly compatible strategies.

In terms of cultural ties, even though there were a number of visible cultural events held in both countries during the last three decades after the diplomatic relations were established in 1990, still it is necessary to support the establishment and subsequent development of long-term cooperation between institutions, universities, artists, and scientists.

With the aim of raising public awareness of the Czech Republic in Korea, it is no less important to support Bohemian Studies, publishing Czech literature works in Korean, and raising a new generation of translators.

The most effective way, how to develop the cultural exchange and thus the ties between both of the countries in general, is to initiate and systematically support exchange programs providing platforms, where artists and scientists will create works together based on the exchange of their knowledge, experiences, and abilities and be presented on the international level.

Yeo studied German in Seoul. He has worked as a journalist for the past 40 years. He has mostly covered diplomacy, foreign schools, regional festivals, culture and other areas. He can be reached at hyeo7832@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.