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Minister at UN: Chicago connections were key to foundation of ...

Minister at UN: Chicago connections were key to foundation of …

Jan Hamáček, photo: ČTK/AP/Frank Franklin II

On Saturday the Czech Republic’s deputy prime minister, interior minister
and acting foreign minister Jan Hamáček addressed the 73rd session of the
United Nations General Assembly.

In his speech he expressed support for reform of the UN, reiterated
Prague’s commitment to human rights – and referenced one of the most
traumatic events in modern Czech history.

“This year the Czech Republic commemorates 50 years since Warsaw Pact
troops invaded Czechoslovakia.

“The experience of the 1968 invasion still resonates strongly, not only
in the Czech Republic, as the moment where many people lost faith in the
promises of a better world preached by the Soviet Union.

“This seemingly historical event, however, carries lessons still relevant
today and echoes in incidents which are still occurring in the world around
us.”

Mr. Hamáček additionally highlighted another key date for the Czech
nation.

“This year we also celebrate the centennial of our modern statehood and
independence, as Czechoslovakia was born in the crucible of the first world
war in 1918.

“The founder and first president of my country, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk,
rightly posited that states are sustained only by those ideals from which
they were born.

“The same must also be true about the United Nations.”

Moments before his address Jan Hamáček sat down with me for a short
interview largely focused on the Czech Centennial Gala, which had just
taken place in Chicago.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in Chicago in 1917

On Friday you were in Chicago for celebrations of the centenary of the
foundation of Czechoslovakia. Could you please tell us what were the
highlights of your visit to Chicago, which I suppose is the city outside
the Czech Republic with perhaps the strongest Czech connections?

“Absolutely. I fully understand the reason why if we are to remember the
100 years of our independence in the US we are doing it in Chicago.

President Masaryk had strong links to Chicago to the Crane family
[millionaire Charles Richard Crane was a supporter of Masaryk’s and
sponsored Mucha’s Slav Epic]. When President Beneš fled after the Munich
Agreement he found a place at the University of Chicago.

“The Czech community in Chicago is very strong and without their help
before independent Czechoslovakia it wouldn’t have been possible for
President Masaryk to succeed.

“So if there’s a place in the US to remember this anniversary that’s
for sure Chicago. And I was pleased to meet members of the Kotík and Crane
families and it was a great gathering.”

Tell us about your meetings with those people, who were the grandchildren
[Charlotta Kotik is actually the great-granddaughter of T.G. Masaryk] I
guess of people who were extremely important in the early days of
Czechoslovakia.

“We had great conversations and they are very interested in today’s
Czech Republic.

“They are our great supporters and again without them, then and today, it
would be impossible for us to operate on the level that we are operating on
in the US at the moment.”

Did you get to see any signs of the legacy of the Czech connection to
Chicago?

“Absolutely. We laid a wreath at the monument to the Blanik Knight and
President Masaryk on the campus of the University of Chicago.”

Czech Centennial Gala, photo: archive of Czech Foreign Ministry

Ties between Czechs and Americans were very strong 100 years ago and also
in the 1990s after the Velvet Revolution. What’s your sense of where
Czech-American relations are today?

“I would say nothing has changed substantially. We are members of NATO
and both the Czech Republic and the US believe in a strong transatlantic
link and we are doing our utmost to keep this link as strong as possible.

“I think that we in the Czech Republic understand that without the US
there wouldn’t have been an independent Czechoslovakia. And the US
understands that in the Czech Republic it has a strong and reliable
ally.”

Have you heard any concerns from your US hosts about a perceived
realignment in the Czech outlook internationally, driven by President
Zeman, toward Russia and China?

“Not at all.”

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