2006 Gratias Agit Awards

Gratias Agit Award
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Every year, the Czech Foreign Ministry bestows the Gratias Agit award on select people who promote the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. The list of distinguished 2006 recipients includes the Czech-born former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, the world-class cross-country skier who won gold for the Czech Republic at the Turin Olympics, Katerina Neumannova, and the writer and humanitarian activist, Petra Prochazkova.

Gratias Agit Award
Cernin Palace, home to the Czech Foreign Ministry, gathered a diverse and distinguished group of people on Thursday. By profession they included lawyers, writers, businesspeople, scholars, athletes, and even the King of Cambodia, and what they all share is an interest in promoting the Czech Republic. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda presented the Gratias Agit awards and just after the ceremony I gave him the difficult task of highlighting especially remarkable people amongst this year's recipients:

Cardinal Tomas Spidlik, photo: CTK
"Maybe it's not fair to pick only one or two people, because all of those who received awards are excellent, and they have done a lot for the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. Maybe I could point to Cardinal Tomas Spidlik as one of the most visible people because he is very active promoting peace between people, between nations, and between the representatives of the different epochs of Czech history. He is a man of peace and he has written many books, so he is a very strong personality. And maybe Katerina Neumannova, because she is an Olympic gold medallist, and she does represent the new generation of nice people who represent the Czech Republic on a very, very high level."

The list of 2006 Gratias Agit award laureates is international in scope, with citizens of Argentina, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and Turkey, among others, receiving awards. The Foreign Studies Department of Hankuk University in South Korea was also among those honoured. At the celebratory reception, Professor Kim Kyuchin, the Dean of Central and East European Studies at Hankuk University, told me about how he came to be a leading specialist on modern Czech literature:

Cyril Svoboda and Kim Kyuchin (right)
"Actually, I studied Russian first; Russian literature is very popular in Korea. Then later, I took Czech literature by chance, and I studied Czech in Chicago. We propagated Czech literature in Korea. As you know, Milan Kundera is popular throughout the whole world, and he is also very popular in Korea."

Has Kundera been translated into Korean?

"Yes, I translated his Unbearable Lightness of Being, and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, as well as The Farewell Party; I translated three of his novels into Korean."

And what do you teach at Hankuk University?

"I teach Czech literature, Russian culture, Czech grammar and Czech culture."

How many students do you have?

"In my department of Czech and Slovak studies, we have 150 students."

Have you ever studied at Charles University?

"Yes, since the Velvet Revolution I've come to Prague almost every summer."

Do you feel that you have a deep connection to the Czech Republic?

"Yes, yes, I have a deep connection. I love Czech culture and Czech literature. You know, Czech literature is very humorous."

How do you feel about being a recipient of the Gratias Agit Award?

"I have spent twenty-six years studying Czech and promoting Czech culture in Korea. So I'm very proud that I have received the Gratias Agit prize."