Awards presented for promotion of good name of Czech Republic around world
Gratias Agit is the name of an award presented by the Czech foreign ministry to honour those who have promoted the good name of the Czech Republic around the world. Among the individuals and organizations made laureates at this year's ceremony on Thursday: the industrialist Tomas Bata and Viktor Fischl, a poet who was a close associate of Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister in the Czechoslovak government in exile during World War II.
"It's a little complicated, but we are trying to find representatives of a large range of human activities, and representatives of many countries. It's very difficult because many people are promoting the good name of the Czech Republic, but that's the choice."
Perhaps the best known of this year's Gratias Agit laureates is Tomas Bata, the Zlin-born businessman whose Bata shoe company has branches in almost 60 countries and sells 300 million pairs of shoes a year. What does receiving the award mean to him?
"It's very important that they should be looking out for people who deserve honours, and to take action. I think this is a good start - they've been doing it now for about five years I think, and it's a good, not presumptuous and not opulent, start. And those things are appreciated."
"I do a lot of work in schools, in various clubs. I think of all the United States we have the most lodges, and just about every week there'll be a dance, a festival, 'muzika', something about Czechs somewhere in Texas."
Now almost 80, Jerry Elzner says he was deeply moved when he was told he was to receive the Gratias Agit award.
"The Czech Embassy in Washington called me and I said, are you making a joke? They said, no, you're one of the awardees. I said, me?! And I started crying, I cried all day. I couldn't believe it. It's like a Nobel Peace Prize! And I said, my goodness!"