Awards presented for promotion of good name of Czech Republic around world

Tomas Bata, photo: CTK

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.

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda
Others awarded the Gratias Agit include a Chinese translator of Czech literature and a team of Czech Egyptologists. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda explains how recipients are chosen.

"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?

Tomas Bata, photo: CTK
"Well it means to me that there is a general feeling of responsibility to people of Czech and Slovak background living in the world. And that they would like to have some continued contact with their old country, and that it's appreciated.

"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."

Jerry Elzner
Recipient Jerry Elzner's parents were from south Moravia but he himself was born on a farm in Texas; it was a popular destination for Czech immigrants, and today has one of the largest Czech communities in the US. Mr Elzner is a strong promoter of Czech cultural heritage in the Lone Star State.

"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!"