Brit boyfriends filling Czech classes at London Czech Centre, says director

The Czech Centre on London's Harley Street is quite atypical in that you have to ring a bell to get in and it doesn't have the space for exhibitions, film screenings and the like you find at most Czech Centres. Last week I visited the one in London, where I met its director Ladislav Pflimpfl, and began by asking him if it was actually open to the public.

"It is certainly open to the public. We have a library, we have a video library as well, we run Czech language courses which are quite popular as well - we have about 200 students. We don't have much to offer here except for the libraries.

"We organise events in quite respected venues all across the UK, but as you can see this venue is rather a production space, more than a public meeting space."

Who studies Czech here? Are they people with Czech connections? Or people with no connection to the Czech Republic?

"Apparently there is a very simple pattern. As you may know there are so many young Czech girls coming to the UK, working as au pairs and in services. Most of them have UK boyfriends, English speaking boyfriends - so that's the motivation behind coming to the Czech Centre, learning Czech..."

So the boyfriends come here?

"Yes. Most of the students we have are young, male, between 20 and 35."

Does that mean they have any particular requirements when it comes to learning Czech? I don't know - bedroom Czech?

"Well, they seem to be quite keen on learning proper Czech. Because obviously they want to communicate with their girlfriends and their families. They start at the very beginning and then they learn up to quite an advanced level."

What kind of image of the Czech Republic is the Czech Centre in London trying to put across to British people?

"There is certainly the image of the Czech Republic seen through the lens of the beautiful city of Prague, Vaclav Havel, beautiful tourist destinations, a deep music tradition.

"We see these icons as a very important feature of our image, but we try to underline images such as a modern society which is quite creative. We have very inventive people working in contemporary architecture, design. We show a lot of contemporary art, new media and this kind"

How much are your activities independent? Or how much are they directed by the Foreign Ministry in Prague?

"From the Foreign Ministry, or rather from Czech Centres head office in Prague, we general guidelines, such as themes. In 2004 it was European Union accession process.

"We have anniversaries we would like to animate - such as in Charter 77 next year in January...which means we have general themes. The head office gives us general themes we have to follow, and it's pretty much up to us how we take it and what we do about it."

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