Czech Centres abroad: Promoting a "creative and hip" image of the Czech Republic

There are 18 Czech Centres in cities around the world, including Berlin, New York, London and Kiev, with the aim of promoting the Czech Republic abroad with guidance from the foreign ministry. The centre directors came to Prague last week to discuss strategies for the next year and the head of the centre in London, Ladislav Pfimpfl, took some time out of his schedule to visit the Radio Prague studio. David Vaughan asked him about his work, the role of the Czech Centres today, and what programmes the London centre would feature in the coming months.

"There are four programmes that I'd love to mention for the rest of this year."

"We are doing a very interesting programme with People in Need, a Czech non-governmental humanitarian organization, and together with them and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and also the London School of Economics, we are going to run a series of seminars promoting the Czech Republic, promoting the Czech Republic as a country that is promoting humanitarian aid. Thirteen years ago we were receiving humanitarian aid; today we are the biggest donor among the Central European countries."

"Also, we will have a film festival, which is very popular, at the end of November this year, which is focused on Czech film comedies. We will have 11 screenings."

"Another project, we are running an architectural competition, which is open to British and Czech students of architecture, and we ask them to draw up an ideal embassy of the future because current changes in foreign policy are influencing the design of embassies and their roles. So we would love to have their ideas."

On the subject of Czech architecture, it does have quite a high profile in London, when you think of Czech architects like Eva Jiricna or Jan Kaplicky.

"Absolutely; the best example is the Czech embassy building in Notting Hill, which was built in 1971 and received an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Actually, the building is going to be reconstructed next year and the original architect, Jan Bucan, is working on the reconstruction."

How much do you work with the general public, the broader British public? For example, do you have a mailing list?

"Yes, we have a quite extensive mailing list and we do programme brochures for specific projects. But to be honest, we decided to focus more on a professional audience. And I see the Czech Centre to be more a kind of networking institution than to be an organiser of events for the general public because we simply do not have any resources for these kinds of programmes."

The Czech Republic has quite a positive image. People think of Czech beer, they think of the beauties of Prague, they think of the playwright former president Vaclav Havel, or they think of the defiance against the Soviets in 1968. Do you think that people in Britain have a real image of the Czech Republic today? Or to what extent are you trying to help to cultivate maybe a more realistic image?

"The image you mention is very popular and it's a widespread image and I must agree this is a real image. But also Prague is the most popular short-term [foreign] destination for British people."

"We tend to promote Prague to be a very modern, creative, and vibrant city. So this is the reason that we try to introduce to the British public more young and creative [Czech] people and programmes that involve modern technologies. Most of our programmes are kind of interactive so people can get their own experiences, they can renew their image of the Czech Republic. So this is how we are trying to change it."

So, in a nutshell, you are not so much interested in the mediaeval architecture of Prague but more so in this idea of a dynamic young nation in the centre of Europe?

"Absolutely; if you see the youngest [Czech] generation, which is very active in the U.K., there is a power, there is a potential which we can really prove that the Czech Republic is a young, creative, and hip country, and not just these mediaeval towns. But they are beautiful; I have to admit I love this image as well."

To learn more about the Czech Centre in London, please see