Czech EU presidency attracts new audiences to Brussels Czech Center

Czech Centre in Brussels

More than 700 different cultural events have been planned to coincide with the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. While a lot of these concerts and exhibitions are taking place in the Czech Republic itself, another major centre of activity is, it goes without saying, Brussels. In his role as the head of the Czech Center in the Belgian capital, Petr Polívka has his work cut out. I spoke to him at the opening of a new exhibition at the center last week:

“This is a photo exhibition of Mariánské Lázně on its 200th anniversary. It was organized about a year ago with the former director of Karlovy Vary region’s Brussels representation, Mr Werner Hauptmann. And I’m very happy that we can welcome all these officials from Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Center.”

And what sort of other events are you organizing here at the Brussels Czech Centre? What does your cultural programme consist of at the moment?

“Well you know, right now is the Czech presidency of the European Union and we have around 60 events planned for this six-month period. And that is just at the Czech Center alone. And even now, as you can see, unfortunately, there is no other way; this exhibition is being housed on top of another exhibition, which is a retrospective of František Drtikol, perhaps the best known Czech photographer of all time.”

So you are a rather busy man at the moment?

“I’m fine. I like it, I like it. All of these events are planned by me, which is nice, you know. I like it. We are very busy, it is true, but then, that’s our job.”

And is you workload drastically heavier because of the Czech EU presidency?

“I wouldn’t say it is drastically so. But I would say the events we have prepared for the presidency were much more difficult to organize. So, we are working much harder than usual, but you know, it’s fine.”

…And why were they more difficult to prepare?

“These are projects which are more complicated - for instance, the last of them will be a concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. And it was necessary to find around 3 million crowns for the concert, so this was rather complicated.”

Have you noticed as well that the Czech EU presidency has brought a new audience to your events – do you think it has raised awareness of Czech culture in general?

“First of all I would like to say that from the beginning of my stay here in Brussels I have noticed that Belgians are very, very interested in the Czech Republic, which means that it is very pleasant to work here. But I would say that since the Czech presidency started, the audience has grown much larger. There are many Belgians coming to our events, certainly, then officials from the European Union, and then Czechs, for sure, because there are many, many of us in Brussels.”

In a city as multicultural and international as Brussels, where you can walk down the street and hear three or four different languages spoken, and where so many countries have their own cultural representations, do you find it is difficult to compete and get the crowds in here when there is so much going on all over the city?

“That is true. That is true, and sometimes that is difficult even for me, because sometimes you feel like you are doing something that is a bit superfluous. There are plenty of events, and even Belgians are organizing lots of concerts and so on. And so sometimes it is difficult, but I wouldn’t say that this is such a problem for me, because now I have no time to look around me, I am just doing my job, and it is working well. So it is fine and I’m happy.”