Expat Czechs meet for three-day conference in Prague

Czechs living abroad and their descendants are currently meeting in Prague for a three-day conference. The 120 delegates from 16 adopted countries as diverse as America and Egypt are here to discuss the common interests of Czechs living abroad, primarily cultural life. Christian Falvey went to the opening of the conference to find out more.

Alena Vrzáňová
It must be a special feeling for the speakers at the Conference for Czech Compatriots and Culture to fill the seats of the old Federal Assembly, once the parliamentary chamber of the communist government, because of which so many of them went into exile. Among them is Alena Vrzáňová, the world champion figure skater in 1949 and 1950, who left her homeland for America and was unable to return until 1990. She is now the chairwoman of the committee of expatriate Czechs which organises the conference.

“I think it’s really important for the Czechs from other countries to get together every two years. We get ideas from what they do in their countries and we exchange ideas and talk about what could be done and all that. I think it’s very important to keep in touch with where you come from.”

Julek Neumann
The talking point at this year’s event is the shared culture of the diverse émigrés, how it evolves elsewhere and how it can be further promoted in Czech communities abroad. Julek Neumann for example is a theatre director who left Czechoslovakia in 1984; I spoke with him just after his speech to the conference.

“I was talking about expat theatre run by Czechs in Canada, Austria, Croatia and newly in Brussels which are trying to maintain Czech culture in foreign countries, under attack from other languages. The conference is centred on issues of culture, and expatriate theatres are a very large part of that, because they are the unifying element in the different communities: a meeting place where the theatrical level is not as important as meeting, being together, sharing culture, language and the same viewpoints.”

That is very much the benefit of the compatriots’ conference as well. Ms. Vrzáňová says that the there are positive practical results from each conference despite the aging demographic of their visitors.

“The group has grown. Of course you see older people because they are very interested; now, we are trying to interest the younger generation and that is a little more problematic, because they like their computers. It’s a whole different era now. But the visitors tell us every second year how they went back to their countries from Prague and spread the word and spread interest. And they say the interest is incredible, that many people come to Prague even if they’re not Czechs, because this conference spreads good word. And you must not forget where you came from.”

The seminars in the old Federal Assembly building, now called the New National Museum building, will continue until Tuesday evening.

Photo: Miloš Turek