February 4 selected as official Czechs Abroad Day

Photo: Henrik Larsen, Pixabay / CC0

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced the winner of the online survey regarding what date should be celebrated as the Day of Czechs Abroad. February 4, when the famous teacher and philosopher Jan Amos Comenius left his homeland in 1628 won by a large margin with 42 percent of the vote ahead of December 23, 1989, when the wire at the Rozvadov border with Germany was symbolically cut, which received 21 percent. I asked the Czech Republic’s Special Envoy for Expatriate Affairs Jiří Krátký whether the winning date surprised him.

“I have to say I am a little bit surprised, because I thought it would be something a little more recent. For example, that the cutting of the wire in Rozvadov would be more significant to Czechs due to its symbolism in regards to freedom.

“However, considering that everyone learned about Jan Amos Comenius already at school and in our Czech culture you grow up with knowledge about this man, one could say that, in the end, it is actually a uniting factor among Czechs abroad.

“We came up with this idea of a day of Czechs living abroad being specifically listed in the calendar as a way of unifying the Czech community and we know how much the Czech community living abroad is diverse due to the different periods during which they left their homeland.

Jiří Krátký,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů

“Therefore, I am actually not surprised that Jan Amos Comenius won this public survey, because he really is well known among the public and can represent a sort of peaceful emigration of the Czech people, so it is actually symbolic in a way.”

I know that a colleague of yours was rooting for the cutting of the wire at Rozvadov to win. Was that also your favourite?

“Honestly, it wouldn’t be a very practical day, because it happened on December 23, one day ahead of Christmas Eve.

“In any case, when I said that Comenius is a symbol of a peaceful acceptance of emigration, I would see December 23, 1989, as a sort of symbol of the return of freedom, reconnecting people from both sides of the border.

“It would not be practical, but I thought that this more recent experience would be a more recent impulse in a symbolic sense.”

The Czech Republic will now have a “Czechs abroad day”. It means that the number of important official days in the Czech Republic’s calendar has grown to 16. What will it actually mean in practice though? Will there be any special events, or celebrations people can look forward to?

Jan Amos Comenius by Karel Miloslav Lehotský,  photo: Wikimedia Commons,  CC0

“One aspect is to place this day among the other celebratory days within the Czech calendar. However, we are thinking of leaving it up to everyone individually in regards to how this day will actually be celebrated.

“In fact, February 4, [when the great pedagogue Comenius left Bohemia] already is the day of teachers and education, so it already has a kind of visibility in Czech society.

“We would like this day to serve as a reminder of the kind of human potential we historically lost through immigration. When people were leaving our country they were leaving with their human capital and we are trying to reconnect with them today and get it back. We know that there are a lot of very successful people abroad who are still proud of being Czech and are willing to bring something back to the Czech Republic to this connection with Czech culture.

“That is exactly why we came up with this survey and celebration day, because we would like to highlight the importance of Czechs living abroad for Czech society in general. It was kind of a pretext for bringing this factor into the public space.

"By honouring Czechs abroad with a specific day in the calendar we hope to bring attention to this specific group of people that is living abroad but is still not quite considered as an integral part of Czech society.”

So no specific plans for a unified celebration?

“No. We do not want to bring in a rigid celebration. Rather, we would like to give this theme to the people to celebrate. Of course, we will support this effort, but we believe in their creativity and I think that this day of Comenius perfectly fits such a strategy."