Foreign Ministry hands out annual Gratias Agit awards

Watheq Al-Qsous (left), photo: Ondřej Tomšů

The Czech Foreign Ministry has handed out its annual Gratias Agit Awards to Czech expatriates and foreigners for promoting the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. This year’s recipients include the Parisian branch of the Sokol movement or the group of Russian citizens, who protested on Moscow’s Red Square in 1968 against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact Troops.

Jana Reichová,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
The Gratias Agit Awards for 2018 were handed out on Friday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Martin Stropnický, at a ceremony traditionally held in the Great Hall of Czernin Palace. Among the Czech-born recipients who attended the event was Jana Reichová, who has been actively supporting the Czech-Australian community since she emigrated to Sydney in 1968:

“I am very grateful. I think this is such a big award that I feel I am not big enough for it. So I am grateful but I feel I should do something more and I am not able, which makes me sad…”

Another recipient of this year’s Gratias Agit award is Jordanian surgeon Watheq Al-Qsous, who has been involved in the MEDEVAC aid programme in Jordan, through which the Czech government has been providing direct medical assistance to Syrian refugees:

Watheq Al-Qsous  (left),  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“It was a great honour for me to receive the Gratias Agit Award. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that and I don’t think it should be just for me. There were people working at the Ministry of Interior here in the Czech Republic and also at the Czech Embassy in Jordan, namely the Czech ambassador, Mr Petr Hladík. I also had the help and support of my wife, so it was team work and I am really honoured to receive the prize.”

Perhaps the most closely watched recipients of this year’s Gratias Agit Awards are the three surviving members of the group of eight Russians, who risked their lives to protest against the Soviet led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Just four days after Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia, they gathered on Moscow’s Red Square on August 25, carrying banners condemning the invasion.

One of them was Pavel Litvinov, who was later sentenced for five years in exile in Siberia. After more pressure from the KGB, he eventually emigrated to the United States, where he devoted his life to human rights.

In an interview for Czech Radio on the occasion of receiving the Gratias Agit Award, Mr Litvinov says it was nice to see the Czech Republic and Slovakia regain their freedom:

Pavel Litvinov,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
“I wish people appreciated more the freedom which came to them. Even Russia is freer today. Of course it is very far from being a free country, and there is now a danger that it might become a new dictatorship, but the Communist dictatorship is gone.

“So it’s very important that it happened. It means that our demonstration is only part of history, not a part of active political life. Symbolically, freedom of speech and freedom of demonstration is the main issue in the world. When people are not in prison for speaking up their minds, things are OK.”