Gratias Agit 2002 Award

Jan Kavan and Bohumil Med (right)

Every year, the Czech Republic awards the Jan Masaryk prize Gratias Agit. The award is presented to people who spread the good name of the Czech Republic abroad, work for the public benefit, and promote good relations between nations. This year, ten people and three organisations received the prestigious award, including Milan Kantor, the founder of charity funds which support Czech culture and Czech expatriates in Australia, Karel Cizek, a Czech translator in Greece and Vaclav Masek, a Czech priest in Romania, and Bohumil Med, the chairman of the Czech-Brazilian Cultural Association, to mention just a few.

Another award winner was Jan Hird Pokorny, an architect who lives in New York and specialises in the preservation of sites of great historical value. He helped the Czech Republic to obtain money form the World Monument Fund for the renovation of some of the most outstanding landmarks in the Czech Republic, such as the town of Telc and the Valtice-Lednice chateau and park. Mr Pokorny is also the chairman of the American Fund for Czechoslovak Relief, originally known as the American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees, and the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association.

Our correspondent Jaromir Marek asked Mr Pokorny why he thought he deserved the Gratias Agit award:

"Well, when I think about it, I think it was for three reasons. I came to the United States 62 years ago, I got a degree at the Columbia University and I stayed there to teach and finally ended up to be a professor at Columbia. On the basis of having a lot of students interested in Czech architecture, I used to bring American students to Prague to show them the beauties of Prague. I also am the president of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association which is an organisation of Czech origin, and we own the building called the Bohemian Hall which we succeeded in saving from being sold to strangers. We made it a city landmark and we now succeeded to sell it to the Czech Republic for 2 dollars. The Czech wins the symbol of Czechs in New York and we can stay in the same space where the Czech government has its representatives. So, that means that we will collaborate as we did in the last two years. Symbolically, it means a lot both to the Czech Republic and to us, our community in New York.

I am also on the landmarks commission and I am a practising architect and what we are specialising in is landmarking, the preservation of landmarks. From the respect, again, it is interesting bringing people to Prague, showing them how landmarking is done in the Czech Republic and showing the mayor of Prague how we are doing landmarking in New York."

You have now received the award, what does it mean for you, do you feel satisfaction?

"Oh, does it give me satisfaction? It certainly does. I mean it's wonderful to be recognised for having accomplished something. But of course, I was lucky, let's face it. I was lucky all along. I was lucky I was educated in Prague, I was lucky in having an opportunity to Teach at Columbia University. All around, it's been a satisfying career."