Guests at expatriate convention discuss Czech culture abroad

As we informed you yesterday, a biannual event is underway for Czechs living abroad to discuss, among other things, their attempts to keep Czech culture alive in their adopted countries. Today our reporter Christian Falvey went back to the Conference for Czech Compatriots and Culture to talk with some of the guests about their leaving Czechoslovakia and their work to sustain their Czech culture abroad.

Jaroslav Havelka
When the international conference of expatriate Czechs lets out for an intermission, the guests have much in common to discuss. Like many of the attendees, Jaroslav Havelka left Czechoslovakia upon the Soviet invasion in 1968 to begin an entirely new life for himself.

“I am a member of the Czech community in Geneva called Beseda Slovan, and I am the chairman of the committee. When I first came to Switzerland, I was asked by the authorities why I had left Czechoslovakia, and spontaneously answered – and I remember, it was the true reason – I haven’t left Czechoslovakia, I’ve left Russia. If the occupation in ‘68 had not occurred, I would probably never have left. I wasn’t courageous, I didn’t know any languages other than Czech and Russian. So it was difficult for me. But I had to go with my conviction.

“I wouldn’t say there is a special style of life for Czechs in Switzerland. We live as Swiss citizens, but apart from that, apart from our integration into Swiss society, we are trying to keep contact with our country of origin, and for several different reasons: some people for sentimental reasons, some people after reflection. And being an active member of the society is one of the ways to stay close to our origins.”

Eva Sitta (originally Eva Sitteová) was a student of Janáček Academy of the Arts in Brno before joining the well known ABC Theatre in Prague. When she moved to Australia in the early 1980s she found plenty of opportunities to apply herself as an actress, starring in many stage and film roles, and even today she finds ways to introduce Czech culture to her Australian audiences.

Eva Sitta,  photo: Miloš Turek
“I have been back in the Czech Republic for several months, and I’ve brought my latest production with me, which is called The Enchanted Forest and is inspired by Antonín Dvořák’s famous opera Rusalka. I’m using the soundtrack from that opera and I’m also using huge puppets to tell the story. The production was created in Australia, for the Australian children, to educate them a bit about opera and classical music, and to show them that it can be great. Both children and adults have embraced it really well and it’s made me very happy. Australia is a multicultural society, and I think it’s great if we can give people something from our culture that is absolutely outstanding.”

The formal itinerary of the conference ends on Tuesday evening and the guests will be spending Wednesday revisiting spots around Prague together before most of them go off to their various, far-flung homes.