“I was in tears when I got the news”: Gratias Agit awards presented

The 2022 Gratias Agit awards were presented at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague on Wednesday. This year the prize, which recognises efforts to promote the good name of Czechia internationally, went to seven individuals and one institution.

Binh Slavická and Jan Lipavský | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

The Czech foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, presented the 2022 Gratias Agit awards in Prague on Wednesday.

This year the prizes – which are for promoting the good name of Czechia around the world – went to the Czech School in Italy’s Rome and seven individuals.

These include Tamara Adasan, director of the Home Care Association, an NGO in Moldova; Leszek Engelking, a Polish writer who at one time taught in Olomouc;  Samir Yousef Salim Hazbun, Czech honorary consul in Bethlehem; and Ghana’s Karl Ayikai Laryea, who helps foster business and political ties between the two countries.

Samir Yousef Salim Hazbun | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

Also honoured were Binh Slavická, a teacher and translator based in Vietnam; Antoine Mares, a French historian focused on Central Europe; and Cecilia Rokusek, director of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The latter explains the mission of her institution, the most important one of its kind in the United States.

“It is to preserve, promote and to maintain – for the current generation and all future generations – the rich history and culture of the Czech and Slovak people.

Cecilia Rokusek and the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“We preserve the past, we celebrate the present and we create the future.

“I’m often reminded of an article I read. It said that once a culture loses its language, once a culture loses its importance to future generations, that culture dies.

“Certainly our culture will not die, but we need to preserve it.

“We need to make sure that our young people who are of Czech and Slovak descent understand who they are and preserve it for the future.”

Speaking just ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony at the Grand Hall of the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Černín Palace, Mrs. Rokusek explained what receiving the Gratias Agit meant to her.

“Oh my goodness. It is indeed one of the highest honours I’ve ever been recognised with.

“When I received the call I immediately was in tears.

“It’s a recognition of a culture that I love. It’s a recognition of my parents for instilling in me this love of culture.

Eva Jiřičná | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International

“And for me it’s a reinforcement that what we’re doing is right and that all of the late nights and all of the hard work that we all did were worth it.

“For me it’s also been a driving force, getting this award, to continue with what I’m doing.”

The Gratias Agit awards have been running since 1997. Laureates include such big names as playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, film director Miloš Forman and architect Eva Jiřičná.

However, most of the recipients are relatively unknown people who have done their bit to help bring Czech culture and language to an international audience.