Italian Ambassador Aldo Amati: I am bewitched by Prague

Aldo Amati, photo: Miroslav Krupička

The Italian ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mr. Aldo Amati, took office in October of last year, having previously served in diplomatic posts in Moscow, London, Washington and Tokyo. Miroslav Krupicka invited him to Radio Prague’s studio to talk about his impressions of the country, his mission and his plans for the future. And he started by asking whether the ambassador was at all familiar with the city to which he was stationed.

Aldo Amati,  photo: Miroslav Krupička
“Actually I came to Prague in 1987 for the first time. Of course, the atmosphere was very different then. I was going to Moscow to study Russian at that time. But now the city has changed completely. I must say I have been bewitched by Prague in the sense that I find the city very, very welcoming to me. There are many different reasons…I am trying to learn the language because I would like to stay here in Prague after my retirement as a diplomat, I also like the art that really permeates this city and I think there are many things it has in common with Italy in terms of art and culture.”

You mean a common denominator with Italy…

“Yes, when you walk the streets of Prague you have that impression, there are different styles and of course there is a lot of Baroque here …but if you go for instance to a city like Lecce in the south of Italy you find a Baroque city as well. And so many memories come to my mind when I walk through the streets of Prague.”

What are the priorities of your mission here in Prague?

“As you probably know I will serve a maximum four-year term in Prague and my main mission is an economic one. I was given a similar task also by your president. When I went to the presidential palace he asked me to further promote economic bilateral relations, which is what I have been doing in the past two years with different events and people coming from Italy, entrepreneurs, representatives of institutions and small and medium enterprises. And I think that since we do not have any particular problems in the political situation between the two countries, and with the country growing at almost 5 percent a year I have a duty to bring here Italian enterprises that have been suffering from the austerity crisis in Italy.”

“I have been bewitched by Prague … I would like to stay here in Prague after my retirement as a diplomat.”

And have you been successful?

“So far – I am not saying that it is my contribution – but exports to this country in the first six months of this year grew by ten percent, probably due to the rapid growth of your economy and maybe also to a small degree due to my own contribution. It is difficult to say.”

What are the major businesses that are interested in investing in the Czech Republic?

“Well, basically, the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries is based on the automotive industry, mechanics. Italian entrepreneurs buy these goods from the Czech Republic and what I found is there is interest from the Czech side to have more advanced-technology cooperation with Italian companies that deal in the same sectors, but also in the Green economy and also tourism, because we have 300,000 Italians coming here every year and I would like to send them to different places in this country. Other sectors that come to mind are building – there will be an inflow of investments also because of European funds in infrastructure and Italian companies would like to enter into this market as well.

Can you mention one good example of a Czech- Italian business relationship?

“As you probably know the Czech defense will have to buy new helicopters to replace the old Russian ones and I would love the Italian company AgustaWestland to win the bid because it would open a sea of industrial cooperation between the two countries, not only in helicopters, it would be a much larger scope of cooperation in industrial terms.”

Prague,  photo: Kristýna Maková
The Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute do a lot to promote Italian culture in this country – I go to many concerts and exhibitions that you organize and you do a very good job I think – what else do you do to promote Italy in this country?

“What you said is very true in Prague, but I think we should do more outside Prague. I have been travelling around the country in the last year, going to different regions and the governors and mayors in different cities ask me to do more to bring Italian culture to Czech cities which I am trying to do with the director of the Italian Institute of Culture Mr. Sciola and I think in the next three years I want to bring more productions from Italy to different cities like Brno, Ostrava, Plzen, the big cities at the outset and maybe to the smaller ones in due time. Then of course, there is music. Music has always been a very important link between the two countries. I am bringing the La Scala Philharmonic to Prague in mid-April, that will be a big event and I would like to build other cultural events around that -all over the Czech Republic. I have to work on it.”

Well, it sounds good. Good luck with it. You touched upon tourism, you said there are 300,000 Italians coming to this country every year and there are even more Czechs visiting Italy. I think Italy is the second most popular tourist destination for Czechs. Is there room for improvement? Do you do anything to promote tourism?

“Yes, I think there is a need to do that because I know of many Italians who come to Prague more than once and it would be good for them so see the other treasures that the Czech Republic has to offer such as Olomouc, Český Krumlov or Mariánské Lázně, there are so many places, not to mention all the castles that you have. The Italian public is not aware of these beautiful places so I am doing my best also with Czech tourist agencies to send them to these places.”

Mantova,  photo: Martin Stiburek,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“At the same time I think Czechs, whose incomes are growing, should try going to smaller places in Italy. Not that they shouldn’t see Florence, Rome or Venice but there are jewels like Mantova, Perugia, Lecce, Pisa, other beautiful places that should be seen. Not to mention the fact that if you want to eat the best food in Italy you will find it in the provinces.”

We can see in this country a growing interest in the Mediterranean lifestyle, a lot of people easting olives, eating pasta, Aperol Spritz is very popular as you may have noticed, a lot of Italian drinks, prosecco, there are more and more Italian restaurants and cafés in Prague. Are you happy about that?

“Very happy, very happy. I must say that before coming to Prague I was in Tokyo and I saw the same phenomenon. Italian and Japanese food are the most popular foreign cuisines all over the world. Probably this is because the ingredients we use are very simple and the results are very satisfactory, also in terms of health. I see a lot of Italian restaurants springing up here in Prague, I don’t know about Brno and Ostrava, but I saw quite a few of them there as well.”

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Prague?

“Yes, I do, but I don’t know whether to advertise someone…there are a couple of restaurants that are top in terms of quality, but the price sometimes is a bit too much for the Czech pocket, but there are a number of average restaurants with very good Italian food that I would consider before going for the top ones.”

And are they 100 percent Italian or is it a Czech-Italian endeavor?

“Well, the ones I am talking about either have an Italian cook or the owner is Italian but there are many Czech people working in them and adopting the same language in terms of food with the owner or the cook.”

Finally can you tell us how you spend your free time, what are your hobbies? Do you go in for sports or walking?

”I am bringing the La Scala Philharmonic to Prague in mid-April, that will be a big cultural event.”

“Actually my favourite is tennis and I play whenever I have the time, but I also like walking. As I said, I love walking through Prague’s streets especially around the embassy in Prague 1 and I have many other hobbies like reading and golf. I started playing golf here in the Czech Republic. It is less expensive than in Italy and you have many, many golf clubs, but unfortunately I do not have much time to play golf and I am very much a beginner. But I have to say I really love to go to the theatre here and to jazz concerts, I love jazz concerts. There are many opportunities to pursue my hobbies here.”