Jaroslav Kanturek - director of the Czech Centre in Stockholm

Jaroslav Kanturek, photo: Author

Stockholm's Czech Embassy is located on a leafy street about fifteen minutes walk from the centre of the Swedish capital. Behind the Embassy is where you'll find the city's Czech Centre, a small but cosy building divided into an information and reading room and a room used for meetings, film projections and art exhibitions. The director is an amiable man called Jaroslav Kanturek. When I called in on him recently, I asked Mr Kanturek how long the Stockholm Centre had been there.

Jaroslav Kanturek,  photo: Author
"The Czech Centre in Stockholm was founded in the year 1997, which means something about seven, eight years."

At that time were other new Czech Centres also opened, or was it just here in Stockholm?

"If you know a little bit about the history of Czech Centres, it was before the year 1989 an institution only for ex-socialist countries. Especially in the years '91, '92, '93 we tried to expand at least to all European Union member countries.

"We succeeded I think in many countries, new Czech Centres were founded at that time for example in Holland, in Sweden and in other countries. We are now in 15 countries and we are we have I think all together 18 Czech Centres."

What are your main activities here in Stockholm?

"Our main activity is culture and cultural activities. Even though the Czech Centres should promote the Czech Republic in the areas of culture, economy and tourism, most of our activities are cultural events.

"Our information office in Stockholm also provides all sorts of general information about the Czech Republic but especially tourist information, because Czech tourism has no official representation in Sweden, and tourist information is very often requested."

Czech Embassy,  photo: Author
Are many Swedes interested in visiting the Czech Republic? Do you get a lot of people here looking for information about the country?

"Absolutely. The Czech Republic is very popular in Sweden, not only Prague I think - Swedes are going also to the whole country for holidays, they like to go for winter sports and to play golf in our country."

Do you have Czech language courses here?

"Unfortunately not. We don't organise our own language courses. Our Czech Centre is a very small office. I am here more or less alone with one student or one intern who takes care of our information office. So we are not able to organise our own Czech courses, but we co-operate very closely with universities in Sweden, because at four Swedish universities the Czech language is taught.

"We co-operate very closely with these departments, we exchange some cultural activities, some small exhibitions, some films, some literature evenings and meetings with students. And also once a year we organise on September 26 -which you may know is European Day of Languages - a big event in Stockholm together with other culture institutes."

The Czech Centre here in Stockholm is just behind the Czech Embassy - how closely do you co-operate with the Embassy?

"Of course in recent years we have co-operated very closely, because more or less all cultural activities are organised through the Czech Centre. At this moment the director of the Czech Centre is also officially the cultural counsel of the Embassy, so this co-operation is very close."

When a typical Swede thinks of the Czech Republic, do you know what associations they make?

"Very generally speaking, everybody here if you ask them to give some impression about the Czech Republic, they mention beer, ice hockey, perhaps Prague. We would like to present the Czech Republic, that we are more than these things.

"And generally there are some ideas about some personalities like Vaclav Havel, or about some political events from the last 20, 30 years, especially starting with the year 1968, because a lot of Czech people left Czechoslovakia at that time, especially for Sweden, and we have here, let's say, a large minority of these people.

Czech pub Svejk in Stockholm,  photo: Author
"These political events are well known in Sweden - the year 1968, then the year 1989, the personality of Vaclav Havel. On the other side, it is difficult to find a lot of knowledge of Czech history and other aspects of culture. But some cultural events are very popular: Czech music is well known, composers like Smetana, Janacek and Dvorak, definitely."

Over the years I've met in Prague several young Swedes whose parents were Czech, and who were studying Czech language and literature at Charles University. Do you help young Swedes who want to study in the Czech Republic? Can you help them to find a place at a university?

"We can't do it officially but we can provide a lot of information for everybody. On the other side there is some co-operation between Czech universities and Swedish universities. There are some international programmes like Erasmus."

You've been here for two years in Stockholm, in Sweden - do you think that Czechs and Swedes are at all similar in terms of personality or temperament?

"I don't think there would be a lot of similarities, especially in temperament of character. But I am really personally very surprised about some things which are so close to our country, like folklore or food. It's really surprising for me. If you go to the countryside and follow some children's books and Swedish children's films, it's so similar to our history that sometimes it's very surprising.

"Generally, the Scandinavian people appreciate and have a great respect for our culture and history, and literature and so on, which is a very nice feeling for my job here in Sweden."

To find out more about the Czech Centre in Stockholm please go to www.czechcentres.cz/stockholm. For a list of addresses and contacts for all the Czech Centres around the world go to www.czechcentres.cz.