New York based Gratias Agit award winner Josef Baláž: “Prague is my home”

Josef Baláž (left), Jan Lipavský, Minister of Foreign Affairs (middle)

Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský awarded eight Czechs with the prestigious Gratias Agit Award this week, honouring those individuals who have made their mark in areas of science, literature, and culture. Among the laureates was Josef Baláž for his work with the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association based in New York City. I caught up with Mr. Baláž after the ceremony and asked him what the honour means to him:

Gratias Agit Award | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

“I’m really happy that I could receive this award on behalf of the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association. This award is not for me, it’s for the whole group. The Association was established well over 130 years ago and plays a fairly significant role in promoting Czech culture, and everything Czech in New York City.”

Can you tell me more about the work the association is doing?

“The association functions as an umbrella for individual groups. The Dvořák Association, arts and sciences, the American Fund for Czech and Slovak Leadership Studies, and so on. If we can, we channel funds into these individual groups which allows them to put on their programs. We reside at the Bohemian National Hall, and we feel that we’re this extended, diplomatic, volunteer arm of the Czech Republic throughout the United States.”

I know Arnošt Kareš is the Consul General of Czechia in New York, do you work alongside him?

“Absolutely, we cooperate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Consulate, and the current Consul General is Arnošt Kareš. We cooperate quite extensively with them, and the relationship is superb. ”

Martin Dvořák,  Czech EU Minister  (right) and Jan Lipavský,  Minister of Foreign Affairs  (second from right) | Photo: Czech Foreign Ministry

I’m curious about the Czech and Slovak community in the US right now. Is it a strong community with a strong sense of national identity?

“I would say yes, it does exist. What’s interesting is that you can see it in the new generation, maybe even the third or fourth generation of people, they’re interested in re-discovering their ancestry. When our organizations, or the Czech centre, or the Consulate produce certain programs, it attracts people of Czech and Slovak heritage. They’re very curious, and some even want to learn Czech or Slovak, many of their kids go to Czech or Slovak school, which is also run by volunteers, so it’s neat.”

When you come back to Prague, do you get inspired by being in your home country? And do you take that inspiration back to your work in the United States?

“This is my home, I mean, I have several homes, but this is it. I feel extremely comfortable here, and I love the Czech Republic and Prague. It’s always inspiring to meet young people and see what they’re doing and what they want to study. That reflects how our organizations function these days, because of those interactions with young people.”