Prague UN Information Center moves after 54 years

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The United Nations Information Center is moving to new premises. Czechoslovakia was one of the founding members of the UN and the organisation's centre in Prague was one of the first to be opened internationally. When Olga Szantova heard that it was getting ready to move, she went there and talked to the centre's Director, Andreas Nicklisch.

Radio Prague: Mr. Nicklisch, I was going to ask why you were moving, and then I walked up those two steep flights of stairs, and I'm beginning to understand. How long have you, the staff and the guests been climbing those two steep flights of stairs?

UN Center Director Andreas Nicklisch: Well, I have been climbing them only for ten years, but my predecessors all the way back to the foundation of the Center have been climbing them for 54 years. We have been established in 1947 and ever since have been residing here in this charming little palace very well, centrally located, but, as you rightly say, it is not really very accessible, it's not very visible. This has now changed. The government has found a perfect site, which will not only host us, but also a variety of other UN agencies who are here, so we will be moving into a UN house. We do this with a little bit of sorrow, we do it with, of course, great expectations, because the UN house will offer us better possibilities to serve the public than we've had here, but, of course, this is a place with a certain charm, with a certain history. Important people have been here, Secretary Generals, Mr. Waldheim, but also Mr. Kofi Anan. The desk you see there, he was sitting there and negotiated with Muhamed Kadafi the extradition of the suspected Lockerbee bombers, and we were occupied by the Kurds in the beginning of 1991 after the bombardment of Iraq.

RP: We mentioned the stairs, but this is probably inadequate office space.

AN: Definitely it is, it is inadequate in the room we can offer public visitors and for that reason also the technological installations were not there, because we just didn't have the room. So, in the new premises we will have a large reading room, we will, hopefully, give access of the public to computer equipment and thereby to electronic data basis, library catalogues, we can have film screenings, we can invite the public to seminars, we have conference rooms, downstairs we have a large exhibit hall.

RP: To come back to the activities here - how many visitors did you have, how big was the interest in your office?

AN: Well, that largely depends on the political environment in which we are at that moment. If there are major world crisis involving the United Nations, we sometimes have queues out to the staircase, because we have a very small reading room, accommodating about 9 to 12 people at the most at one time. But under normal circumstances, I think we have about 15 to 20 visitors a day. There is a steady interest of journalists, of scholars, of students.

RP: Besides your Information Center, what else will be housed in the new United Nations building?

AN: The UN House will be home to our Information Center, of course, to the High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Czech Committee of UNICEF. We will also have a little shop where all the UNOCEF artifacts, in particular the cards, will be sold. It will also house the Regional Office of WHO, the World Health Organization.

And the new building will be open to the public at the end of August.

Author: Olga Szantová
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