I graduated from the Faculty of Law in former Czechoslovakia before moving to Austria to continue my law studies there. After that I then spent two more years at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna before returning to Prague and joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1995, said His Excellency Martin Vávra, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the State of Kuwait, at the beginning of an extensive and exclusive interview with The Times.
My first posting came in 2002, when I was assigned as Ambassador to a five-year term at our embassy in the Republic of Cyprus. Then, in November 2008, I arrived here as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait and Non-Resident Ambassador to the State of Qatar. Since then, I have been enjoying my work here as we strive to strengthen existing cordial relations between our two countries.
Saying that bilateral relations could be divided into distinct periods — before and after the establishment of the Czech Republic — the envoy pointed out, “The history of our relations goes back to the 1960s, when former Czechoslovakia was among the first countries to recognize the sovereignty of Kuwait and establish diplomatic ties in May 1963. The following years and decades witnessed cooperation between the two countries on the political, economic and military fronts.”
“In the 1970s, Czechoslovak companies were involved in various construction projects across Kuwait, including in building of the iconic mushroom shaped water towers that you find all over the country. Then, in the late seventies and early eighties, we entered into agreements purveying the health and medical services. People in Kuwait traveled to spas and resorts in Czechoslovakia for medical and recuperative services, as well as for relaxation, while Czech medical personnel arrived in Kuwait to provide their experience and expertise.”
“The late eighties and the early nineties were turbulent times for both our nations. In 1989, following the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and the fall of the Communist regime, Czechoslovakia became a free-market economy with its own foreign policy. And, in 1990, during the invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s troops, Czechoslovakia joined the United Nations coalition that was formed to drive out the aggressors and reassert Kuwait’s control over its lands. In 1993, the former state of Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into the Czech and Slovak Republics.”
“While there may have been periods in the early nineties when both countries were preoccupied with their own political and social vagaries, the two have remained strong allies, sharing viewpoints and lending support to each other in regional and international forums. This year, in May, we marked the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations and the strides we have achieved in our strong, cooperative and friendly mutual relations. Strength of the long-standing bonds between the Czech Republic and Kuwait lie in their multi-dimensional approach to inter-relations based on the principle of mutual respect and partnership in development on the political, economic and social fronts.”
Economic exchanges between our two countries have been growing steadily and future trends are positive, said the ambassador, adding, “Nowadays, bilateral trade is largely on the business to business level with little or no interference from the two governments. And, while there is no flagship product or sector which predominates, the annual volume of bilateral business between the two nations stands at a little over $52 million, the bulk of which is made up of exports from Czech companies to Kuwait. Exports include a wide variety of goods, including automobiles, crystal glassware, food, meat and dairy products. From the Kuwaiti side, there is a steady flow of people who visit the Czech Republic seeking medical and recuperative services.”
Acknowledging that there is always potential for further growth and development in economic and commercial ties, and that one should never be satisfied with past achievements, the envoy noted, “The embassy is here to encourage, point the way and facilitate the meeting and interacting of business interests in both countries, but it is up to individual businesses and investors to take business relations to the next stage. While governments in both countries can lay the necessary framework and create an environment conducive to business and investments, eventually the onus of further trade development lies with individuals and enterprises.”
On the government to government level, there have been, and continue to be, several high-level exchanges between the two countries. In 2010, the President of the Czech Republic, His Excellency Václav Klaus, paid a state visit to Kuwait at the invitation of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. President Klaus held discussions with His Highness the Amir, the Prime Minister, Speaker of the National Assembly and the Executive Director of the Kuwait Investment Authority, on a wide range of bilateral issues and topics of mutual concern. The president, who headed a highlevel trade delegation that included the vice-president of the Czech Confederation of Industry, also inaugurated the Czech – Kuwaiti Business Forum, organized by the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and witnessed the signing of several bilateral agreements between the two sides. The Czech Republic is a land of stories and spas, of myths and legends, of cities lined with architectural gems and towns with Kafkaesque alleys. Tourism to the Czech Republic is another attractive sector for private businesses to pursue, pointed out the ambassador.
“Ever since the initial launch of health and medical services agreements in the early eighties, there has been a steady stream of visitors from Kuwait and the region to the Czech Republic. Today, thousands of visitors from Kuwait are attracted by the high quality and value attached to medical services provided by Czech hospitals, spas and health resorts around the country, as well as the scenic beauty of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Kuwait to Prague and travelers have to fly in from UAE in the Gulf, or go via other European hubs.”
Describing cultural exchanges on the popular level as important to strengthening ties between two countries, the ambassador stated, “The embassy has held several concerts and workshop to highlight and introduce people in Kuwait to the rich culture and art of the Czech Republic.”
Last year, the embassy in association with Czech Tourism organized a spa workshop to promote the numerous specialized spas, with their healing mineral springs and other natural resources, and to showcase the country as a wellness destination. “Every year, usually in May, we also hold a Czech musical concert in Kuwait, in association with the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyah (DAI). Our cooperation with DAI extends over many years and we are proud to partner with them in conducting these events, which are well-attended, and reflect the strong attraction and attachment for music among local people,” said the envoy.
In 2011, audiences where enthralled by two of the most renowned Czech classicaljazz performers, violoncellist, Jiri Bárta and pianist Milan Svoboda. Last year, DAI invited pianist Adam Skoumal and violinist Roman Patocka for another full-house musical performance. And this year, the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations was celebrated in a very dignified way by the Bohemian Saxophone Quartet (Pavel Fiedler, Antonín Muehlhansl, Pavel Škrna, Lubor Pokluda).
“Similarly, on the education front, we have several Kuwaitis studying at Czech universities and for the next year Kuwait University has again offered Arabic language scholarships for Czech students who have already been selected and approved. I believe that living in a country, and gaining knowledge of local language, is an important tool in building and strengthening people to people relations, as well as between governments.”