English

Tomáš Zdechovský

 

European Belonging

 

Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of the European Parliament

I met Tomáš Zdechovský in 2012 when he was still working as an entrepreneur and crisis manager. Even then, the issue of Europe, its reform and future direction was close to his heart. He’s been a MEP since 2014. He is regularly ranked as one of the most important Czechs in Brussels, and is one of the hardest working MEPs. He is married with four children.

KDU-ČSL proposed celebrating 15 years in the EU with the “Week without the EU” event in order that people realise our priority should be to try to reform the EU, and not to leave the EU. Your idea was to “implement checks at borders, return goods certificates and prevent orders being made on the internet, reintroduce mobile roaming charges and authorise visas to Slovakia. It also involved limiting higher education grants and Erasmus programmes, ceasing motorway construction and sending all employees of foreign companies on a week’s unpaid leave.” It seems to me that by stressing pragmatic benefits, the idea of peace and European belonging has been lost.

That idea was mostly a bit of provocation designed for those who think we’d be better off without the EU. Whenever I hear the arguments of most “Czexiteers”, I just think that all it would take would be a week and they’d quickly sober up because they’d realise the things they take absolutely for granted are not at all a given. Something like peace is too abstract for these people, and furthermore many of them are convinced that because of the EU we are in a kind of cultural war, and a war with migrants, liberals and so on. That’s why I try to utilise something they can picture better – and that’s these various restrictions, price increases, and lack of goods and labour.

Ideas such as European belonging are entirely beyond their understanding, perhaps because they have become aware of the different quality of food in countries to our west, with the idea promoted of the Czech Republic being the dustbin of Europe, alongside our lower salaries, meaning that we are merely Europe’s “cheap assembly plant”. As politicians, however, we are to blame for these ideas, because we have used exactly these arguments in stating that we want to solve such problems. But that doesn’t happen from one day to the next, and it just leads people to become frustrated, and ideas such as “European belonging” just add fuel to the fire.

In less than a month, the European Parliament elections take place. Czech voters are not particularly engaged in this type of election. In 2014, we had the second lowest turnout in them. What topics do you consider fundamental for Czech voters?

Security is foremost, and even though the migrant crisis has settled down significantly, numerous fears persist because people see problems with integrating foreigners in France, Germany, Sweden and other countries. Following this is reform, because more and more people are realising that our position in the centre of Europe, and the fact we are a small country with one of the most open economies in the world, means we’ve got to remain in the EU. But they don’t like its current overly left-wing orientation and are seeking alternatives. And then they need to feel the assurance someone has their back; to hear that someone “far away in Brussels somewhere” is sticking up for Czech citizens, companies and interests.

You yourself are a proponent of EU reform, not leaving the EU. How do you see this EU reform specifically, and can the Czech Republic as a small country have any influence on such reform?

For me, it is absolutely essential that we sit down and start discussing where we want the EU to be in 2030, and to posit the question of whether we will achieve this if we continue down the path we have set for ourselves. The EU is now inflexible in many regards, and approaches many things in a very left-wing way because its main tools are regulations and quotas. Another problem is that it takes an ideological position in many areas, not a rational one, with facts the last thing it takes account of, and this can be seen, for example, in the issue of emissions and its poorly thought- through support for electric cars. Furthermore, the Commission is unable to respond appropriately to unforeseen events, as was seen, for example, in its responses to Brexit and the migrant crisis. They look for errors everywhere except in their own actions, communication, and excessive push for certain phrases and political correctness.

In this regard, one can only hope that the next Parliament and Commission will be more conservative and right-wing in focus. The EU’s original objective was the free movement of people, goods and services. This has been achieved, so the question is why do we continue to produce more and more proposals? Personally, I would make major changes to various European agencies and institutions, because by abolishing the feminist committee FEMN and other agencies and groupings promoting gender equality, and leaving only a social committee with these subtopics, for example, we can also change the EU’s values focus…

Migration remains a bogeyman for Czechs; this is an area you specialise in. So how can the EU provide assistance in regard to migration, when the allocation of quotas was such a fiasco?

Quotas were a bad solution primarily because they did not reflect peoples’ free will. It was assumed that the migrants would be satisfied anywhere in the EU and would not look at whether there was a larger national community elsewhere, etc. Yet the EU can help at the sites where refugees are, such as by improving the conditions in refugee camps (e.g. by providing schools for kids, etc.), so that they can wait out the crisis period as close as possible to their home country without having to go further to Europe. The EU can help by providing structural restoration of their countries, or overall development so that people are motivated to remain in their home country because they can find work and generally good living conditions there. Morocco is a good example here, where a number of projects have been successfully implemented to improve their health service, food and technology self-sufficiency, etc. The EU can also be a mediator in various disputes. It provided help in this manner in setting up the Libyan coast guard, managing through a common goal to more or less stabilise relations between a few dozen fractious political groupings.

I’m not saying the situation is ideal, but it certainly helped to quell illegal migration to the EU across the Mediterranean Sea.
The EU can also set up a more effective asylum system. Holland can serve as inspiration here, with the entire admission process including return or appeal completed within 6 weeks. The fact that various security databases are linked up helps here, with the police getting the data they need very quickly. Thus, those who really need asylum get it, and there is better control over who we can still manage to integrate.

Simply put, there are more solutions than merely giving everyone the right to migrate anywhere.

You’ve been described as one of the 50 most influential Czechs in Brussels. What specific interests of Czech voters have you managed to represent?

Personally, I see three areas. The first I have called helping Czech citizens and companies, the second is support for the government’s long-term positions, and the third is promoting and dealing with larger areas that trouble most citizens, or where there is a structural problem.

In order for a MEP to be able to help Czech citizens and companies, you really need to travel to the regions to meet people face-to-face and visit companies. I have therefore never made the excuse that MEP’s work is just to prepare legislation; I have approached the temporary role I have attained as a service to the people, and gone the extra mile. If you put my name into Google or visit www.zdechovsky.eu, you’ll find out that I have helped dozens of people, companies and non-profit organisations during my term. Not all these cases are as well-known as the story of Mrs. Michaláková’s, whose son was taken away from her in Norway, or the case of the unfairly sanctioned drivers in France; they generally came to an early and positive end, and so not much is known about them; you’re more likely to remember “tough battles” than a single happy ending.

I include amongst my support for government positions, for example, active resistance to the nonsensical refugee quotas, opposition to gun control regulations, providing significant help to negotiating EIA exceptions so that the Czech Republic can build new motorways using European grants, and support for Israel. These were all in the interests of the Czech Republic, and I provided great support to our government in these areas. In the third area, I would include, for example, the battle against the double standards in food quality, and also aid for the depopulating regions of Broumov and Želivka. I would also include here the fight against a number of frauds, where I have endeavoured to measure everyone with the same yardstick within the inspection committee, whether in regard to Mr. Juncker’s Selmayrgate, the Czech “holding companies” case or the misuse of grants in Slovakia, where I undertook a number of inspection missions following the murder of Ján Kuciak.

By Linda Štucbartová

This interview is also available in Czech. Just click here.

 

The Czechoslovak Talks

Extraordinary people, extraordinary stories

The Czechoslovak Talks is a project that embraces the life stories of Czechoslovaks around the world – the stories of the personal ups and downs, the opportunities and obstacles, and especially the life experiences that we would like to preserve for future generations.

The project was created in 2016 by the Dotek Endowment Fund. This endowment has supported the development of relations between Czech and Slovaks living abroad and Czech and Slovak institutions since 2008. They have had the chance to meet with many Czechoslovaks from around the world who have told their life stories, and these stories should not be forgotten. This is why they have decided to create an independent project that will record these stories.

Goal of the project

The memories that they collect should be an inspiration and a lesson in life, especially for future generations. The main objective of the project The Czechoslovak Talks is to preserve the life stories of Czechoslovaks from around the world. These narratives should be in the form of stories and distributed as separate publications.

Comic Book

A unique comic book called “Stories of our Czechoslovaks” was created for the 100th anniversary of the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia. See the first part here.

Cinco de Mayo Celebration

The Embassy of Mexico in Prague and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Prague carried out a unique Mexican Food Festival “Cinco de Mayo” at the exclusive restaurant SPICES from May 4-10, 2019.

The “4 Hands menu” of the Festival included a variety specialities of Mexican haute cuisine designed jointly by renowned Mexican Chef Omar Romero Quezada and Chef Stephen Senewiratne.

The Festival was inaugurated by Mexican Ambassador Leonora Rueda and the General Manager of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Prague, Flavia Daudan-Caponi.

These Are the Most Common Items People Forget to Pack

Let other people’s forgetfulness inform your packing list.

Even packing ahead of time (and not half an hour before heading for the airport) is not a foolproof method for ensuring you don’t forget something.

And just as frequently as you forget something vital, you’ll also remember that specific thing right when there’s no turning back. Just made it to the airport? That’s the moment you’ll think of the sunblock you left on the dresser.

Amazon tracked the most common items ordered on its shopping app in 2016, and the list is a revealing look at the accessories that tend to slip our minds (even though it’s difficult to go even a day without them).

Phone Chargers

Maybe you even remembered to pack it — and then left it in an outlet at the airport. Either way, phone chargers were the most common travel item ordered on the Amazon app. In 2016, shoppers ordered 11 million of them.

A little less than 60 percent of the chargers were for Apple products, and 40 percent were for Android devices. Buying a new charger every trip can cost you, so next time you’re on the go, try to remember to always unplug that charger when you get your device. And consider getting a portable battery charger to reduce the times you have to charge from power outlets.

Camera Chargers

That DSLR isn’t very useful if you forgot the charger for the battery pack.

Amazon shoppers ordered more than 4 million camera chargers and memory cards from the app in 2016.

Toothpaste

Shoppers purchased 3.75 million tubes of toothpaste in the mobile app in 2016.

The front desk at a hotel can sometimes help out with a travel-size toothpaste, but frequent travelers have no excuse for forgetting toiletry basics. Sure, TSA rules can be a pain, but make it a habit of stockpiling travel-sized necessities like toothpaste, sunblock, and shampoo and conditioner, and then keep them in a basket in the bathroom or on a closet shelf. Then, whenever you go to pack for a trip, all you have to do is grab them.

More frugal travelers should buy a set of travel-sized bottles to refill with their own products.

Swimsuits

There’s nothing worse than getting to a hotel and realizing there’s a pool — if only you had remembered to pack your swimsuit.

In 2016, customers bought 3 million swimsuits on the Amazon app.

Maybe just always pack a swimsuit?

Hair Brushes and Combs

As becoming as the windblown look can be, traveling with some basic grooming items is a good idea. Last year, people bought 2.6 million brushes and combs on the go.

Support the International Trebbia Awards 2019

We would like to bring your attention to an exciting new way of supporting the International Trebbia Awards. In cooperation with the powerful fund-raising portal known as GoFundMe, the reach of the Trebbia award is being expanded globally.

You can watch a short preview of the Trebbia story

If the mission interests and inspires you, please join and donate by clicking on the link below:

Link for donation

The names of all Donators will be mentioned in the upcoming newsletter!

See the photocoverage of last year’s event in our magazine.

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE (LESSNESS) NOVEL

Launch of the novel by Jiří Kostelecký Cape of Good Hope (lessness) was held on April 10, 2019 in Café Liberál. The festive “Baptism” of the novel begun with a small concert where virtuoso classical guitarists, HAMU graduates Soňa Vimrová and Miroslav Žára, played compositions by famous Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Astor Piazzolla and Manuel de Falla.

The godfathers of the new book were Zdena Procházková – the legendary Austrian-Czech actress, former wife of Karel Höger and Prince Karl Ferdinand von Thurn und Taxis, who baptized the book.

SHANGAI EXHIBITION

Photo coverage of Shangai Exhibition, culture event which was held 10.4. – 25.4.2019 at Shanghai SPSI Art Museum.

These Are the World’s 10 Best Cities to Live In

If you’re looking to live in a place with affordable housing, ample work opportunities, and a reasonably pleasant environment, then it’s time to pack your bags and move to London.

According to a global survey conducted by Resonance, a consultancy group, London is the very best city to reside in for 2019. That’s thanks to having all of the things listed above and more.

To come to its conclusion, Resonance profiled 100 of the world’s top-performing cities based on 23 different factors including housing affordability and employment opportunities, quality of the environment (both natural and manmade), quality of institutions, diversity, economic prosperity and quality of culture, cuisine, and nightlife.

“With the World’s Best Cities ranking, our goal is to provide city leaders — from destination marketing organizations to economic development teams — with new tools and perspectives on the key factors that shape a city’s competitive identity, community well-being, and future prosperity,” Resonance President and CEO Chris Fair shared with Luxury Travel Magazine. “While other rankings consider similar statistics such as airport connectivity or educational attainment in their methodology, no other ranking incorporates data from online channels such as TripAdvisor and Instagram to measure the experiential quality and performance of a city.” It appears that London hit all those marks and then some.

“London, right now, is a tight, highly curated Venn diagram of multi-ethnic revelry, enviable luxury retail, coveted universities and colleges … and — finally! — he restaurants to sate the palates of a growing number of curious global wanderers,” the authors of the study wrote.

People are clearly loving what London has to offer. Last year, more than 19.8 million tourists flocked to the city, which is an almost a million-person increase from the year before.

Paris came in second on the list as it prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games. New York City came in third. Millions of people are expected to travel to New York 2019 as it hosts World Pride, marking the first time the event has been held in the U.S. Two more cities in the United States also made the top 10 — Chicago and San Francisco. Tokyo came in fourth on the scale thanks to its impressive engineering and futuristic urban experience. If you’re thinking about making a move, or just want a bit of travel inspiration, check out the entire list here.

IBEROAMERICAN AWARDS CEREMONY XXIV EDITION

PRAGUE, 10 APRIL 2019
Charles University, Hall of the Patriots

The XXIV annual Iberoamerican awards ceremony took place on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. The competition was organized by the Embassies of Iberoamerican countries residing in Prague: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Peru and Portugal, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and Charles University.

Since 1994, hundreds of students from Czech universities have participated, in the successive calls of the Iberoamerican Award, by presenting a work of research directly related to history, culture, economy, politics or society of Iberoamerican countries, written in Spanish or Portuguese, languages, that are studied in the Czech education system. The mastery of both languages contributes to enriching lives of students by offering them the opportunity to communicate with some 750 million people in the five continents, whose native language is Spanish or Portuguese.

Rector of Charles University, Prof. Tomáš Zima, Vice Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Dr. Dana Prudíková, Vice Minister of Culture, Dr. Kateřina Kalistová, Ambassadors of Iberoamerican countries in the Czech Republic, as well as some members of the academic community and students were present as guests of honor.

THE WINNERS OF THE XXIV EDITION OF THE IBEROAMERICAN AWARDS

First Place: Eva Trávníčková, Masaryk University Brno, essay “Cuando el alma se vuelve material o paralelos entre el espacio y la conciencia en la novela existencial ̈Para siempre ̈ de Vergílio de Ferreira“.

Second Place: Anna Nováková, Palacký University Olomouc, essay “Entre Flandes, España y Bohemia. Guillermo Verdugo, agente de Francisco de Dietrichstein”.

Third Place: Martina Snášelová, Czech University of Agriculture in Prague, essay “Por una tableta de chocolate”.

Mentions of Honor: Olga Líbalová, Charles University in Prague, essay “El rol de la reforma vareliana en la transformación de la identidad uruguaya”, and Dominika Dibalová, Masaryk University Brno, essay “Los aspectos de la feminidad en la novela
́El Silencio ́, de Teolinda Gersão”.

DISCUSSION EVENT held at Greek Ambassador’s Residence

The Embassy of Greece in partnership with the University of New York in Prague organized a friendly discussion with guest speaker Mr. Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of the European Parliament, with focus on the topic of the upcoming European Parliament election.

Jana Maláčová

 

“It is UNACCEPTABLE for children to live in POVERTY”

 

Jana Maláčová, Minister of Social Affairs

At the end of May 2019 you’re celebrating your tenth month in government. How do you assess your performance? What has been a positive surprise, and what has been a negative surprise?

ČSSD (the Czech Social Democratic Party) is doing well in government, and I am pleased to be able to play my part in this. There have been a number of successes. These include increasing the minimum wage by 1150 CZK and abolishing the three day “waiting period” for receiving sick pay. This is important to me personally, because the Social Democrats have always been the party of labour. If you work hard, then we’ve got to be able to protect you and secure you decent working conditions.
Then there’s the highest pensions increase in history. And again, if you’ve worked hard your whole life, then you deserve a dignified old age and not one mired in poverty. But our pensions system isn’t perfect, which is why I’m glad that as well as increasing pensions we have also managed to set up the Fair Pensions Commission, which is going to focus on eliminating the greatest injustices. We want to rectify women’s lower pensions and secure earlier retirement for what we term difficult professions. But we’ve still got to find new sources of revenue for our pensions system.
I also think another great success is the increase to the care allowance for Grade III and Grade IV dependency, as I consider it absolutely fundamental that these disabled people, who are in most cases reliant on the assistance of others, receive financial support from the state.
But my list wouldn’t end there. If I could summarise, I’m glad that ČSSD has been able to push the government towards more socially sensitive policies. If ODS (the Civic Democratic Party) or SPD (the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party) were in government in our place, things would look entirely different. Negative surprises can come at any time, but we then discuss it in government and we manage to come to a solution together.

Despite the good economy, you’re the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in a country in which a tenth of the population are subject to debt collection procedures; we have 115 000 parents refusing to pay child maintenance, and we have two vulnerable social groups – families with small children and pensioners – who are highly likely to fall into a poverty trap. Families and old-age are your priorities. What are the opportunities for systematic change?

First of all, I’d like to say that when our country is doing well and we have no major crisis to deal with, it is unacceptable for children to live in poverty in the Czech Republic.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to ease the situation. We are working on a pro- family package that will include increasing child benefits, implementing back-up maintenance payments and promoting job sharing, such as for mothers on parental leave, as well as securing funding for kid’s clubs and micro-crèches. In regards to senior citizens, I’ve already spoken about the increases to pensions.
You’ve mentioned debt collection. According to the latest available statistics, 863 thousand people are subject to debt collection procedures. This is a truly horrifying figure. If these numbers were added to the figures indicating those under threat of poverty, the results would truly shock us. However, this problem is only partially my responsibility. Other ministries have to do their share of the work. In the meantime, I have unveiled an increase to the Living and Subsistence Minimum. People subject to debt collection procedures should get at least a little more. Work has simply got to pay under all circumstances. In this regard, I have therefore used a government decree amendment to apply a number of key principles, which should help to improve their living situation while also providing them with the opportunity to get out of their debt trap.
In addition, in the area of fighting poverty, we are coming down hard on all the fraudsters and those who profit from poverty, who are a menace in so-called areas of social exclusion.

You are the Deputy Chair of the Orange Club, which advocates fair representation of women in public life. We should note that according to the World Economic Forum, the Czech Republic is 88th in the world in terms of equal gender opportunities due to the low level of political and economic involvement, despite our high position in regard to equal access to health care and education. It seems from the outside that few are bothered by this low ranking, just as few are bothered by the 22 % pay gap. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, has declared: “Diversity is Canada’s strength.” What can be done to ensure this statement could apply to the Czech Republic too?

The fight for women’s rights is an important topic to me. Thanks to the 22 % K Rovnosti (22 % to Equality) project study, we know that women receive an 11 % lower salary than men for the same position with the same employer; this is equivalent to men receiving a 13th salary and their female colleagues getting nothing. Across the economy, the gap is the 22 % you have mentioned. A key reason, of course, is looking after the family and children. Unequal remuneration for women and men is a fundamental topic that I want to open up at our tripartite meetings. I think this is an injustice that causes harm not just to the people in our country, but also to our economy. Again, our pro-family package applies here, as it includes funding for kid’s groups, micro-crèches and job sharing. These two measures should ensure that women should not need to face so many problems in balancing their career and working life due to looking after their children, something that can also have a negative impact on how much they take home. And, of course, we’ve got institutions such as the Labour Inspection Office and others, which need to ensure that no direct discrimination of women takes place in the workplace.

Single mothers are the most vulnerable group in the labour market; they are subject to discrimination in the workplace and, alongside pensioners, face the highest risk of falling into a poverty trap. Some companies prefer to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of employing Filipinos or Indians rather than allowing shared work or job sharing. You are planning to submit your “family support package”, why was it hard to find support for this?

Job sharing won’t mean any further administrative burden for employers. In contrast, we have endeavoured to create our proposal such that the entire process is as simple as possible. It won’t be any more complicated than any time you want to recruit any new employee.
Thanks to job sharing, employers will be able to cover some of their needs for qualified employees, of which there are insufficient numbers today. One job could be shared, for example, by a mother on parental leave and a pensioner who would like to continue working and maintaining relations with colleagues, but is no longer able to commit full-time, or would like to spend more time with grandchildren. Budgetary reasons are often given as arguments against our pro-family package. But we should instead focus on the fact that investment in support for families will be returned to us many times over, whether in terms of a higher birth rate, or greater family financial stability. And we have a lot to invest in; we lack basic infrastructure, especially quality services in care for children under 3 years of age, support for part-time employment, etc.

Let’s stay with female solidarity. Have you encountered it? Does it operate in government? Does it work in top-level politics? Ministers Nováková and Schillerová are not well-known supporters of women or women’s topics.

It’s not for me to say. We all have a different agenda in each of our departments, and we communicate professionally together without major problems. However, when any disputes do break out, it is never at a personal level and we purely focus on discussion of our programme.
I personally have encountered the support for women that I am endeavouring to achieve in my previous roles, as well as within the Social Democrats, where this approach to women works excellently.

I’m not going to ask you how you manage with looking after your family and your career, because the question seems inappropriate since few people ask this question of men in top positions. So I’ll ask you how you work with energy, how you recharge, and how you manage to separate or bring together your work and family.

Thank you for formulating the question that way. But you’re right; it isn’t always easy. It sometimes happens that I spend the evening with my husband looking at our diaries and finding a way to reconcile everything together. But it helps that we have clearly set out what each of us does, and what the grandparents, who also help us, do. But it’s the same for most people; I look forward to relaxing with my husband, to being with my son Gustík and just enjoying our time together. Besides spending time with my family, I also find relaxation in sport and sleeping well. My favourite thing of all is to “switch off” over a good book or film.

By Linda Štucbartová

Best New Hotels in the World

Every year, Travel + Leisure‘s editors reach out to our network of hospitality professionals, trusted writers, and hotel addicts in search of the finest new (and newly reimagined) properties around the globe. We then log tens of thousands of miles, checking in to dozens of them, from far-flung islands to mountain lodges (and this year, for our 14th annual It List, more than one renovated church).

The resulting list is a collection of the best new hotels in the world. We’ve registered major openings and long-awaited renovations, of course — but we’ve also tracked down the under-the-radar stunners that we know you’ll love.

Sure, this year sees its fair share of reborn grand dames, but not just in the well-trod cities of Western Europe. In addition to Lutetia, the Parisian icon that stars on the cover of our March 2019 Hotels Issue, we find old standbys like the Raffles Europejski Warsaw, once the haunt of Poland’s literati; the Oberoi, New Delhi, perennial favorite of the city’s society set; and Belmond Cap Juluca, the finest property in Anguilla, which has returned to its pre-hurricane glory.

But there are also young guns disrupting our notion of what a hotel ought to be, like Freehand New York, the hostel-like hangout livening up Manhattan, or L’Arlatan, in Arles, France, whose high-style interiors feature museum-worthy art pieces. There are resorts and camps that are as serious about luxury as they are about protecting their natural environments, including Shinta Mani Wild, a private nature sanctuary in southern Cambodia, and Mombo Camp, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, which runs entirely on solar power. And there are properties that open up places where we’ve never dreamed of spending the night, like the Retreat at Blue Lagoon on Iceland’s most famous thermal pool, Denali National Park’s uber-remote Sheldon Chalet, or eastern India’s Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans, which feels like a paradise at the literal ends of the earth.

Of course, that’s just a sampling. Read on to discover all 74 properties on the 2019 It List of the best new hotels in the world. Find your next vacation in the slideshow ahead, then share your favorites with us on social media using #TLItList.

Edited by Lila Battis, Siobhan Reid, and Hannah Walhout.
See the slideshow here.

Happy Birthday FECIF! And here’s to real consumer protection

On the 30th June this year, FECIF will celebrate its 20th anniversary!

The Fédération Européenne des Conseils et Intermédiaires Financiers Aisbl (FECIF) was created on 30th June 1999 by a Royal Decree of the Belgian Ministry of Justice at the request of the founders: two trade associations, three distribution networks and asset managers from the United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg.

The founders were a group of successful businessmen, more importantly they were close friends. The aim, after the resignation of the Sander Commission and the appointment of Mr Romano Prodi as the new President of the European Commission (EC), was to create a body to represent financial intermediaries at a time when the new Commissioner in charge of the Single Market, Frits Bolkenstein, had launched The Financial Services Action Plan (FSAP).

We were all very enthusiastic about the idea of a European Union (EU), with an integrated, free trade zone, where products, services and clients would meet and exchange freely – no borders, no restrictions anymore………

The total number of consultants or agents engaged in the mediation of financial products or services in 1999 was over 800,000 – most of them independent.

Created for a period of six years, the objective of the FSAP was to enhance the harmonisation of the financial services markets within the EU. It was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2004…

Because we were very successful entrepreneurs, having accumulated years of experience and expertise, it was easy to establish, from day one, the credibility of FECIF with the EC.

In addition, from the beginning, FECIF was supported by the most prestigious financial services operators, banks and insurance companies sponsoring its lobbying program.

A service company (FCI Network Services SA) was set-up to provide members with support, information and access to markets across the EU.

The relationships between FECIF and the office of Mr Bolkenstein, and later his successor Charly Mc Creevy, were very constructive and allowed, for instance, the lowering of the cost of Professional Indemnity Cover for intermediaries to a level acceptable to FECIF members.

FECIF’s vision vs. Eurocracy’s vision: “Big is beautiful”

Then, the atmosphere changed: because of the Global Financial Crisis we have been told that “big is beautiful” – only large banks and large insurance companies were supposedly able to fully secure the consumers’ investments, their large size was the ultimate guarantee for the consumer: AIG, Lehman Bros, Dexia and Fortis were big – we know today what to think of this theory.

For years now we have been told that we (the intermediaries) should organise our business according to the same business models as the large institutions (emphasis on compliance, etc.); nobody is in a position to deny today that the lack of corporate governance within the large financial groups (high salaries, bonus scheme policies, golden parachutes, etc.) is one of the main causes of the crisis that commenced in 2007-2008.

Supervisors have now gained full power over the financial services industry, and they have managed to build up a library of conflicting regulations, with a total lack of harmonisation within the EU despite the mandate given by the EC; useless regulations exclusively targeting small and medium size independent operators but extremely indulgent on large financial groups and their activities.

Compliance has become, over the years, the main or sometimes only motivation for taking a business decision: “is it compliant?” Not – “is it good for my client and my business?” An investment was not selected because it was supposed to create add-ed value for the client’s portfolio and/or for the business; it was selected because it was authorised and eventually rated! Form versus substance…

Policy and regulatory repair – are they still possible? Fair rules are better than inefficient regulation

The incredible current build-up of useless regulations creating form rather than sub-stance must be removed: regulation limits the efficiency of transparency and simplicity. Unfortunately, the REFIT Plan initiated by Mr. Tajani when EC Vice President has been poorly implemented.

FECIF’s recommendations: more Europe, less bureaucracy!

Proper harmonisation of EU rules should be imposed on the national supervisors and not necessarily the most difficult (and stringent) way to apply the rules! The excess of protectionism in the name of general good has served as an excuse. It is obvious today, as so many people across Europe reject the Union, that the cause is mainly overregulation and its unbearable consequences: unemployment, high taxes, the decline of the EU economy.

As part of a democratic move, trade associations should be commissioned to play an active role in the supervision of their members and the promotion of the sector. Contrary to the national supervisors, they can evidence that they have the necessary experience and expertise to monitor the activity of the industry.

To supervise the job and to impose necessary harmonisation, there should be one single regulator – and not three competing ESAs – preferably the European Central Bank, which is well staffed with quality people, and, at national level, the central banks, as it was in the past.

How to learn to listen to the People (the citizens)

Big is NOT beautiful; SMEs are creating more jobs than the large conglomerates.
Regulation has killed nearly 500,000 jobs in our industry whilst creating only 30,000 posts for compliance officers and supervisory agency clerks all together…

Tax havens are blamed as the cause of all problems: it is difficult to believe that high tax policy is a sign of good management of public affairs compared to low tax policy? Tax competition, fiscal sovereignty, financial privacy, etc. remain key elements of a balanced and prosperous economic world and the only way to avoid massive tax evasion, and capital flow out of Europe

Free market does not mean anarchy! Ethics do not require over-regulation!

Because of the current economic slow-down, the EU may fail to mitigate the excess of bureaucracy which will expose the people of Europe to far worse problems than those regulation may solve. Over-regulation prevents private initiatives and restricts the role of independent operators for the sole benefit of the state-controlled (or state-influenced) conglomerates.

I wish, on the occasion of FECIF’s 20th birthday, that for the first time in many years the EC will listen to the voice of the People and not only to the opinion of the so-called politically correct experts, in order to bring forward legislative proposals on the new supervisory framework, to achieve its committed goal: real consumer protection.

Vincent J.Derudder
FECIF Advisory Committee Member & Honorary Chairman

The Ultimate Travel Packing Checklist

It’s all about losing the kilos – a happy traveler packs little and buys on the run for the odd unexpected, like an impromptu high tea with the Queen. Talk to any seasoned traveler and the more they travel, the less they pack. The globetrotter packs half as much as what they think they need and has access to twice as much money as they plan on spending.

Give yourself a stern talking to:

Weight

Give yourself a self-imposed rule of how much baggage you are prepared to lug around with you – think climbing stairs (especially in European train stations), over cobbled or maybe dirt bumpy lanes, jumping on and off trains/buses or keeping your bag with you when in a taxi, so the crooked driver can’t speed off with your bag still in the boot.

Same Same

Whether you are traveling for a week, a month or longer, pack the same amount. Even the most under-developed countries have a sink, if not a well, where you can wash your clothes. If you are going the luxury route, every hotel has a laundry service and Asian countries have laundries usually down the road from accommodation houses. The shower is “the” pseudo laundry when all else fails.

Neat Freaks or Messy Souls

Invest in some packing cubes, airless baggies and forget the compressor bags if they are the ones that you need a vacuum cleaner for. Give a distinct home to your goodies such as undies in one, socks in another, t-shirts in another one. You will know where everything is without having to empty out your bag to find that elusive sock to the one in your hand.

Pack for the Best Case Scenario

Don’t think along the lines of what will be “handy” on a trip, but what is “essential”. Take clothes that can be layered rather than one bulky coat and you don’t need extra toothpaste because believe it or not, you can buy toothpaste nearly anywhere in the world. Failing finding a shop down the road, do what the locals do, from charcoal in rural India to licorice root twigs in Africa. When you do find the shop down the road and you can’t read the label, break into a big smile and do a pantomime of what you need to the sales assistant.

Be a Traveling Philanthropist

If your trip entails the crossing of seasons, cultures or activities, buy what you need locally and when you depart that region, leave them in the hotel room for the probably poorly paid cleaning staff, the local community park where the homeless sleep or take the items to the local charity shop. From clothes to snorkeling gear, one man’s trash (in this case too much baggage) is another man’s treasure.

Contemplate and Procrastinate

Before you put an item in your luggage: Do you really, really, really need it? Spread everything out on the floor in front of you, pick each item up individually, feel its weight, look at its size and ask yourself, “Can I live without it, can I hire or buy it whilst I am away, or does it “deserve” to be placed in my bag?” Always aim to pack casual, light and simple.

The Secret

Prior to departing home, carry your luggage around the block, up and down some stairs and if you are really pedantic play tourist in your own town for an hour and see if you break out in a sweat, get blistered hands or a sore back. You will walk with your luggage when traveling more than you can imagine, so go for a dry run.

Take out Travel Insurance

Be prepared to lose whatever you pack, whether it lands in a different country to you, a rogue baggage handler takes a fancy to your undies, or someone runs off with it. Make sure you take out travel insurance that covers your baggage, get some awesome padlocks and differentiate your bag with stickers, ribbon or name tags that won’t fall off. Never pack anything of value in check-in luggage.

Read the rest here.

By Gail Palethorpe

Simple Tips on How to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Our eyesight is one of the most precious things we possess, yet a lot of people act carelessly and neglect their eyesight even though they shouldn’t. You, on the other hand, being the responsible adult, should take care of your eyesight. Here are some tips on how to keep your eyes healthy and avoid something that could easily be prevented:

1. Limit your exposure to the screens

In this day and age, we definitely spend a lot of time staring into the screen. Computers, TVs, smartphones and tablets have become the norm. We use them for work, leisure, to get informed and to pass the time. All of that can be straining and difficult for our eyes, therefore it’s important to limit the usage of gadgets and do other things whenever we can. Instead of watching TV, you could read a real, physical book, or take a walk. Substitute any screen-related activity with something that requires moving your body or going outside. Your eyes (and the rest of your body) will be grateful. It might seem difficult, but soon you’ll see that scrolling aimlessly through your phone isn’t the only thing you can do when you feel bored. Also, adjust screen brightness every time you use any device with a screen.

2. Get a pair of glasses

You might don’t need them now, which doesn’t really mean that your eyesight is perfect. Still, if you happen to have unusual headaches or blurred vision, maybe getting a pair of glasses isn’t a bad idea. Go to the optometrist and if needed, go and get yourself nice glasses that suit the shape of your face. Many people mind find it annoying, but the truth is, glasses are often necessary as we age, so if you’re older, then it makes sense to wear glasses, at least when you’re using a computer or spending time on your phone. Our distance vision tends to get progressively worse as we get older, so instead of straining your eyes trying to read something, get glasses instead and keep your eyesight in good condition instead.

3. Go and get an eye exam

Regular eye exams are usually reserved for those who wear glasses all the time, but even if you’re not one of them, there’s no reason not to do it. Even if your eyes are healthy, being precautious is always advisable. Incorporate a regular eye test into your healthcare routine, in order to be sure that everything’s fine. Eye exams are quick and painless, so if you haven’t done it before, there’s no reason to be worried. Find a good doctor in your area and get yourself checked. Keeping your eyes in a good state is something we should all aspire to do, whether we already wear glasses or not. Preventing eye diseases like glaucoma and cataract is only possible through regular yearly eye-checkups.

4. Eat healthily

A proper diet and healthy eyesight are actually connected, so eating food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and vitamins A and E. That includes fruits and vegetables such as beans, spinach, kale, lemons, oranges and grapefruits. Also, fish and pork are the best meats to eat if you want to preserve your eyesight. Another benefit of a healthy diet is that it lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes which can, if untreated, lead to blindness. Next time you feel like munching, get something healthy instead of the sugary snacks!

In summary, keeping your eyes healthy doesn’t have to be difficult, you only need to practice some self-control and discipline when it comes to eating properly and spending time in front of screens. It’s also recommended replacing your eye lenses if you use them, wear quality sunglasses and use protective eyewear if you’re doing anything hazardous.

 

By Peter Minkoff

Peter is a lifestyle and travel writer at Men-Ual magazine, living between Ústí nad Labem and Antwerp. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.

The Ultimate Guide to ‘Game of Thrones’ Filming Locations Around the World

HBO’s Game of Thrones is lauded for its lush world-building, and the visually stunning way production designers (and, you know, wig experts) have brought George R.R. Martin’s rich, complicated world to life. Game of Thrones is, after all, a study in mind-blowing landscapes: frigid wastelands and forests beyond the Wall, the amply-treed Kingsroad, turquoise waters across the Narrow Sea, and the sunny, medieval King’s Landing, to name a few.

While many of GOT’s recurring sets (like the Iron Throne) are filmed at Paint Hall studios in Belfast, the show shoots largely on-location, primarily in Northern Ireland and Iceland for scenes in the North, and Croatia and Spain for the South. Cast members who have scenes beyond the Wall have been known to film in freezing temperatures, often on lands buried in feet of snow.

With such an impressive roster of medieval cities and stunning islands on their shoot list, it should come as no surprise that a GOT location tour around Europe would make for an ideal vacation. For all you travel junkies out there, we’ve compiled the ultimate Game of Thrones travel guide to help inspire your next trip. (This may seem obvious, but there are light spoilers ahead.)

Onward!

*Editor’s Note: This post is dark and full of terrors … AKA it’s full of spoilers. So, if you’re not caught up on Game of Thrones, proceed with caution.

See slideshow.

Air France Is Offering Free Flights to Paris for Those Helping Rebuild Notre Dame

On Monday evening, a massive fire engulfed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France. Firefighters immediately rushed to the scene. Though they were unable to save the famed Catholic landmark’s spire, the building’s main structure remained intact. Now, all that’s left to do is rebuild — and plenty of people are offering to help in that process.

Thousands of people and several billionaires have already pledged money to help rebuild the church. Air France-KLM is also getting in on the kind act by offering free flights to those assisting in the reconstruction.

“All Air France and Air France-KLM teams around the world have been deeply affected and saddened since (Monday),” the airline said in statement. “Air France will provide free transport for all official partners involved in the reconstruction of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.” It added, “… in the days ahead, the Air France-KLM group will set up a voluntary donations fund for its customers to help finance the reconstruction work.”

According to USA Today, donations are quickly approaching the $1 billion mark to aid in the rebuilding. Thankfully, several priceless artifacts were recovered — including Jesus’ crown of thorns — and no lives were lost in the fire.

Now, the church’s reconstruction will begin, and according to French President Emmanuel Macron, the entire project will take just five years.

Read the rest of the article here.

Shimon Peres Innovation Center in Tel Aviv, or Where the Present and Future Intersect

The Shimon Peres Innovation Center in Tel Aviv was opened in February 2019 in a pilot phase for visitors. The new spacious building built on the seashore at Jaffa is unique in that all the main Israeli inventions are concentrated in one place, regardless of their origins. The Center recalls Peres’s legacy, his visionary focus on science and technology, and his support for innovation to secure not just Israel’s economic prosperity, but also peace and stability in neighbouring states.

In front of the entrance to the architecturally distinctive building, the white lettering “Dream Big” draws the visitor’s attention and, contrasting with the surface of the sea, is a reminder of the often-stated Peres quote, “We should use our imagination more than our memory.” The fact that the exhibition is dedicated to Israeli start-ups and their role in the Israeli innovation system is noted in the welcome panel, which provides the encouragement: “Let’s begin together, entrepreneurs, your journey starts here .”

The inspirational entrance hall showcases the main fields of research in which Israel has achieved results of global significance. These are medical technology, IT technology and cyber-security, agricultural technology and technology related to mobility.

The guided tour begins on the first floor, which is focused on the recent past. In the “Secrets of Innovation” section, visitors can learn about individual key participants in the innovative ecosystem and their extraordinary stories. These include Nobel Prize winners, scientists and entrepreneurs of various generations and origins, to whom you can pose four questions. Using interactive panels, the person you choose will tell you about their childhood, describe their best idea, share a challenge they overcame, or give you advice.

Another room entitled Innovative Nation provides the answer to the question of how Israel built itself up to become a global innovation power. On a large interactive timeline located on the wall, you can see major Israeli innovations, along with their development and connections in the fields of high tech, medicine, agriculture and social sciences. What is fascinating about visiting the Peres Center is that it offers a combination of interactive and experiential learning. Group work is done on smaller interactive panels in which participants have the opportunity to more thoroughly investigate one specific discovery, while answers to specific questions can be found on the surrounding walls and display cases. After group work, it’s time to relax and reflect, so you can take a visit to Shimon Peres’s study. The film screened here introduces us to the life of a man who had a fundamental impact on the development of the State of Israel from the time of its founding to the present day, but whose visions have also directed the state’s future.

On the next storey, visitors are welcomed by a robot. We find ourselves in the future. We enter a time capsule, and using VR headsets we begin to perceive what challenges the human race is going to have to deal with, and how technology can help us overcome these problems. Which technologies in digital medicine, nanorobotics, smart travel and space travel will be fundamental to solving the key problems of the future?

From the future, we return to the present. The basement provides a showcase of 45 of the best contemporary Israeli start-ups with global impact. The presented companies arose from a public tender run by the Ministry of Trade to which over 1000 entities applied. These include world-renowned leaders on the start- up scene such as Mobileye, Orcam and the Beresheet space probe, currently heading for the moon. The Center’s generous sponsors don’t miss out either, with their activities also presented on interactive panels, so in addition to the standard thank-you message they also get befitting PR. The start-ups showcased, like the sponsorship companies, will be regularly rotated every six months so that the exhibition always remains up-to-date and inspirational.

I recommend anyone travelling to Tel Aviv to include the Innovation Center on their list of places to visit. For families with kids, I should add that a visit is recommended for children from ten years of age upwards. Tickets need to be booked in advance on their website.

By Linda Štucbartová

The Best Places to Travel in April

In April, signs of spring are all around us — warmer days, daffodils poking their yellow petals through the soil, and in a few places, cherry blossoms. Winter sports lovers: there’s still snow in northern locales including Lake Tahoe, where you can end the season in style before stowing away your gear.

Along with comfortable spring temperatures comes the urge to enjoy the outdoors, and what better place to satisfy that wish than state and national parks? A trip to Tucson’s mountains and deserts would fit the bill, and St. George in Utah combines natural beauty with artistic creations at their annual Art Festival in April. In South Carolina, Palmetto Bluff offers mild temperatures and much to do on both land and water, with a golf course, shooting club, equestrian stables, as well as a river and wetlands for fishing and boating.

If flowers are a sure indication of the season for you, cherry blossoms in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture will send their message loud and clear. Closer to home, Toronto’s Sakura cherry blossoms usually appear by late April. In Wilmington, North Carolina, spring brings azaleas, celebrated in their annual Azalea Festival from April 3-7 with concerts, parades, and other events to welcome the season.

You can have your summer a bit early with a trip to Grand Cayman where warm, dry weather will provide the perfect backdrop for water sports or just lounging on the beach. On Florida’s Gulf Coast, Dunedin’s beaches, state parks, and jazz age heritage make this a unique spring destination. Get to California’s Newport Beach before summer crowds to enjoy the shore and last month of the gray whale migration.

If there’s time for a longer trip, Western Australia’s early autumn brings beach weather and a quirky street arts festival in Fremantle, a short trip from Perth. April is an excellent time to visit Venice, and for fans of cruising, Crystal Cruises offers Mediterranean adventures with Venice shore excursions designed to meet everyone’s interests.

Visiting a new destination or returning to a favorite one somehow both relaxes and energizes us. You might find that a springtime trip can be as refreshing as an April shower.

See the slideshow here.

Diplomatic Cup Launching Event

Photo coverage from Italian embassy event.

PRESIDENT MILOŠ ZEMAN

REPRESENTING THE CZECH REPUBLIC

The Italian Design Day 2019

at the Embassy of Italy in Prague

On March 20th, 2019 the Italian Embassy in Prague hosted the key event of Italian Design Day 2019 in the Czech Republic. The initiative, promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, endeavored to combine artistic spirit, creativity and entrepreneurship. Along with a photographic exhibition by the photographer Miro Zagnoli, some of the symbolic products of Made in Italy were exhibited: a Ferrari Portofino, a Ducati Panigale V4, a Vespa, a Rocchetto bathtub, Flos lamps, an Edra chair and a selection of products by Kartell, Alessi and Bialetti.

The Ambassador of Italy, Mr. Francesco Saverio Nisio, underlined the importance of design as a key factor in Italy’s exports potential, as the combination of aesthetic excellence harmonized with practical and functional elements makes Italian products particularly sought after and appreciated by the international market.

With Linda Štucbartová on the Czech Women’s Entrepreneurial Mission to Israel

I had heard about Linda from a mutual friend, the Prague-resident Israeli painter Hana Alisa Omer. I found Linda’s profile – and I couldn’t imagine it being humanly possible to undertake all the activities she does. When I met her in person, I realised that actually it is possible. Some women are drivers; they know what they want and they do it with an enthusiasm that recharges them so they can create something new.

Linda speaks of herself as a “connector”, meaning a person who brings together and connects others. The subject came up a number of times in our interview that women should support and help each other, and that networking is an important female capability. Although she is from an entirely different field than me, we have a lot in common and the interview was spontaneous and enriching. Her latest activity is her work for Diversio (www.diversio.cz ), an entity supporting transformational projects through networking and connecting different fields. My first question was how Linda came up with the idea of connecting Czech and Israeli female entrepreneurs, and why specifically in Israel? And after that all I needed to do was listen to her interesting points.

“OKAY, I’LL ARRANGE A MISSION…”

“I graduated from Oxford twenty years ago in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. When we received our certificates, we knew that we had lived through a wonderful year and a unique experience, but we also told ourselves that we had studied a subject that we almost won’t use in our life. We knew we were going to work as lawyers and diplomats. I myself continued by studying international relations in Geneva. In terms of occupation, I began at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was deeply involved in supporting women, because I am not satisfied with their representation at the highest levels of politics, and in the corporate and academic spheres.

I’m a member of the Charles University Board for Commercialisation (at the Centre for Knowledge and Technology Transfer). Its task is to ensure the results of applied research are available to the whole of society, as we all pay for the transfer from primary to applied research through our taxes. In light of this, the results should serve everyone. The board is well-balanced, containing men and women, representatives of various generations and branches of science. This work means I have come to realise that when a narrow group of people make decisions on the course of research, its funding, the make-up of scientific teams, etc., this ends up impacting the direction society takes. This opened my eyes and made me realise how important it is to set up a paradigm at the start of the process, e.g. ensuring women are present in advisory positions. My next steps led me to the Technology Agency, where I worked as an external assessor for Industry 4.0. This was despite the fact I’ve got a humanities education. But I never feel like an outsider or some “blonde”, though I do just happen to be one; I feel instead like someone who brings a different perspective. I can look at a whole project with a gaze those inside it don’t have. For example, I can see that groups such as young athletes or young childless people are preferred, whereas there is no defence of the interests of mothers or older people and their perspective is not taken into account. So I can ask myself what we can do for them.

And that was when I started travelling to Israel, because my friend made Aliyah there (acquired citizenship and moved to Israel). Her daughter was my daughter’s best friend, and we said as mothers that we would continue to support their friendship. I’ve always come back from Israel feeling incredibly inspired and full of energy. Loads of people started asking me to take them with me next time. I must have been the latest thing … (laughs). So I told myself: Okay, I’ll arrange a mission.

“DOORS OPENED TO ME EVERYWHERE…”

I began looking in general at entrepreneurial mission programmes. And I discovered two interesting features. First, men take other men onto the government aeroplanes and then they speak to more men, so again the female element is lost. If women do go, then they are usually the only ones. Secondly, men speak pragmatically about investments, the sale of large complexes, constructions, turbines… I think this isn’t where the future lies. Let’s look at how society is developing! Let’s take a look at start-ups (“a business venture typically described as a newly established or emerging company, and a rapidly developing and changing society”, source: Czech Wiki), accelerators (“a private company or institution set up by a region or city or an organisation affiliated with a college or university that helps new companies (mainly start-ups) to accelerate their development and growth”, source: Czech Wiki), incubators (“either a private company or an institution set up by a region or city as an affiliated college or university organisation that helps new and emerging companies (start-ups) at periods when such companies are most vulnerable, i.e. when they first begin doing business. Incubators help by providing services such as training on how to set up a business plan, or marketing, and other activities such as lease of office space or providing contacts within a particular sector. Another purpose for incubators is to create jobs and support the overall business environment within local communities.” Source: Czech Wiki). Let’s look at how we’re educating our kids, how we’re looking after those who can no longer look after themselves..

The Israelis really liked the idea of a women’s entrepreneurial mission and helped me loads. My contacts in Israel helped me: I took part in an AJC conference (the American Jewish Committee, a highly prestigious American organisation protecting Jewish rights and social rights in general), where I got an overview of what is currently “cutting-edge” in Israel. The current Israeli ambassador in the Czech Republic, J E Daniel Meron, helped me. The Czech embassy helped me, especially my former Foreign Ministry colleague, Ambassador Ivo Schwartz. He gave me a list of women – Israeli entrepreneurs – so I could set up contacts. One of them was the head of AJC, Avital Leibovitch. I did an interview with her – and with Israel being small and people relying above all on personal recommendations, doors opened to me practically everywhere.

“WE WENT TO MAP THE ISRAELI ECOSYSTEM…”

What was different about my mission? We went to map the Israeli ecosystem. We went to take a look at start-ups, accelerators, e.g. the city accelerator in Herzliya, which seeks to solve the city’s problems using small start-up companies and large companies looking for ways to innovate. We then went to look at the IDC in Herzliya (a private university). This is a higher education institution that supports entrepreneurship – something we lack in the Czech Republic. Students there don’t work for work’s sake – I didn’t enjoy that during my studies – but rather set up companies, set up their start-ups; they’ve got a laboratory and they can test everything out in practice. You can see just how far it pushes them. We also went to look at investors, because that’s another important area: you can see how well set up access to capital is. The government helps in loads of these activities, launching lots of great development programmes to ensure companies succeed. It is interesting that even though Israelis naturally look at success, they are not satisfied when it is too great. They say that perhaps then they have played it safe, and if they choose a company that is bolder, then in a few years they could have greater success. So they don’t go for the things we focus on here in new operational programmes, such as studies or holding conferences, but they work with ideas looking towards the future, so there is something to develop. We have mapped the Israeli ecosystem like this from many perspectives.

“DIVERSIO IS DESIGNED TO SUPPORT WOMEN, BUT I DON’T WANT TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST MEN…”

There were women from the civil service, top managers in corporations, universities, entrepreneurs and investors on the mission… Diversity was assured purely in the fact that we were from diverse sectors, and it wasn’t just the programme that was valuable to us, but also the mutual discussion. Our WhatsApp group is still going, and we support each other. We were a total of twenty-two women and one man. Diversio is designed to support women, but I don’t want to discriminate against men (laughs).

“CHEEK, DIRECTNESS, FIXING THE WORLD”

If I were to summarise what I took away from Israel and want I’d like us to have in Czech society, then that would be above all changes in attitude: adjusting how we think about whether something can be done or not. It begins with chutzpah(a Yiddish word meaning cheek, or assertiveness): having a healthy audacity, healthy self-confidence. And just to try things out, because it’s preferable to make mistakes than to do nothing at all. In the Czech Republic, one might even make the claim that in contrast the logic here is: “whoever makes no mistakes is praised, and whoever is praised is promoted”. We lack an appreciation for mistakes.

It might begin with chutzpah, but chutzpah isn’t enough on its own. Chutzpah needs to go along with diversity. Few people realise that Israel is a country containing immigrants from a hundred and thirty countries. It is incredible the cultural education and diverse mind maps that people arrive there with. And that’s diversity! We keep rehashing the “men – women” perspective, and yes, that’s where it begins, that’s the most visible aspect, but here in the Czech Republic we are unable to work even with the diversity of four generations at the workplace, or with rural and urban diversity.

A second concept is tachles, “to the point”: typical Israeli directness. “I’m doing it”. We’re not going to mess around, we’re not going to write another feasibility study; we’re going to show what we know – and we’re back to fear of failure. It won’t work! Then we’ll learn something about it! Statisticians tell us that eighty percent of first start-ups fail – but they also tell us that ninety percent of second start-ups succeed! We get hung up on the fact that a particular project might not work out. But you always learn something. Try it out; don’t wait for perfection– because you’re never going to get perfection in this world anyway.

The third concept, and my favourite, is tikkun olam: make the world a better place. Israel is a small country surrounded by countries more or less hostile to it, and thus its products must be global from the beginning. Everyone speaks perfect English there (This is also something else we could learn from – even after thirty years we still aren’t able to get over our fear of languages). They don’t speak perfectly, but they can get their points across. They think globally and try to make the world a better place. This has a long tradition in Judaism.

What I like about Israelis is their open mind: they want to share what they have discovered with the world. They don’t leave it for themselves. Let me give examples of some of the phenomenal projects set up in Israel that help: the OrCam glasses, also available on the Czech market, which are glasses that allow the blind practically to read, and meet up with people. They have been localised into Czech – in this way, Israel has shown that Czech-Israeli relations are special. Also, for example, specially-designed walkers that help paraplegics to walk, or at least stand up so they don’t have to sit in a wheelchair all the time. A wheelchair was also developed in Israel for the developing world that costs just eighty-eight dollars. Most people in developing countries haven’t the money to afford a standard wheelchair. So some Israeli engineers got together and came up with the idea, which anyone now can print using a 3D printer, and set it up. In medicine, we’ve got artificial intelligence and big data. My friend is developing an application that is designed to prevent breast cancer, because breast cancer is becoming prevalent amongst lower age groups and an annual check-up is no longer enough. On the basis of your medical and family history, the application tells you: “At this age start this, do this, avoid that…”. And those are just a few examples.

“THE ISRAELIS LIKE OUR COHESION”

We still need to work on relations between Israel and the Czech Republic. Yes, President Masaryk’s trip to Mandatory Palestine as the first head of a European state to do so, and his defence of the falsely accused Jew Leopold Hilsner formed a good foundation, but that’s the past; we can’t live off that forever. That’s why I want to continue these missions, and take children to Israel as well as women. When I have met Israeli female entrepreneurs, they have said they like our Czech cohesion, something like “Slavic solidarity” (laughs).We followed on from each other, saying how we met, and how we support each other. In Israel, there is great pressure for performance and individualism, so there isn’t the time or energy for mutual support and networking. This made our approach inspiring for the Israelis. At the end of the day, that’s how women do business – we nurture relations, we cultivate society. The trend now isn’t to push for performance, but rather to demonstrate that results can be achieved by being connected, supporting, sharing contacts and helping each other. At the same time, we don’t want to end up merely chatting over coffee. From words to deeds! As the Israelis say: Ja’ala, ja’ala!(an Arabic word in Hebrew meaning “let’s do it!”)

“I’M DISAPPOINTED I’M NOT A CHILD MYSELF AND I CAN’T GO THERE…”

November will be the second year of the mission for female entrepreneurs. Some of the women on last year’s mission were so enthusiastic that they’re going again, so I want to arrange a different programme. I’ll keep Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as our bases, but this time I’d like to take a look at Beersheba, which is an interesting city in terms of cyber-security. The university in Beersheba has long been headed by a woman – and I think she was the first Israeli woman ever to hold such a high position. Also fascinating is how Beersheba was planned as a city in the desert. We’d like to look at (Arab) Nazareth – a city that is a good model of Jewish-Arab co-operation set up by women. And we’ll end in the Golan Heights. I’m now arranging the Tikkun Olam programme for kids to support their entrepreneurship and discovery. When you take the Czech youth, our promising next generation, what is it they want? To get a good job in a foreign corporation. What is it that young Israelis want? To set up a start-up and one day sell it to a corporation. So I came to realise that we need to start early, like the Israelis do. I am very pleased to have got representation for Big Idea, which is the top company running youth camps, when they take children from seven to seventeen years old, divide them up into age groups and allow the kids to choose from forty workshops. I’m a little disappointed I’m not a child myself and I can’t go there… (we laugh). On the other hand, I wouldn’t be able to choose whether I wanted to build a robot, fly a drone, work on cyber-security, surf the ocean waves or act in a play…”

Thank you for the interview, and here’s to more joy from making connections!

You can find out more about Linda and her work on her website: www.diversio.cz

Photo from the mission – Linda in the light blue dress, second from right in the first row.

Articles published on the websitewww.oheladom.cz are copyrighted articles and translations by PhDr. Terezie Dubinová. You may not copy them and place them on your website without her consent. You are permitted to share them on FB using a full link; let the author know by e-mailing

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Things we do that undermine our self-confidence

Alena Huberova – Public Speaking

You’re not good enough… You’re not good enough… The inner voice goes on and on and it’s overwhelming. Why is it we sometimes feel inadequate despite all our successes, achievements and recognition by others? We have all the reasons to feel confident so why don’t we? Healthy self-confidence is something we all want as leaders. Yet there are certain things that we do, often unconsciously, that undermine our self-confidence, making us doubt ourselves and limit our potential. Today I want to talk to you about one of these things that I consider crucial, however it hasn’t made it to the front pages of the popular leadership manuals yet…

WE ALL WANT IT…

We all want to feel self-confident. To have that feeling of strength coming from within, that no matter what comes your way, you can trust in yourself and your abilities; you accept yourself exactly as you are. You are comfortable in your own skin and recognize your strengths and your weaknesses; you know what you know and what you don’t know.

True self-confidence is crucial for everyone and more so for you – a leader. The spotlight is on you, every day you need to confront challenging situations and withstand the pressures that come with them, to stand up for yourself and your people. Self-confidence is the foundation of your success as a leader.

CULTIVATING SELF-CONFIDENCE

Let me first clarify one thing. Although it would be wonderful to always feel strong and 100% self-confident, let’s face it, that’s impossible. Our level of self-confidence fluctuates, there are days we feel more confident than others, there are situations and people we feel more confident around than with others. This is reality. The important thing is to have a good ‘baseline’ level of self-confidence independent of any external circumstances or conditions. If your confidence is overly dependent on your boss patting you on the back every time you do a good job or your partner telling you how hot you look, you run the risk of feeling quite inadequate most of the time.

To have a good baseline level of self-confidence takes conscious effort. It’s the same as with staying fit and healthy. If you want to keep your six-pack, a lean toned body that is a pleasure to look at, you have to put in the hours of physical exercise and avoid the junk food you so crave.

To maintain healthy self-esteem and confidence, there are things you want to do and also things you ought to avoid.

In this article I don’t intent to provide you any life-changing advice or a general list of things to do every day to boost up your self-confidence. No, I want to focus on one specific thing we do that diminishes our self-confidence: Not telling the truth (or the whole truth).

THE THINGS WE DO…

Yes, you heard me right: not telling the truth. “Alena, are you calling me a liar?” I can hear your objections already. No, I am not calling you a liar. I certainly hope that you’re not going around telling outright lies to anyone. And if you do, then you ought to have a serious chat with yourself and better still, with your psychotherapist. I am talking about things that are much more subtle. Little things we tell each other in conversations that sound polite and charming, but don’t really mean a thing. We should have a coffee sometime! OR I‘ll call you! OR How very interesting, I’ll be in touch… etc.

These are phrases that when you hear them, you already know that the call will never come, that the coffee encounter will never take place… It’s just a polite, empty phrase that sounds pleasing to the ear but is void of any meaning.

I had to laugh when I watched the popular fairy tale “Into The Woods” and Prince Charming say, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere!” How many of us charmers are out there? Saying things we don’t really mean but they sound like just the right thing to say to make others feel good.

And here’s another example. Remember a time someone asked for a favor or made a proposal to you and you said YES whilst your entire body was screaming NO? You said YES because saying NO would put you in an uncomfortable spot, or could hurt someone’s feelings, or god forbid, would put you in danger of becoming unpopular?!

THE CONSEQUENCES CAN BE HARSH…

I know, it sounds trivial. It is not. Every time you say something you do not really mean you’re undermining your self-confidence. You are losing a piece of yourself. You hear words coming out of your own mouth, knowing they carry no weight – they are meaningless and cannot be trusted. This has a tremendous impact on your self-esteem and confidence. Similarly, every time you say YES to something or someone when you really want to say NO, you’re undermining your self-confidence. By saying YES to others you’re saying NO to yourself, you’re disrespecting your own wishes and opinions, that’s a major blow to your confidence.

YOUR 24-HOUR CHALLENGE

If anything I just said resonates with you, I’ll share with you a little challenge I gave myself years ago. During the next 24 hours monitor all your interactions with others, at work, at home, or anywhere you move throughout the day. Pay a close attention to all that you say. Do you really mean it? Will you do as you say or is it just a polite, empty phrase? And if it is, why are you saying it? What is the benefit you’re getting by saying it? Consider whether the benefit is worth the damage you’re causing to your self-confidence… Try it and if you dare, share with me your insights. You may find, just like I did years ago, that you’re the perfect Prince/Princess Charming. It’s very disconcerting but at least now you know and now you have the possibility to do something about it.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT…

Speaking the truth! I believe it is hugely underrated yet crucial for our true self-confidence. Could you just imagine if we all started to pay more attention to the words we speak? If we embraced honesty instead of charm and false politeness? For me, honesty is not only a sign of self-love and respect and the foundation of our inner strength but honesty opens up a new level of communication and connection between people, much deeper and more meaningful. Remember, even bad news or rejection can be communicated with empathy, love and respect; even uncomfortable information or conversation can serve its purpose – sometimes it is just the thing the other needs to hear because it can inspire action or a change in behavior.

And so, next time you have the urge to say yes when you really want to say no, or when you turn on your charms, please think twice. We don’t need any more Prince(s) Charmings in this world. There are enough of them already! We need the strong, confident you to set an example for others and lead in your authentic way in this world!

By Alena Huberova
Presentation Coach and Speaker
Feminine Leadership Trainer
www.alenahuberova.com
alena@alenahuberova.com

ABOUT ALENA HUBEROVA

Alena assists business leaders all over Europe in developing a powerful personal presence on and off-stage, and delivering presentations that get people’s buy-in and inspire action. She acts as a mentor for startups helping them design and deliver winning business pitches. More recently she’s been focusing on helping female leaders to embrace their authentic & feminine self and let it shine at work and beyond!

She has a professional background in sales, marketing and communication in a variety of sectors including IT, travel and tourism, wellness and beauty. She lived and worked in 5 different countries in Europe and Asia.

In collaboration with Presenation.com, she coached the X.GLU Czech Team to win the world title at the Microsoft Imagine Cup in 2017. Alena’s other achievements include being a speaker at the TEDx UNYP 2017 conference and winning the second place in the 2018 Czech National Championship of Public Speaking.

Petr Očko

 

“In the near future, the Czech Republic may become one of the leaders in innovation”

 

Petr Očko, Ministry of Industry and Trade Deputy Minister for Digitisation and Innovation

Petr Očko doesn’t just believe that the Czech Republic could become an innovation leader, but he has been actively striving to achieve this. Over his career, he has managed to build up a successful technology start-up, has worked for a number of ministries and also has experience within large corporations. As for state institutions, he has led the CzechInvest agency, was Chairman of the Technology Agency, and since July 2018 has been Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade responsible for the new Digitisation and Innovation Department. Few understand the issue of applied research or co- operation between business and science as well as he does. We are glad he has granted Czech and Slovak Leaders readers an exclusive interview on the entirely new Czech Republic Innovation Strategy 2019-2030.

In early February, the government launched the Czech Republic Innovation Strategy 2019-2030. The Czech Republic, previously promoted as the Land of Stories, is to become the “Land for the Future”. You yourself were involved in the creation of this strategy. What fundamental changes does this strategy bring along?

I’m very pleased this strategy has been developed, because I am absolutely convinced that we are a country of great potential, and it is primarily up to us whether we exploit this fact or not. We are building on a long tradition of research, education and industry. And currently we also have large investments here in research centres, a lot of excellent research results, companies that are growing strongly and asserting themselves in foreign markets; we have much to offer the world. Yet few in the world link the Czech Republic and innovation together. Finland, today considered an innovation leader, was not in an easy situation 30 years ago, and had much less of a tradition of advanced industry and research. A large proportion of Finland’s success is due to its commitment to change and a shared vision of the future. We lack both of these, and that’s why this strategy is important, because it emphasises the vision of the Czech Republic as an innovation leader.
Of course, I’m not saying everything is perfect here – our business sector is highly dependent on foreign owners, many of whom undertake their science and research activities outside Czech territory. The sector comprising innovative small and medium-sized Czech companies is growing, but only some of these companies have penetrated the higher levels of global value chains. And co-operation between the academic and business spheres, or knowledge and technology transfer, has improved significantly, but is still below the optimum level.
This strategy addresses this area, and measures are proposed to deal with it, many of which are already being undertaken – such as making tax deductions for science and research more effective, and a key amendment to the act on investment subsidies, which will now be focused on investments with added value, and on bringing research organisations and companies together.

You held the position of Chairman of the Technology Agency (TACR) for over two years. During your chairmanship, TACR significantly expanded the number of declared tenders and launched new programmes supporting applied research. Do you regret that some people still describe the Czech Republic as an assembly plant?

The projects supported by the Technology Agency have helped me to get a much better picture of what applied research is being done in the Czech Republic, and that it is often truly world-class. There are quite a number of less well-known companies in the Czech Republic that are leaders in certain global markets – such as in medical devices, electron microscopy and in the increasingly important field of cyber- security, as well as in other areas.
Through the INKA project – mapping innovation capacities – implemented by TACR, we have thoroughly mapped the Czech innovations environment. Thus we know that there are a large number of companies in the Czech Republic of various sizes that have great innovation potential. On the other hand, there are a large number of companies here that are dependent on foreign owners and buyers whose innovative activities are limited to partial technological improvements. But according to the INKA investigation, even the subsidiaries of foreign companies are steadily improving their position within the range of the parent company’s activities. Many of these have significant science and research capacities. Some have become the leading science and research centre for their entire group in their product or technology field. It is thus our objective to support companies that have the potential of developing their innovation activities here in the Czech Republic, and support them to move higher up the global value chains. The INKA project investigation also showed that the management of many Czech companies have limited or conservative aspirations in terms of growth in company size within a 5- to 10-year horizon. In co-operating with TACR and “our” agencies, CzechInvest and CzechTrade, we are also helping companies to develop their innovative activities and succeed on the global markets.

You’ve gained professional experience both in your start-up and in the civil service, and you’ve worked for large corporations and in cutting-edge science. In the Czech Republic, these sectors are less connected than elsewhere, with almost insurmountable chasms in between. What can be done so that people in the different sectors understand each other more and begin to co-operate?

There are many positive exceptions, but it is true that I’m sometimes surprised by how much energy is sometimes spent deepening those chasms between different sectors. Personally, over practically the whole of my professional career, I have tried to expend my energy on building bridges rather than deepening chasms. I considered this one of my primary missions at the Technology Agency, and also here at the Ministry of Industry and Trade. I see the TACR’s role in helping to bring together the civil service, the academic sphere and the business sector in the field of research. I think one of our successes was when we managed to link applied research support to support from CzechInvest, which is now focusing on providing support for developing investments with added value, concentrating more than before on small and medium-sized companies and start-ups. And also the support of CzechTrade, who have helped ensure that the resulting products with added value can succeed in foreign markets. We have also created the platform called Tým Česko in co-operation with the state financial institutions EGAP, ČEB and ČMZRB, which companies can now use to acquire more effective and connected support for their activities, from research, innovations and investment development to success in global markets. Every CzechInvest branch, for example, will help with all this.

What prejudices or misunderstandings have you most commonly encountered that you can now disprove? Conversely, what do people in different sectors not know about each other that they should?

Personally, I believe that the situation is getting a lot better, and communication and co- operation between academia and companies is now much better than it was a few years ago. However, there is sometimes still diffidence in co-operation for various reasons. It is true that both sides need to understand each other’s peculiarities. Research organisations usually have a number of research strategies, and one cannot expect them to investigate a specific application for a particular firm within a month or two, as sometimes is expected of them. On the other hand, it sometimes happens that even a quality project of a research organisation, with an exciting outcome, ends up gathering dust only because they were unable to establish co-operation with relevant companies. Co- operation is most beneficial when both parties have been working together for many years. They trust each other and know what the other party’s expectations and needs are. Technology transfer centres at universities or regional innovation centres can assist in establishing new co-operation links.
Personally, I draw great inspiration from the Israeli model, which goes even further in this regard, with the vast majority of universities having their own commercialisation institutions there. These de facto subsidiary companies take care of intellectual property management, finding investors and commercialisation support, and are also engaged in setting up innovative spinoff companies in which, for example, they may hold shares. These usually operate more flexibly than the universities themselves, leading to more flexible work with investors. And this isn’t found only within technical universities, but also in social science fields. And basic research as well – an example here is the highly respected Weizmann Institute of Science and its subsidiary commercialisation institution, Yeda R&D, Co. Ltd. There are also scientific institutes in the Czech Republic that are taking the same path. One example is the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS and its company IOCBTech, and now also the i&i biotechnology hub. And last year, Charles University was the first university to choose to set up a wholly owned subsidiary entitled Charles University Innovations Prague (CUIP), whose mission is to be a bridge between scientific teams and commercial entities. I think this is the right way to go, and a direction we will be happy to support further.

Your portfolio also includes Industry 4.0, something we can find inspiration for in Germany. How are things progressing in fields like vocational education, digitisation (not just of the civil service) and focusing on creating posts with higher added value? Israel is currently looking at this area. Have we already got any examples of best practice?

We are the most industrial country in the EU, which is why it is good that we have managed to adopt the trend of digital transformation of industry in time, and our national Industry 4.0 initiative has been operating for a number of years now. This isn’t just on paper either – some specific activities that have been implemented include, for example, support for applied research in the Industry 4.0 field at TACR, and the Technology 4.0 programme focused on small and medium-sized businesses at the MIT. The MIT has now set up a new programme supporting applied research called TRENDS, in which Industry 4.0 is one of its main priorities, but it will also be focused on other new key trends, including for example artificial intelligence. And a new feature will be a greater focus on small companies that want to co-operate with research organisations for the first time.
We have certainly implemented good practice in beginning to deal not just with the impacts of the digital transformation on industry, but also more generally on the economy, labour market, education system, legislation, etc., fairly early. First of all, the Society 4.0 initiative was set up, and last year we produced the truly comprehensive document, “Digital Czechia”, with the government delegate for digitisation. This includes 800 projects (many of which are already up and running) in the fields of civil service digitisation, economics, society, research support, cyber-security and many others. Areas relating to digitisation of the economy and society are co-ordinated by the MIT, naturally with broad co-operation from many partners in the business, academic and government sectors. Our new national strategy for artificial intelligence will soon be building on this concept, and this will include a comprehensive set of measures directing support so that the Czech Republic can play an important role in the new phase of the digital transformation of the economy and society, which will be heavily influenced by the arrival of artificial intelligence in many different fields.

In regard to innovation, there are essentially three proven models: the American, Scandinavian and Israeli models. Close relations with Israel and the appointment of the leading Israeli scientist Orna Berry to the government’s Council for Science, Research and Innovation advisory body, make it clear which country the Czech Republic is primarily seeking inspiration from. Following the successful mission last year by President Zeman and many other cabinet members including Minister Nováková to Israel, what is being planned within the framework of closer Czech-Israeli co-operation?

Although not everything is automatically transferable, Israel is certainly an inspiration for us in many regards. Israel’s innovation ecosystem is truly unique. The start-up economic miracle which began in the 1990s and continues to this day is still of great note. This is why a number of measures in the CR 2030 Innovation Strategy within the start-up support field in particular are inspired by Israel. This includes a system of support for business incubators connected to a unique state-supported investment model, which is a great inspiration to us. In discussions with colleagues from Israel, we almost always agree that the greatest difference between the Czech and Israeli environment is in our mindsets. While for Israelis going into new ventures, dynamism, self-presentation, vigour and a willingness to continue even after failure is common, in the Czech Republic we tend to prefer more settled occupations, with setting up one’s own company not a common career strategy. We only undertake moderate risks, and initial failure is often considered a stigma by others. Examples of good practice from other countries can certainly help to change this situation, and that’s why we want, for example, to continue co-operating on technology missions to Israel and organising Czech-Israeli innovation events here in the Czech Republic, as well as many more activities.

Talking of innovations and change, how are you personally getting on in a world where change is the only constant?

The dynamic of change really is high, but I must say that for me personally, it is quite an exciting time. I’ve always been a fan and advocate of new technologies, so I’m glad to be so close to these developments now. On the other hand, I feel great responsibility for ensuring we are well-prepared for the changes that are coming and that will undoubtedly have an impact not just on our economy, but also on the whole of society. My motto is: Those with small goals remain small. Let’s be self-reflective, but let’s also be ambitious and not give up after our first failure!

By Linda Štucbartová

Oliver Steindler

 

“We Should Not Fear China”

 

Oliver Steindler, China Specialist At ŠKODA AUTO

Oliver Steindler spent last nine years studying, living and working in Asia. He returned to the Czech Republic in September 2017 to start working as China Region Marketing and Product Launch Specialist for ŠKODA AUTO. His Asian journey originally started by two-year high school stay in Thailand. Oliver further pursued his studies in China, where he obtained a BA in International Business Studies from Beijing Foreign Studies University in Beijing and MA in International Relations from Peking University, ranked as the second best university in China and top 30 in the world. Oliver also spent six months at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, accompanied by internship at the Czech Center in Tokyo. After his studies, he worked for China Television Service as Head of Distribution, providing content to Television networks reaching over 60 million viewers not only across Asia, but also in the rest of the world.
When Oliver is not busy reading and writing about Asia, he loves to spend time traveling, lecturing about Asia and practicing Mandarin Chinese.

You have returned to the Czech Republic after nine years spent in Asia. I know that many expats and diplomats are prepared prior to their posting but no one prepares them for their re-integration when coming back, which might be challenging as well.

I must admit that I had a fear coming back. During last nine years, I have established many friendships, business relationships and also lifestyle in Asia region. I got used to seeing my friends and family only during vacations. The major culture shock for me came in the form of Czechs’ people mindset with regards to China. They all fear China, being scared that Chinese dragon will eventually swallow Europe. China is perceived as an evil, communist country and such notion is passed from one generation to another. However, time has changed and so the nature of the regime. The regime is officially called “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” which in reality reminds of “tough capitalism”. Big multinational corporations, such as Alibaba, Tencent or Baidu are not only considered industry leaders, but they also provide jobs to tens of thousands of people. China also has the largest network of fast railways. Imagine, just in only five hours, you can get from Beijing to Shanghai, the total distance of 1 300 kilometers, travelling more than 300 kilometers per hour. China is becoming a global technology leader in many areas. When someone mentions that we should learn from China in the Czech Republic, no one takes it seriously, there is a lot of prejudice and even panic. Well, looking at the Czech transport infrastructure, particularly highway D1 or Pendolino, China could be a great inspiration. Digitalization within banking systems represent another area that can serve as a model. In big cities, hardly anyone uses banknotes. All payments are done via app and QR codes. Not only at big stores, but also at small laundry services or vegetable stalls on the streets. I travel to China every three months and each time I am amazed at the progress made as these technologies make life simpler. I am aware of the personal data protection and GDPR rules within the EU, as the debate whether to stress more security vs. allow more comfort for the exchange of data, will continue. I also find fascinating that both Chinese and foreigners are willing to discuss the development and share the information. The environment is truly inspiring, the labor market pressure is enormous, which drives people being more active, continue to improve and innovate. Compared to Asia, I perceive Europe as the “ageing” continent. Not only demographically, but also mentally wise. Why not to bring and apply the models proven elsewhere? We tend to be more satisfied with status quo or we tend to judge and concentrate on negatives, instead of trying things differently. I miss the open mindset which for me represents the key to innovation.

You suggest that people go and visit China and the region to see for themselves. You claim that China is the world that we can’t perceive through the glasses we put on and interpret it through the experiences we get. China needs time to be understood.

I also remember having fear leaving the Czech Republic, prior to arriving in Thailand. After six months, I developed love and hate relationship, as I met some people who were friendly as well as those who were not. The same relationship can apply to China. To me, China offered home for seven years, it offered education and friends. At the same time, I am aware of the negative aspects, particularly pollution and fast development. Big nations and states tend to be polarizing in general. Big and heavily populated countries can naturally cause a fear in small countries. I actually learned more about myself than about Chinese themselves. As I learned the language, my information came first hand from Chinese people. While I was studying my BA in business, I started to study Chinese medicine and acupuncture. These studies exposed me further to 3000 years of Chinese culture through many concepts, such as yin and yang, which can be interpreted as change of day and night but also change of seasons or economic cycles. Yin and yang together with five elements theory also relates to the way we see the food, thus dietology. I started applying these concepts to my own life, particular to work-life balance. Thanks to acupuncture, I was able to get rid of my chronical sinusitis, which I have been suffering for more than a decade. I spent 10 days in Nepal, doing meditation in total silence called Vipassana. Living in China is a constant journey where naturally by experiencing the culture, you get hints and clues not to look outside but also inwards. Yoga, meditation, thinking about what you eat, all these activities enable you to change and adapt your mindset.

How did you manage to keep work-life balance, as Asians are generally known for working long-hours?

This is another frequent stereotype which is not precise. First, you cannot stereotype a country of 1.3 billion of people. Chinese cities are divided based on income. Tier one cities represent Beijing with 21 million people, Shanghai with 24 million people or Guangzhou 13 million people. People working there follow what can be described as the Western corporate life-style. As we move to provinces, the income drops and the life-style relaxes. Not everyone works hard all the time. The difference grows much more significantly if you compare China to Japan. Chinese work style can be described as a bit flexible and unorganized, everything gets accomplished at the very last minute. Japanese people are more hierarchical, process is more predictable and rules are strictly followed. My first experience with yin and yang occurred during my high-school studies in Thailand. Apart from sciences, we had to do arts, sports and social works. They took us to orphanage and as I was the vice-president of Rotaract, I soon became involved in fundraising. In the West, we often think that poor people are not happy. I could see people less fortunate than we are, but they still managed to keep a positive attitude. They cherished more relations and were less craving for possession.

You studied in Thailand, in China and in Japan. What were the differences?

High school studies in China are very tough and competitive because of the final national exam which determines the acceptance to the university. Once students are accepted to a university, they become more relaxed. Atmosphere during BA studies in China reminded me more of high-school scenario in Europe. I also was travelling a lot. I could see how China has influenced surrounding countries. In Korea, you get to see many temples with Chinese inscriptions, as China was exporting its culture and heritage in history. With exception, China, as a landlock country, has never pursued an expansionary foreign policy in the long term. The Chinese concept of expansion is of a different nature. Tianxia (Chinese: 天下) that can be translated as “All under the heaven” recognized the Emperor as the center of the universe and once China united, there was no need to expand further. Look at the natural boundaries surrounding China: Siberia in the North, sea to the East, Gobi desert to the West and Himalayas to the south. The expansion therefore took the form of diplomatic and economic influence. Chinese are more traders than warriors. New silk road connecting Asia and Europe follows upon the old tradition.

You have often mentioned food, but not only because of its flavor but also a key to the culture.

In Europe, each of us has own plate with own food and the tables are usually square or rectangle shaped. Such behavior reflects our atomistic approach in terms of dissecting things, analyzing things, understanding a paradigm for one specific item only, not taking other things into consideration. In China, you have a big roundtable. You share all the dishes with others. The culture is more holistic. In Europe, we focus on contracts and we do not cultivate relationships. In China, you have to go for a lunch, for a dinner, you have to drink. The point of getting a foreigner drunk is to get to know him better. Trust is the baseline. How can you do a business with someone you do not know? This is why much business is done with friends, relatives or based on peer to peer recommendation. Definitely, knowing the language helps you a great deal to get to know, develop trust and better understand your counterparts. This being said brings me to the beginning. People who are interested in the region should travel there and try to be exposed to the culture as much as possible, since “ We don’t see things as they are, but as we are”.

By Linda Štucbartová

11 Best Locations to Be a Digital Nomad in 2019

Although you’ve probably seen plenty of headlines predicting “1 billion digital nomads by 2035,” it’s difficult to know how many there actually are. This is at least partly because there’s no international digital nomad census. What’s more, many digital nomads choose not to describe themselves in that way, or are only nomadic for a few months of the year.

What is clear is that the number of digital nomads keeps growing. Every year, there are more remote working and entrepreneurial conferences, and a growing number of companies that are run entirely by online workforces. This is made possible by project management apps and other resources like Freelancer.com, which help individuals to find everything from one-off gigs to long-term clients. Companies are also relying on websites such as Fiverr to find quick work at competitive pricing.

If you’re reading this from a crowded train or a stuffy office, it’s not hard to see the appeal of digital nomadism. Freelancing platforms like Upwork allow employees to unlatch themselves from the 9 to 5 grind, earning the same hourly rate while working remotely from unspoiled beaches or foreign metropolitan hubs. Other digital nomads are driven by high costs of living in their home country, or just want a change. If you’re a graphic designer in Winnipeg, you could be seduced into digital nomadism simply by the desire to sit bare-armed in the sunshine all year round.

As with any location, the cost of living can vary quite a bit, depending on your personal interests and desired lifestyle. Some nomads choose to work less and live as cheaply as possible, where others may spend considerably more by partying at night, joining adventures during the day, and eating out for every meal.

We can’t tell you the single best destination for every digital nomad. But to help you make your own decision, we’ve gathered extensive information about 11 excellent options around the world—plus four that you’ll want to avoid.

#1: Prague, Czech Republic: Best Historic City for Digital Nomads

Prague has recently become one of the top digital nomad destinations, thanks to its excellent transport, culture, and international links. It’s in the Schengen Area of the European Union, so European nomads won’t need a visa to stay here. With relatively low living costs, plenty of nightlife, and beautiful architecture, Prague is a rising star in the digital nomad scene and a great choice for remote workers looking for culture and walkability.

Living Situation

Prague is well-equipped with a range of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb apartments. In the last year or two, the cost of living in Prague has risen somewhat, so the average cost of an Airbnb apartment for a month is around $1,700, although you can find gorgeous Airbnb rentals for around $1,000 if you avoid peak tourist season.

Because Prague is a popular vacation destination, hotel rooms can be rather expensive, and it will cost an average of $2,500 for a room for a month. But you can also find cheap dormitory-style rooms in hostels for under $1,000, if you don’t mind sharing your space. The lowest-cost option is to live like a local in a private rental. You can find a one-bedroom studio apartment for around $770 Prague’s city center, which then allows you to walk pretty much everywhere you’d need to go.

Transportation

Prague has excellent public transport, with trams, buses, and metro trains across the city, although if you stay in a central location you’ll be able to walk to plenty of parks, tourist sites, and coworking spots. A single ticket for public transport in Prague costs around $1.10, which is very reasonable in this part of the world.

It’s better to use public transport to get around than to hire a car or cab, since traffic can be dreadful, especially in the city center. If you do want to take a cab to a more distant destination, a five mile journey will cost around $11.20. Prague also has good air and international train links to the rest of Europe, making it easy to explore other parts of the region.

Weather

Prague never reaches extremes of heat or cold. Summers can be sweaty as the riverside city gets humid, but winters are chilly and grey without being bone-cracking cold.

WiFi Availability

You can find plenty of cafes and coworking sites with excellent WiFi service, scattered around both banks of the river that cuts through the city. In Prague, you’re never far from beautiful architecture or refreshing green space to clear your mind, even in coworking hubs.

Food and Entertainment

Prague is a city of culture. Nomadlist ranks Prague highly as a city for fun entertainment and nightlife, and if you want to stick to free classical concerts in ancient churches, wandering around beautiful public parks and low-cost walking tours, you’ll find you can entertain yourself in Prague without spending a lot. On the other hand, regular club nights and big-name concerts will set you back a lot more.

Prague’s many restaurants, cafes, and bistros make it easy to eat well. While prices are not as low as you’d find in parts of Asia, they are quite reasonable as long as you avoid the over-priced tourist-trap places. You can get a good, low-cost restaurant meal for around $6.30, and beer and coffee are both well-priced, at about $1.65 for a local beer and $2.25 for your morning cappuccino.

Healthcare

Prague has good healthcare, major hospitals, and a number of specialty practitioners. If you’re an E.U. citizen, you’ll be entitled to free emergency healthcare, but nomads from the U.S. and other non-E.U. countries will have to pay cash upfront. The Czech government requires all visitors to have valid travel or health insurance.

Crime Rate

Prague has a reputation as a safe city to live and work in, with a high ranking for female safety. Like many big tourist destinations, there are many pickpockets and ATM scams, but assault or violent crimes are rare.

The Downside

• Prague can be overrun by tourists, especially during peak tourist season in July and August
• It’s very important to double check exchange rates because Prague has many crooked currency exchange agents
• Summers can be very humid and winters may be chillier than you’re used to

 

#2: Koh Lanta, Thailand: Best Island Paradise for Digital Nomads

Thailand has been one of the top digital nomad destinations for a very long time, thanks to the amazing weather, thriving expat scene, and plenty of supportive coworking hubs. But many of Thailand’s most popular islands are becoming overrun by tourists who make it crowded, noisy, more polluted, and push up the cost of living. The beautiful island of Koh Lanta has all the advantages of nomad life in Thailand, without the downsides of some of the more well-trodden destinations.

Living Situation

Koh Lanta offers hotels, hostels, and Airbnb options, all at reasonable prices. Koh Lanta’s hotels are the best value for money, with plenty of rooms available for around $300 for a month’s stay (and you can find lower offers if you hunt around). A private room through Airbnb can cost around $500, though an entire apartment can run over $1,200. If you have a local who can help you negotiate a short-term rental, you could pay even less for more space; a 1-bedroom studio rental costs around $300 a month.

Transportation

The best way to get around Koh Lanta is by renting a motorbike for a couple dollars a day, or by taking local taxi bikes called tuk-tuks. There isn’t any public transportation.

Weather

If you love the tropical heat, you’ll do just fine in Koh Lanta. For most of the year, the sun shines and the sky is blue, but June through September is Thailand’s wet season. During this time, roads can become impassable due to the heavy rains.

WiFi Availability

Koh Lanta has average WiFi speeds of 16mbps, but there’s not much free WiFi provision. A few coworking spaces are beginning to pop up, which offer different packages that can fit any remote worker’s lifestyle and budget.

Food and Entertainment

You can eat well in Koh Lanta, especially if you stick to cheap, delicious, local Thai dishes. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant or street food stand will cost under $2, although you’ll have to pay a lot more for an American-style meal. Compared to the food, coffee and beer are both pretty expensive, averaging about the same as the cost of a local meal, around $2 each.

Koh Lanta doesn’t have a lot of nightlife or attractions, but it does provide miles of sandy beaches, scenic roads, and natural beauty spots which can cost nothing to enjoy.

Healthcare

Koh Lanta has a few medical centers and one hospital, which can deal with basic health issues, but for anything more serious you’ll need to travel to Phuket or Bangkok.

Crime Rate

Koh Lanta is one of the safer beach areas in Thailand. There is little violence or crime. The most digital nomads should be concerned with is being charged higher-than-listed prices for things.

The Downside

• Koh Lanta is hot and AC is not always available, so this might not be the best option for those who have a difficult time concentrating in the heat
• You won’t find many English speakers on the island, apart from your fellow digital nomads
• Free WiFi coverage can be scanty

 

Article written by Shira Stieglitz.
Read the rest here.

SKÅL CLUB PRAGUE MONTHLY LUNCHEON

The SKÅL Club International Prague monthly meeting was held March 28th at the NH Hotel Prague. The luncheon took place within the Sky Lounge with beautiful panoramic view of the city. The guest speaker of this month was Mr. Udo Chistée, executive director of Amedia Hotels and a lifetime hotel developer, who presented his success story and ideas within the hospitality area.

GREEK NATIONAL DAY

The Embassy of Greece held the National Day reception on 25 March at the Cupola of the premises of the DTIHK . The speeches of the Ambassador of Greece, Efthymios Efthymiades, and the Czech Minister of Culture, Antonín Staněk , were followed by the screening of the movie “Greek Skies” that depicts the magic of the night skies of Greece against the background of the beautiful Czech skies as seen through the windows of the extraordinary Cupola with Václavské náměstí and the newly renovated National Museum as a backdrop.

Jakob Mattner – ECHO exhibition in cooperation with the Galerie Michael Haas Berlin

Opening Ceremony at the MIRO Gallery Prague & after-party at the Lindner Hotel 21. 3. 2019

Media partner of the MIRO Gallery:

 

Partner of the MIRO Gallery:

 

Partner of the exhibition:

COULD BREXIT COMPROMISE EU ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES?

UK CATASTROPHE MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO BECOME CONTAGIOUS

Over the past half century, European Union environmental policy has made huge strides, ensuring the establishment and implementation of beneficial strategies throughout the bloc.
Today, the EU’s comprehensive Sustainable Development Strategy provides an overarching long-term framework, aiming at synergies between economic, social and environmental goals. With its expansion, the Union has undoubtedly become a global environmental leader resulting in its member states becoming healthier places to live.
European environmental protection legislation works when it is fully implemented and enforced, thanks to legislation developed by the EU.
Without such polices, our environment would look and feel quite different. Lead would still be being pumped into the air from much of our cars; chlorofluorocarbons would have further depleted the ozone layer; and nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport would be 10 times higher.
The absence of these progressive EU measures would mean that life in our rivers, lakes and estuaries would still be choked by effluent, not to mention the unsavoury prospect of bathing in coastal waters polluted by sewage; and increasing swathes of land would be eaten up by expanding landfills for waste, with incinerators emitting toxic fumes.
While we celebrate the arrival of spring, the British seem to have no respite from the long Brexit winter which their leaders past and present have subjected them. What appears like a never-ending story is beginning to corrosive consequences on so many aspects of British life.
We must all hope and pray that Britain’s divorce from Europe doesn’t have too many adverse impacts for the rest of us, especially on our environment.
With the forces of nature blind to national borders, there are growing concerns that the UK’s departure from the EU could compromise its environmental standards which could in turn have consequences for us all.
As a Briton who has lived in Prague for over 12 years, I worry deeply about what will happen after Brexit. I am concerned about the possible contagious effects that my country’s ill advised decision might have, not least of which on our delicate environment.
And, as a hitherto key driver of many positive environmental measures within the EU, could Britain’s departure compromise environmental policies among the remaining 27 countries within the bloc? Could the likes of the Babiš government find a way to use absence of the UK’s voice in Brussels as an excuse for weakening its sustainability commitments? The dissatisfied Brits have delivered a body blow to the West, and to the ideals of international cooperation, liberal order and open societies to which the country has in the past contributed so much. We cannot and must not allow this dreadful act to harm the rest of Europe.
Despite it being over three years since the country decided to leave the bloc, British politicians appear to be running around in ever-decreasing circles, still desperately trying to work out a viable exit strategy. Even the most dedicated of political observers are growing tired of these shenanigans.
But while the debate rages on, there appears to be a distinct lack of discussion about the many negative impacts that the demise of one of its biggest members will have on the other members of the European ‘club’.
Following the surprise outcome of the British referendum, France’s infamous far rightist, Marine Le Pen said that UK’s vote to leave the EU, was the equivalent of the Berlin Wall falling in 1989. She was right. Brexit is a momentous event in the history of Europe and from now on I fear that the narrative will be one of disintegration not integration.
Thankfully the 27 remaining countries have succeeded in remaining united. As Britain sails off on its journey towards some kind of glorious isolation, member states must surely work together to make sure the ominous aspirations of Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán and other populists fail.
After decades in which sustainability issues have moved from the fringes of political life into the mainstream, recent events suggest that the environment has slipped down the political agenda, particularly as a consequence of so-called ‘populism’.
In the United Kingdom, the Climate Change Act, for example, passed in 2008, created an impressive, legally enforceable target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – the most ambitious target in the world.
Throughout three years during which Britain has been consumed with the Brexit debate, there has been barely a mention of any such issues and the consequences that Britain’s departure from the European Union might have on the environment. Worryingly, many leading “Brexiteers” have expressed scepticism about some of environmentalism’s “sacred cows” many of which have been pioneered by the European Union, while US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement represents a devastating blow for the future of our planet.
Brexit is certainly ringing alarm bells among the environmental community. For nearly half a century, much of UK environment regulation has been decided at EU level. Britain may be leaving the EU, but it’s impact won’t be confined within its coastline. There is now a target across the EU to recycle 50 per cent of household waste, which has driven ever greater efforts to improve recycling rates across the country. The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive sets a series of targets to limit dangerous pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. The EU Renewable Energy Directive requires the UK to produce 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources – not just electricity, but all energy, including that used in heating and transport – by 2020.
As a consequence, coal use is at its lowest level since the Industrial Revolution. Britain’s beaches have been cleared up considerably since the Bathing Water Directive came into force in 1976, and EU legislation has driven major improvements in sewage and drinking water treatment.
The fear is that outside of the EU, Britain’s environmental standards might slip, thereby potentially having an adverse effect on the continent of Europe and beyond.
Some politicians have criticised EU regulations and directives as unnecessarily burdensome, suggesting that there is a desire to get rid of them or water them down. Critics have noted that even with EU rules in place, UK politicians have failed on targets for air quality, for example, and worry that without EU pressure, there would be even less incentive to raise standards.
Brexit has raised countless questions, principally about such issues as trade and migration. But what about the environment and the consequences of its neighbours?
Can UK politicians be trusted to protect the environment after Brexit? Do critics of EU regulation have a point when they argue that such rules are often excessive? Would environmental laws have greater legitimacy and support if passed by elected politicians rather than by EU institutions?
None of these questions are satisfactorily addressed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Britain may well be on a terminal decline because of Brexit. But Brussels must now use all its strength to ensure that what marks a terrible tragedy for my country of birth does not hurt the remaining members of the EU.
For more than 1,500 years, the nations of Europe had regularly made war on one another – the French vs. the British, the Germans vs. the French, the Austrians vs. the French, the Russians vs. the Germans, and so on. 1,500 years of hatred and endless fighting.
But in the ruins of 1945, the nations of Europe, with great courage, said “never again” and meant it. From this, by an act of willpower, they forged an alliance which ultimately was joined by almost every European nation to become the EU.
Now, some 70 years later, most with memories of those horrors is dead, and shock and disgust that propelled them to find a new way to live is but a fading memory. The EU is far from perfect, but it was infinitely preferable to its war-torn history that had preceded it. But now, Britain, in a singular moment of fear, driven by lies inspired by such scenes of Syrian refugees escaping the ravages of their civil war, has opted to walk away from that unique monument to a new world. That in itself is a tragedy. Despite of Britain’s selfish abandonment of the EU, the Czech Republic and its fellow member states must resolve to continue its work to protect and promote a sustainable environment for the future wellbeing of our wonderful continent.

By Jonathan Wootliff

A former director of Greenpeace International, Jonathan Wootliff lives in Prague and works throughout the world as a sustainability consultant to business. He is Chair of the Board of Experts of the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development. He has consulted many large corporations including BP, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and provided counsel to companies on the development of sustainability strategies that benefit the environment, society and business. Among his many activities, he helps companies to resolve disputes, forge productive relationships with non-governmental organizations, and build long-term sustainability strategies. A qualified journalist with a subsequent background in public relations, Jonathan commonly assists companies with their sustainability communications. He can be contacted at jonathan@wootliff.com.

Alena Mastantuono

 

“We would be happy if our MEPs listened to us and protected national interests rather than keeping the voting line of their European political groups”

 

Alena Mastantuono, Director of CEBRE – Czech Business Representation to the EU

Alena Mastantuono graduated at the Palacky University in Olomouc and at the Masaryk University in Brno with major in Economics and Public Administration. She has been dealing with EU affairs since 2005. She worked at the Czech Ministry of Finance on preparations of ministers ́ mandates for meetings of Economic and Financial Council. In 2007, she joined CEBRE as a Deputy Director and in 2011 she became a Director. In 2015, CEBRE office got a new competence to offer Czech Trade export services on Belgian market. Alena Mastantuono is a permanent delegate of the Czech Chamber of Commerce in EUROCHAMBRES and alternate in European Economic and Social Committee. She publishes and lectures about specific EU issues.

Server info.cz chose you as the one of the 50 most influential Czechs in Brussels. What kind of change can we expect with the May European elections?

In general, an increase in seats for populists and nationalists is expected, pulling down the number of seats of the two biggest political groups in the Parliament. Approximately half of the serving MEPs are expected to change as a result of the election. According to predictions, the European People ́s Party will remain the strongest party in the European Parliament followed by the Socialists and Democrats and then the Liberals in third place. Everything depends on a possible reshuffle among the groups, some national parties might join other groups and also new groups may be formed after the elections. What is certain is that we will have newly elected MEPs, whose parties are not present in the European Parliament in the current mandate, for example, new parties that have emerged at the national level in recent years. One of them is Macron’s “La République en Marche”. Given its political nature, its MEPs should head to ALDE but Macron ́s ambition is to create a centrist coalition. A new parliamentary group can be formed by 25 MEPs coming from at least a quarter of EU Member states, which is not an easy task. Concerning newly elected Czech MEPs, we do not know where the Pirate Party is heading. Last but not least, Brexit – if happening before European elections, will also have an impact as 72 British MEPs are due to leave and the number of the European Parliament seats will drop to 705 from today’s 751.

When will the new Commission be confirmed?

The EU institutions predict that the new Commission will be elected at the second
Parliament ́s plenary in October. This means that the inaugural plenary session of the newly- elected Parliament should take place in July and, at its second July plenary, the Parliament will have the first opportunity to elect the Commission ́s president. During September and October, the first hearings of Commissioner- designates should take place. This is, however an ideal and very ambitious plan. It might happen that the institutions will not agree on the leader of the Commission or that some Commissioner- designates might not pass the hearings in the Parliament, meaning that the whole process will be delayed.

But we have the Spitzenkandidaten. Why should they not agree on the leader?

First and foremost, because the Spitzenkandidat process is not written in the EU treaties, it is rather a gentlemen’s agreement. EU treaties require the Council, acting by qualified majority, to nominate a Commission president for Parliament’s approval, taking into account the results of the European Parliament election. However, European leaders made it clear that they won’t be bound by the Spitzenkandidat process. What we cannot deny is that it is a great marketing tool. A continent- wide campaign gives more visibility to EU issues and offers the chance to discuss them with a wider public.

Does it mean there are other potential candidates?

Different scenarios are possible and only the election results will show which one of them was the right one. Imagine that a party without a Spitzenkandidat wins. The Liberals preferred a „team of liberal leaders“ instead of nominating one lead candidate. I presume that the winner would be the leader of the party, Guy Verhofstadt, who was already a lead candidate in 2014. Another possibility is that there could be a new political group formed in the European Parliament that did not have a chance to present its political leader in the race. Another scenario is that, hypothetically, the Spitzenkandidat has not been elected in his or her country and I can ́t imagine that he or she could be proposed as the President of the Commission. That would contradict the democratic principle so eagerly emphasised by the groups. And finally, the Council could propose its own candidate. In the corridors of Brussels there are rumours that Michel Barnier could be a suitable candidate for this position. Barnier is a former EU Commissioner and the current EU chief negotiator with the UK. He has already shown interest in this job when he challenged Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014. He is very committed to the single market and would easily get support from both the left and the right. The single market agenda has been very weak in the Juncker ́s Commission. Barnier could give a positive impetus to draw the single market back into the political debate. That is very important for us.

Why should the single market be so important when there are other key issues such as migration or security?

The single market is the centre of EU integration and that’s why migration and security are linked to it. If we do not have a fully functional single market, then we cannot properly deal with other challenges. What is causing a headache for Czech businesses is the lack of ownership of the single market and growing national protectionism from bigger countries such as France and Germany. This started due to the pressure from their trade unions and businesses to better protect their markets against competition from the new Member States. These are not Brussels bureaucrats who are often wrongly blamed for additional bureaucracy, it is clearly a national protectionism hidden under the guise of social or environmental aspects to which some countries refer. We have reached a momentum where the four freedoms of the single market are being disregarded. And what is even worse is that the watchdog of EU legislation is inactive because it is highly political. Some eurocrats became sceptical as they see themselves becoming helpless. Tools such as infringements, which are legal actions against an EU country that fails to implement EU law, have lost their importance. We witness infringement procedures against France or Germany lasting for years or being stopped without justification.

Do you have concrete examples in mind?

A specific example is the field of posting of road transport workers. The Commission initiated the infringement with Germany in May 2015 and no decision has yet been taken. The solution is to set clear deadlines within these procedures, which the Commission should respect, thus avoiding, among other things, purely political pressures. The Czech Republic is a strong supporter of the single market in Brussels. Let us hope that after Brexit we will find strong allies who will blunt the force of this Franco-German axis with us.

On what priorities in the framework of the single market should the Commission focus in the next period?

Businesses would appreciate a stocktaking of EU legislation and a reduction of undue restrictiveness. The less legislation we have, the better. There is still a lot to be done in the services sector. If the next Commission can do something, then it should examine how this area can be improved. Member States differ in many ways regarding how intrusively they regulate services. The current Commission put forward a couple of positive proposals that were unfortunately watered down in the Council or the Parliament. The reason in many cases was again national protectionism. Besides the services sector, the biggest potential lies in the exchange of goods. Although this area is highly regulated, we need to improve it. At the moment, the EU institutions are discussing the so called goods package that is about mutual recognition, compliance and enforcement. Nothing can be better than good enforcement and implementation. A major problem is that EU institutions claim repeatedly to be in favour of pursuing the benefits of a genuine single market, but in actual practice this credo is not followed at home in many Member States.

Does Czech business have its priorities for the future institutional mandate?

Yes, we have common business priorities of our founders for the period 2019-2024. We have already presented them to Czech candidates running for the European Parliament elections and we will send them to the newly elected Members as soon as they secure their parliamentary seats. Current MEPs know our opinions. We regularly inform them during the mandate and try to explain our concerns to them. We would be happy if our MEPs listened to us and protected national interests rather than keeping the voting line of their European political groups thus supporting the creation of growth and jobs in other Members States by favouring national protectionism.

What will the EU look like in the future?

We will certainly be more diverse, culturally diluted and identities will be even more fluid than today, due to further EU enlargement and migration. The total fertility rate in the EU is decreasing and our population is getting older. As a consequence, the dependency ratio is increasing. A relatively easy solution is to increase retirement ages as well as the number of active workers. If we cannot find them in our market, we have to go beyond its borders. That is exactly what the Czech Republic is doing today with Ukraine or Mongolia. Businesses will also change their behaviour and business models thanks to digitization which can also be an opportunity in case of ageing population and the lack of active workers. Businesses will also adapt to regulatory shifts regarding climate change issues and circular economy. The security aspect will also play its role, be it online or offline. All these challenges will have to be put into an economic context. Worsening economic conditions could be a major factor in how the trade agenda plays out. Trade wars and protectionism could still be on the table. The EU will have to adapt to these challenges and it is up to the Member States and their citizens to decide what role the EU should play. In the last 15 months, the vision for the future of Europe was the subject of speeches of some EU leaders in the European Parliament. It gives a good insight to what some Member States want from the EU. I hope the trend of discussions will continue throughout the new institutional mandate and that we will have the chance to hear the vision of the Czech Republic. We need a clear vision with a coherent strategy on what expectations we have from the EU and what role we want to play in the European project.

 

By Linda Štucbartová

Zdeněk Hřib

 

Future for the upcoming generation

 

MUDr. Zdeněk Hřib, Mayor of Prague

Although he studied at Charles University’s Third Faculty of Medicine, he has never worked as a doctor. With tongue in cheek, he says of himself that he is not a doctor of people, but of systems. As director of the charitable organisation Institut pro aplikovaný výzkum, edukaci a řízení ve zdravotnictví (the Institute for Applied Research, Education and Management in Healthcare), he was involved in many working groups at the national, EU and worldwide level, and has published many studies on IT, quality and services efficiency. He was the Pirate Party’s leader for Prague in the 2018 municipal election. Not only was he elected to Prague City Council, he subsequently became the first city mayor in the world nominated by the Pirate Party. As mayor, he is responsible for IT, security, European funds and foreign relations, amongst other areas. He is also the Czech Pirate Party’s member of the VZP health insurance company’s management board. Zdeněk Hřib is married and has three children. Along with its new mayor, energy and hope came to Prague, as well as a major change in communication. On the day of the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic joining NATO, Prague citizens had the opportunity to hear the mayor greeting them in Czech and English in the metro to tell them of the anniversary. The current mayor provides information on his events on social networks, holds open meetings with city residents and is much more accommodating with journalists. Our meeting was held at the council building. Upon entering the New City Hall building, the porter proudly declared that the mayor was already at work. While waiting for the interview, I had the opportunity to watch some of his closest team members doing their everyday business, and as a Prague-born native I found it a pleasing experience. Two colleagues were setting off to check the condition of Prague’s bridges, while another two were looking at the IT systems and how to make communication even more accessible to citizens. Did you know, for example, that all Pirate councillors have a shared calendar, so you can check what activities they are involved in? My wish for all Prague citizens is that the ideas and innovations coming from the “New City Hall” can be successfully propagated.

Mr Mayor, has your perception of Prague changed since taking up your post? Are you able to just walk around Prague, or do you immediately notice shortcomings in terms of mess, shabby buildings or poor-quality paths?

I don’t have a lot of time to walk through Prague; I spend all my time at work. My perception of Prague has changed in terms of scale. While I used to see problems within my neighbourhood, such as on my journey to nursery school with my kids, now I see problems throughout the whole of Prague.

Your original profession is as a doctor. Comparing Prague to a patient, what ailments does it suffer from?

Well, in fact, I proposed that we should diagnose Prague using medical terminology during the election campaign. From my perspective, Prague suffers chronic problems in its backbone infrastructure (meaning the lack of a city bypass) along with acute accommodation insufficiencies (lack of accessible housing), its information services are displaying signs of senility (they are outdated), and there is clearly also a photosynthetic carrier deficiency (lack of greenery in streets). In the end, we decided to take a different tack in the whole campaign, but I wouldn’t change anything in my initial diagnosis.

Your programme offers a vision for the 21st century based on an information society, compared to the traditional industrial society of the last century and the one before that. How are you succeeding in pursuing this vision within the city?

It is often said of municipal politics that results are visible earlier. For a city the size of Prague, which is also a region, this is not true. The large investment projects we have launched, such as the metro D-line and the extension of a number of tram lines, won’t be completed during this council term. The advantage is that I can concentrate “only” on the problems of Prague itself. Restricting problems to one specific and also compact region makes the problems a little simpler. I must also note, however, that we took over Prague in quite a poor state, with bridges collapsing on the one hand, and road works due to various repairs on the other, meaning that it was hard to traverse the city.

You made thorough preparations for the post of future mayor through studying new trends and visiting cities that can serve as a model. What are you going to do to make sure Prague isn’t just a beautiful city, but also a smart one?

In terms of smart cities, Barcelona has long been considered a leader within Europe, with a congress on the issue taking place there every year. Barcelona became a pioneer in the field so it had to seek out many innovative solutions, and not only did it break new ground for other cities to follow, but it has also set itself a positive and sustainable course. In Barcelona, three quarters of the budget is invested in so-called open-source projects. In every contract the city signs with its suppliers, it includes a clause on data sovereignty, meaning that data produced in operating the city is its own property and the city can do with it as it needs. Open data is one of the principles of smart cities. Data that allows not just for increased citizen comfort, but also improved city management. We are launching mobile reception in the metro, the option of paying for regular fees by credit or debit card (such as for a dog licence), the option of applying electronically for use of a street for entrepreneurs (e.g. to run a beer garden), and online information on current tram delays and available P+R parking capacity. It is these measures that relate to the running of a smart city, which under the previous leadership had been reduced to buying “smart benches and smart lamp-posts”.

I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Vienna, which has taken the top spot in a list of cities in terms of quality of living, and which is often given as a model…

We could learn how to avoid a housing crisis from Vienna, but only if we had decades available to us. And we don’t. We can find inspiration from Vienna in terms of culture, for example. It is true, though, that Vienna is close to us both culturally and historically.

What about Amsterdam?

In general, there are a lot of examples in many areas in Holland for the Pirates. Amsterdam can provide inspiration in matters of transport solutions, or support for alternative means of transport. On the other hand, we know we’re not all going to start cycling everywhere overnight.

The May elections to the European Parliament are ahead of us. How can you convey the connections between the local-national and EU levels to citizens?

The key problem with the European Parliament elections is the traditionally low voter turnout these elections have. Turnout the last time was around 19 %. When that happens, it’s really easy for populists and other special interest groups to dominate the election. So it’s important to explain the importance of these elections to people. A broad range of legislation comes to the Czech Republic from the EU. For the Pirate Party, there are fundamental issues in these elections such as freedom of information, copyright, matters regarding the free movement of people, and more. In terms of the connections between these three levels, the ideal solution would be to elect Pirate candidates (laughs), which will ensure one hundred percent interconnectedness. For the Pirates, a well-informed citizen making free choices is important, representing the connection between these three different levels.

I’ve been instructed to give you the following two questions by my fifteen- year-old daughter Lada. How do you perceive the role of the young generation?

I perceive the young generation to be very important. A lot of decisions we are making won’t affect our generation, or the generation of our parents, but rather the upcoming generation. Issues regarding the environment and ecology and related strategic energy plans show that any fundamental decisions made or turning around of the ship won’t bear fruit for decades. Decisions made within these issues won’t just determine the cleanliness of the environment we’re going to be living in, but will also fundamentally affect our geopolitical orientation. At the city level, we take the support of the upcoming generation seriously; we recently approved a change to the rules of procedure, removing the age limit for speaking at council meetings. Citizens can now submit a question, or speak in debates on specific points (you can also register electronically) with no restriction on age. As mayor, I provide patronage for a broad range of events that promote learning about democracy amongst the young generation, such as the Model UN and the Student Parliament. We also endeavour to accommodate student events such as, for example, by providing a venue.

How are you changing the current education system?

I think the fundamental problem is in teachers’ workload, which does not allow them sufficient time for further training. In contrast to previous school investments, which have gone toward so-called hardware in the form of school buildings, or equipment such as interactive boards, we want to invest in what we term software, meaning teacher training. We want to invest in exchange programmes for teachers, whether these are Erasmus Plus or Eurocities; we’ve just joined the Xarxa organisation, which is focused on secondary school vocational training. Through our endeavours at reducing administration, we hope that teachers will have more time and space for the mutual sharing of experience and mentoring. In this area, we are highly dependent on what is happening at the national level. On the other hand, at the city level we can impact the level of teachers’ pay and provide city apartments. Furthermore, apartment provision doesn’t just go to teachers, but also to other important professions. Over the next year, we are going to try to change the conditions set up nationwide so they are not based solely on the weakest regions, something Prague cannot compete within.

Do you have a final word for Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine readers?

Vote in the European Parliament elections. I’ve already said how important these elections are, but I want to again stress their importance not just for the Czech Republic, but for the European Union as a whole. Few people realise that it is the European Parliament that is going to vote again on the controversial bill on copyright rules for the internet. This is about whether the internet is going to keep its current form, or whether new regulations will be applied to it on a common digital market, resulting in strict censorship. I’m glad the Pirate Party has Marcel Kolaja as its leader, an expert in IT and copyright.

 

By Linda Štucbartová

Round Table of Comenius – Discussion Dinner with Mr. Adam Vojtěch, Minister of Health Care

March 7th, 2019 more than 100 high level business women and men met to participate in the Round Table of Comenius – discussion dinner with the Minister of Health Care of the Czech Republic. As a tradition, dynamic debate covered a range of topics from the minister’s agenda. The discussion was launched by Ministers ́ 10 minutes welcome address and concluded by the President of Comenius Karel Muzikář, who expressed his gratitude to all guests for a fulfilling debate and the Minister for his time and willingness to attend the discussion.

President of the Senate’s first international trip

Jaroslav Kubera kept true to years of tradition, heading to Slovakia for his first trip abroad. He held meetings with Slovakia’s President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the National Council and Foreign Minister. He also briefly met Czech compatriots. An agreement was made with his opposite number, Andrej Danko, that the heads of the Visegrád Group parliaments (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary) would come together on 17 November at Národní třída in Prague to commemorate the 30 th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

TEDxUNYP 2019

Nine new speakers delivered ideas and innovation at TEDxUNYP 2019

TEDxUNYP is one of the only TEDx events in the Czech Republic that delivers its program exclusively in English. In addition to students of the University of New York in Prague, the event was also attended by students from other universities, TEDx fans, and the local community. This year’s TEDxUNYP introduced a new format with a single ticket covering the entire event and an intermission reception hosted by Opus Café.
For this year’s event, we were lucky enough to welcome professional speakers and personalities such as the award-winning chemist and well-known Czech personality Michael Londesborough; Rafael Badziag, a best-selling and award-winning author and an experienced TEDx speaker; Linda Štucbartová, a journalist and women’s empowerment leader; and Jakub Lepš, Deputy Mayor of Prague 11 and Party Leader for TOP 09.

The Sino-US Trade War – Why China can’t win it

Does our history only appear overheated, but is essentially calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? Surely, our history warns. Does it also provide for a hope? Hence, what is in front of us: destiny or future?

One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality; whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. As postulated, the main task of any liberal state is to enable and maintain wealth of its nation, which of course rests upon wealthy individuals inhabiting the particular state. That imperative brought about another dilemma: if wealthy individual, the state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you. The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt. That ‘invention’ meant: relatively strong central government of the state. Instead of popular control through the democratic checks-&-balances mechanism, such a state should be rather heavily indebted. Debt – firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners – is a far more powerful deterrent, as it resides outside the popular check domain. With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy, and abandon its hierarchical but invisible and unconstitutional controls. This is how a debtor empire was born. A blessing or totalitarian curse? Let us briefly examine it.

The Soviet Union – much as (the pre-Deng’s) China itself – was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, apparent, secretive), while the US was more a financial-trading empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). On opposite sides of the globe and cognition, to each other they remained enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable: Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Sparta vs. Athens. Rome vs. Phoenicia… However, common for the both was a super-appetite for omnipresence. Along with the price to pay for it.

Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s – they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans – the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How? The United States, with its financial capital (or an outfoxing illusion of it), evolved into a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties. Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper… Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously said to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, the dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

House of Cards

Conventional economic theory teaches us that money is a universal equivalent to all goods. Historically, currencies were a space and time-related, to say locality-dependent. However, like no currency ever before, the US dollar became – past the WWII – the universal equivalent to all other moneys of the world. According to history of currencies, the core component of the non-precious metals money is a so-called promissory note – intangible belief that, by any given point of future, a particular shiny paper (self-styled as money) will be smoothly exchanged for real goods.

Thus, roughly speaking, money is nothing else but a civilizational construct about imagined/projected tomorrow – that the next day (which nobody has ever seen in the history of humankind, but everybody operates with) definitelly comes (i), and that this tomorrow will certainly be a better day then our yesterday or even our today (ii).

This and similar types of social contracts (horizontal and vertical) over the collective constructs hold society together as much as its economy keeps it alive and evolving. Hence, it is money that powers economy, but our blind faith in (constructed) tomorrows and its alleged certainty is what empowers money.

Clearly, the universal equivalent of all equivalents – the US dollar – follows the same pattern: Strong and widely accepted promise. What does the US dollar promise when there is no gold cover attached to it ever since the time of Nixon shock of 1971?

Pentagon promises that the oceanic sea lines will remain opened (read: controlled by the US Navy), pathways unhindered, and that the most traded world’s commodity – oil, will be delivered. So, it is not a crude or its delivery what is a cover to the US dollar – it is a promise that oil of tomorrow will be deliverable. That is a real might of the US dollar, which in return finances Pentagon’s massive expenditures and shoulders its supremacy.

Admired and feared, Pentagon further fans our planetary belief in tomorrow’s deliverability – if we only keep our faith in dollar (and hydrocarbons’ energized economy), and so on and on in perpetuated circle of mutual reinforcements.

These two pillars of the US might from the East coast (the US Treasury/Wall Street and Pentagon) together with the two pillars of the West coast – both financed by the US dollar and spread through the open sea-lanes (Silicone Valley and Hollywood), are an essence of the US posture.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take our mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. In short, to turn history into a moral success story. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, and the Deng’s Copernicus-shift of China, the US – unconstrained as a lonely superpower – solely dictated terms of reference; our common destiny and direction/s to our future/s.

Winner is rarely a game-changer

Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US to soften and delay its forthcoming, imminent multidimensional imperial retreat. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation. To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire before. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing”. Look the map, at Russia or China and their packed surroundings. The US is blessed with neighboring oceans – all that should harbor tranquility, peace and prosperity, foresightedness.

Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? Why does it hold (extra-judicially) captive more political prisoners on Cuban soil than the badmouthed Cuban regime has ever had? Why does it remain obsessed with armament for at home and abroad? What are we talking about here – the inadequate intensity of our confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction?

Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. However, unable to escape its inner logics and deeply-rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.

To sum up; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans accelerated expansion while waiting for (real or imagined) adversaries to further decline, ‘liberalize’ and bandwagon behind the US. Expansion is the path to security dictatum only exacerbated the problems afflicting the Pax Americana. That is how the capability of the US to maintain its order started to erode faster than the capacity of its opponents to challenge it. A classical imperial self-entrapment!! And the repeated failure to notice and recalibrate its imperial retreat brought the painful hangovers to Washington by the last presidential elections. Inability to manage the rising costs of sustaining the imperial order only increased the domestic popular revolt and political pressure to abandon its ‘mission’ altogether. Perfectly hitting the target to miss everything else …

When the Soviets lost their own indigenous ideological matrix and maverick confrontational stance, and when the US dominated West missed to triumph although winning the Cold War, how to expect from the imitator to score the lasting moral or even a momentary economic victory?

Neither more confrontation and more carbons nor more weaponized trade and traded weapons will save our day. It failed in past, it will fail again any given day.

Interestingly, China opposed the I World, left the II in rift, and ever since Bandung of 1955 it neither won nor joined the III Way. Today, many see it as a main contestant. But, where is a lasting success?

Greening international relations along with greening of economy (geopolitical and environmental understanding, de-acidification and relaxation) is the only way out. Historically, no global leader has ever emerged from a shaky and distrustful neighborhood, or by offering little bit more of the same in lieu of an innovative technological advancement. Ergo, it all starts from within, from at home. Without support from a home base, there is no game changer. China’s home is Asia.

Hence, it is not only a new, non-imitative, turn of technology what is needed. Without truly and sincerely embracing mechanisms such as the NaM, ASEAN and SAARC (eventually even the OSCE) and the main champions of multilateralism in Asia, those being India Indonesia and Japan first of all, China has no future of what is planetary awaited – the third force, a game-changer, lasting and trusted global leader.

Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarević,
Vienna, 31 MAR 2019

Author is chairperson and professor in international law and global political studies, Vienna, Austria. He has authored six books (for American and European publishers) and numerous articles on, mainly, geopolitics energy and technology.

Professor is editor of the NY-based GHIR (Geopolitics, History and Intl. Relations) journal,
and editorial board member of several similar specialized magazines on three continents.

His 7th book, ‘From WWI to www. – Europe and the World 1918-2018’ has been just realised.

Preview from the Book “Grandmothers” By Linda Štucbartová

On Strahov Monastery and the fate of Abbot Jarolímek

Our readers know me as the Chief Interviewer. The aim of our magazine, which comes out quarterly as the last print in English on the market due to the digitalization trend and new media, is to present current leaders to the wider public, both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Currently I am co-writing a book about Grandmothers with Judi Challiner.

You could read an interview with her in our last issue. Today, I present my part.

I realized that, like my grandmother Rose, when writing, I also include personal reflections and memories. I have widened my scope a bit. I include not only artists, but also doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists and to acknowledge our history, I launched a new series of interviews with members of the nobility. The nobility’s fates were also profoundly affected by the communist regime and in many cases even distorted.

I was proud to interview Mr. Tomáš Halík, the recipient of the Templeton Prize, Mr. Zdeněk Lukeš, the Director of the National Museum, Mrs. Eva Zažímalová, the President of the Czech Academy of Science, Rudolf Jindrák, who happens to be a former colleague diplomat from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and currently the Head of the Foreign Office of the President, as well as the younger generation represented by Kateřina Falk, a leading Czech physicist, Hana Němcová or Ondřej Mynář, representing the new generations of Czech world-wide entrepreneurs.

Love of Arts and Grandmother’s Rose Memory Book

“We live in the age of rush, noise and hurry and often it is difficult to steal even the little while for nice memories”.

PhMr. Růžena Štucbartová

When was the last time you browsed through a physical photo album? When was the last time you received a hand-written post-card? What kind of tangible souvenirs will we leave for our grandchildren?

In October 2018, I visited the Friends of Zion museum in Jerusalem which is known as a top museum using ground-breaking technology to experience the past. As much as I was touched by the stories, I was surprised by the lack of the material exhibits or objects from the past.

From this point of view, my grandmother’s memory book seems, not only to me but also to most people who have seen it, unique. This is the piece I cherish the most from the inheritance, next to her ring (which she actually never wore as she was allergic to gold) and several paintings. I know that she also wrote several books of memoirs, unfortunately I did not manage to get them.

My grandmother started her memory book in 1945, the last dedication dates 1986. With the memory book, I found many newspaper clippings about the personalities. Some of them were customers at the pharmacy, some of them knew my grandmother personally, most of them were just impressed by the company of others and therefore wrote an admiration passage reflecting on the other public figures.

The memory book serves not only as a sort of “who’s who” publication in the world of arts, for over 40 decades but also as a reminder of how much time and effort my grandmother devoted to this passion of hers. I am still amazed by how she managed her regular visits to theatre and opera together with her long working and commuting hours. Perhaps this was the reason she did not experience a burn out effect, while I regularly feel “depleted” throughout most of December and January, and for the second time in a row I spent the end of the year on antibiotics. Among the personalities, one can find Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, a son of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The premature death of Jan Masaryk, believed to be a murder, rather than a suicide, shortly after the communist coup d’état in March 1948, was not fully explained until now. He was a frequent visitor to the pharmacy and using a quite familiar greeting, he wished great luck to the whole Štucbart family (Štucbartovcům).

I have already mentioned Alice Masaryková, a daughter of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and I will dedicate a special chapter to her.

The next “VIP” (to use the current language) is Hana Benešová, the wife of Eduard Beneš, who was the second Czechoslovak President, a successor of the much loved and admired Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Eduard Beneš is judged by historians as an unfortunate statesman, who witnessed his country and his reign challenged by both Nazis and then Communist regimes.

Further famous notables include: archbishop of Prague Josef Beran and Abbot Bohuslav Jarolímek, the last abbot serving at Strahov Monastery; Prof. Heyrovský, a Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of contact lenses; Jaroslav Seifert, a Nobel Prize winner for literature. Painters are represented by Jiří Trnka, the author of “Broučci”, Max Švabinský, Václav Špála or Zdeněk Burian. The next category can be entitled the National Theatre artists, such as Eduard Haken, Růžena Nasková, Marie Podvalová.

The normalization period (after the Soviet occupation in 1968 until the Velvet Revolution in 1989) is represented by luminaries not associated with the communist regime, such as Miloš Kirchner, the “father of famous Spejbl and Hurvínek”, actors such as Miloš Kopecký, painter Cyril Bouda, composer Petr Eben, who included a piece of music, or a writer Ladislav Fuks, violinist Josef Suk and many others.

The memory book contains not only dedications with autographs, but most personalities took the time to draw, write a poem or a truly personal dedication. It was interesting for me to read the dedication: “To dear PhMr. Růžena Štucbartová, the wife of the pharmacist”. Being particularly engaged in women empowerment myself, I wonder why she acquiesced to such a title. Like she was not a pharmacist herself! It was her who was advising and serving the customers, while my grandfather was working on research or was busy running the business from behind the scenes. I admire how strong her sense of identity must have been inside that she did not need any further recognition from the outside. When I work with leaders, I call this sense of identity an “inner anchor”, knowing who you are and what you want to achieve, based not on positions, functions or external recognition but based on your mission and purpose. Her purpose was clear: to be a pharmacist and to serve the people the best she could.

Looking at that dedication from the 21st century perspective, it might seem weird. However, there is one more aspect to it. My grandmother’s motto was: Love will always prevail. I know how much she loved my grandfather, I am sure she did not mind.

Luckily, I live in an era, where people whom I interview do not disappear abroad or die due to political persecution, as was the case of Abbot Bohuslav Jarolímek, the last Abbot of the Strahov Monastery.

Grandma Rose wrote only a few personal accounts of her memories of some personalities. The story of Mr. Bohuslav Stanislav Jarolímek is the most tragic one. Mr. Jarolímek was a very influential figure, he was amongst the top three candidates to become an archbishop in Prague. Strahov Monastery was one of the pharmacy clients. My grandmother and grandfather went to meet the Abbot to introduce themselves as the new pharmacists. Given the fact that it was the year 1946, my grandmother was obviously fascinated by the splendor of the monastery surroundings, as she carefully detailed how “we were led through the beautiful rooms all the way to his private office. The abbot sat in a magenta chair, dressed in the luxurious white gown of the Premonstrate Order and he had a gold chain around the neck.” After the initial introduction, my grandmother was asked to write a dedication and she wrote: Thanks to God for love and grace and thanks to Abbot Jarolímek for a warm welcome.” A few weeks later, she came back with her memory book and she got “God bless the Štucbart’s family.” The last meeting with Mr. Jarolímek was after the “change of the circumstances” – a euphemism for the 1948 communist coup d’état, in 1949. Mr. Jarolímek protested against the misuse of his name and when he did not reach any remedy in the press, during a Sunday service he proclaimed: “On this holy place, I declare I did not sign anything. Mentioning my name in the press as a supporter of the Minister of Health Mr. Plojhar is a deliberate act of confusing believers. I am a faithful son of the Catholic church which I love and I am ready to sacrifice my life for.”The mass then continued as normal. My grandmother wrote about his arrest, imprisonment and death. She made comments that she does not understand politics, she does not desire to incorporate it into her personal memories and she does not feel competent either to judge or sentence one’s guilt or innocence.

According to official records, Mr. Jarolímek was quite aware of the danger of the communists to the Church, he read Lenin’s and Stalin’s works in Russian and therefore he tried to warn his brothers against any naïve illusions. After the coup d’état, he encouraged believers to fidelity and courage. The communists meanwhile used propaganda and mentioned Abbot Jarolímek as one of the supporters of the so-called Catholic action, publishing his signature in newspapers. In 1950, Mr. Jarolímek was diagnosed with ulcers, due to psychological distress. He was sent to a hospital, then to a sanatorium and later that year, he was arrested as the last victim of the big process with bishops. He was accused of treason, collaboration by being in touch with representatives of the Protectorate government, getting effective new school law (!), and critical attitude against the communist regime and its church policy. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He died in January 1951. The fact is that before the arrest his weight was 75 kilos, after he died he weighed only 50 kgs. He lived according to his motto: Fortiter et suaviter (Bravely and Nobly).

My grandmother’s memory ends with the note that the original Monastery Strahov had been turned into the beautiful Museum of the Czech Literature. It is true, its main library hall has become one of the most frequently pictured and photographed libraries in the world, thanks to its baroque beauty. I wish visitors would remind themselves also about the fate of the Abbot Jarolímek.

I recently visited Strahov Monastery. There is no mention of Mr. Jarolímek and his fate. I hope this article is a slight remembrance this noble man deserves. Particularly in the light of the latest debate on putting taxes on the churches’ restitutions, I believe that we should remind ourselves of the darkest times of the recent history.

As famous quote says, „those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“

5 Destinations Every Craft Beer Lover Should Visit in 2019

Why is craft beer the new trend that everyone seems to be loving? Is it because it’s unusual? Is it because it’s a tastier option for drinking beer or because of something else? Be as it may, drinking craft beer is very popular, especially because it’s one of the best ways to experience the atmosphere of that particular country or city. Each and every craft beer is completely different and this is the reason why it’s difficult to pin down one favorite craft beer. If you consider yourself to be a beer aficionado, then what you should do is plan your next holiday right now and think about the countries with the best craft beer. Luckily for everyone joining your trip, these are not only popular because of the craft beer, so everyone can enjoy what they like.

Czech Republic

There probably isn’t a bigger beer place in Europe than the Czech Republic. This country has already taken the beer throne as the country that produces some of the best brands of lager beer such as Staropramen, Kozel or Budweiser, which are extremely popular in Europe. Now, it’s not only the amazing architecture and lager beer that the Czech Republic and its capital, Prague, are popular for. Drinking craft beer there is one of the most popular activities of the locals, and there is a plethora of bars where you could try amazing examples of craft beer. Regardless of the bar that you choose, you will probably believe that you’ve tried the best example of Czech craft beer. But this will be the case with every bar – each kind is totally unique and different. Thank you, Czech Republic!

Australia

The Land Down Under is not only popular because of their wineries and whiskey breweries. Craft beer has become quite popular in Australia as well, and this is the reason why microbreweries keep coming up with new tastes and kinds of craft beer. As you can drink beer practically everywhere in Australia, every part of this amazing country has its own beer. This is why you should visit a brewery in Margaret River and simply experience their craft beer at least once in your life. Not only are they refreshing, but also super delicious. You will definitely fall in love with the Aussie way of making craft beer, and you have to try it. You know what they say – once you go craft beer in Australia, you never go back. Well, they don’t say that, but they certainly should.

Germany

Another country that very well-known for its beer is Germany – what else can we say about the country that has the biggest beer festival in the world? Even though Germany also produces great examples of lager beer such as Becks or Heineken, there are also instances of some of the best craft beer types such as Bitburger, Brlo or Holsten Pils. So, basically, no matter which part of Germany you find yourself in, you can have a glass of the most delicious beer of the area.

The USA

Yes, even though it might seem kind of strange, making craft beer has become quite popular in the USA as well. It’s not that every state or city has a strong craft beer scene, but there are definitely those underrated cities where one can drink craft beer. For example, the best place where you could have a glass of excellent craft beer is Reno in Nevada – a place with over 10 breweries. Next up, don’t miss to check out Bowling Green in Kentucky. It’s this city that puts the state of Kentucky on the craft beer map.

Poland

Lastly, the craft beer underdog of Europe is definitely Poland. The Polish have started to understand craft beer and its essence, and this is when they became inspired to experiment and brew craft beer on their own. The best craft beer scene in Poland is Krakow, even though there are great craft beers in every other city. Bear in mind that their craft beer might be a bit bubblier than what you are used to, but it’s very well worth it.

It’s impossible to read (or write) this without wanting to have a sip of the finest craft beers. This is why you should think outside of the box, and if you’re about to plan your next holiday in a couple of days, have these destinations in mind!

 

By Peter Minkoff

Peter is a lifestyle and travel writer at Men-Ual magazine, living between Ústí nad Labem and Antwerp. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.

Meda Marie Mládková

 

Congratulations and Thank You, Ma’am!

 

Dr. Meda Marie Mládková

This year, Dr. Meda Marie Mládková is celebrating her 100th birthday. This petite lady had until recently held a large number of roles with energy and grace, and these have gradually been taken over by one medium-large team. Meda Mládková’s second career began after the Velvet Revolution when she returned to Czechoslovakia from exile in the USA. Meda was 72 years old when she returned alone to her home country. Her husband, the economist Jan Mládek, did not live to see the change of regime, having died in September 1989. At an age when others are well into enjoying their retirement, Meda embarked with energy and vigour on a project of renovating Museum Kampa; at 89 years of age she started a project renovating the renowned Werich Villa, and at 98 years old she decided to support the inception of a unique exhibition of Czech glass as part of a new Museum of Glass in the renovated Portheimka Palace. Over her life, Meda Mládková has combined various roles as philanthropist, collector and patron of the arts, expert in modern art and tireless ambassador for Czech art and culture in general.

I remember the day I first met Meda. It was the day of my 40th birthday party, and Meda wished me not just happiness and energy, but also that I feel fulfilled and proud of the work I undertake. In Museum Kampa’s courtyard, she proudly showed me the museum’s motto: “If the culture survives, then so too does the nation.” Even during the depths of communist totalitarianism, Meda never gave up her Czech passport.

February’s flu epidemic thwarted a reunion with Meda.

The interview was thus held with the core Museum Kampa – Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation team: I asked its Chairman of the Board of Directors, Jiří Pospíšil, Director Jan Smetana and member of the Board of Directors Jana Hrstková not just to tell the story of Meda as few know it, but also to reveal the secret of how Meda Mládková’s 100 birthday celebrations will pan out.

What do the public not know about Meda?

Few realise the current breadth of museums Meda has built and supported. From Museum Kampa, which focuses on modern art, to the Werich Villa, which doesn’t just recall the legacy of Prague’s Liberated Theatre, but whose space also builds on its tradition, encouraging further cultural encounters, discussions or dance, and musical evenings. We warmly invite all readers to visit the Museum of Glass in the Baroque Portheimka Palace in Smíchov, which joined the institutions administered by the Mládek Foundation last year. Besides collecting pictures, Meda has also focused on artists who have worked with glass. She held a unique exhibition promoting Czech glass in Washington in the 1980s.

When she lived in the USA, Meda was not just a true ambassador for Czech culture, but she also supported young artists, and in today’s terminology was also a unique “networker”.

Again, few people realise that the Mládeks’ famous house in Georgetown was visited by renowned politicians, writers and artists. She displayed artists’ pictures in her home, held exhibitions and invited well- known guests there to whom she presented Czech artists. Many Czech artists who got the opportunity to travel to the USA found not just support from the Mládeks, but also a place to stay, including being introduced and presented to American society. It is no exaggeration to say that Czechoslovakia’s true embassy at that time was to be found at the Mládeks’ home. Mrs. Mládek’s efforts at bringing cultures together are also evidenced by letters from Václav Havel when she tried to get a Ford Foundation grant for him.
It was Meda who supported the young talented artist Emilie Beneš Brzezinski, President Beneš’s niece, who married the influential political scientist and American foreign policy power-broker, Zbigniew Brzezinski. Meda’s passion and willingness to support Czech art knew no bounds. She once even sold her house in order to buy a Kupka painting, which she later donated to the National Gallery in Washington, where it remains displayed as part of its permanent exhibition. During the communist totalitarianism, she supported Czech artists by purchasing pictures and organising exhibitions, not just in America, but also in Europe. Her vision in this regard was truly unsurpassable, and without all she did then there would be nothing to build on today.

What happened to her legacy in America after she returned home?

Meda’s legacy in the USA was not diminished even after she left, and her name is often mentioned in cultural and societal circles. For example, a Jiří Kolář exhibition was implemented at the start of this year through her American-based Central and Eastern European Art Foundation. This unique Jiří Kolář exhibition, Forms of Visual Poetry, containing works from the Museum Kampa collection, is being held at the American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, Washington DC until 17 March 2019. Many renowned figures have visited this exhibition, and so another opportunity has arisen to remind the world of the importance of Czech art in a global context, and build further co-operation with other cultural institutions in the USA.

What’s it like to work with Meda?

Meda is determined and adamant. She is incredibly tenacious, a great debater. She never gives in to her age. At a time when many people complain they don ́t have the energy for certain things, she got started on building Museum Kampa and renovating Sova’s Mills. Her motto is: If you want to, you can. She’s had to fight hard for all her museums, whether with bureaucracy, conservationists or the proverbial Czech small-mindedness in general.

I put my final question to Jiří Pospíšil, who as Chairman is, with the Board of Directors, in closest contact with Meda. Can you reveal how Meda’s birthday celebrations will pan out?

We’ve conceived this year as Meda’s year. We’re planning a lot of exhibitions, meetings and other events at Museum Kampa. We warmly invite all readers to view the play Meda. Tatiana Vilhelmová will be playing the title role. The play is a representation of Meda’s life from the age of 14 to today. The play will be performed on the summer stage from June to September. It will be performed under open skies in Museum Kampa’s courtyard. The final performance will be held on 8 September 2019, on the day of Meda Mládková’s 100th birthday.

Linda Štucbartová

Huawei case: The HiFi Geostrategic Gambit

In a general, comprehensive, strategic outline of the global scenario we can see that China is being harassed on several fronts by the US: commercial pressures, diplomatic maneuvers to block the progress of infrastructure projects (OBOR/New Silk Road), at technological level, the boycott/ restrictions against Huawei. These are some of the current modalities of strategic competition between great powers, without involving the direct use of hard / military power, which we could well consider a Cold War 2.0.

Analyzing the factors and interests at stake, the events in full development during the last months are not surprising, as the advances of the US government against the Chinese technological giant Huawei. Since the arrest of its CFO, Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of the company, to accusations of espionage, boycotts and diplomatic pressure to annul Huawei’s advances in several countries.
Huawei is the flagship, the spearhead of the Chinese technological advance. This onslaught is not a coincidence. While formally not having direct links with the Chinese government, Huawei has a prominent role in the Chinese strategic technological plan “Made in China 2025”, because of its development and implementation of 5G networks, key part of the plan, which are estimated to be available around soon.

The strategic approach is to change the Chinese productive matrix towards a “High Tech” economy, of design and innovation, to position China in the forefront in the technological advanced sectors of the modern economy (artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics, automation, the internet of things, telecommunications, software, renewable energies, and the element that is in the most interest for us to analyze, the 5G). In Washington, they do not feel comfortable with Chinese advances.

The Eurasia Group consulting firm argues that the installation of 5G networks will involve one of the biggest changes in our time, comparing its appearance with major breaks in the technological history such as electricity. Some specialists, websites and the press have coined the term “Sputnik” moment, by comparing the potential impact of competition for the development of 5G technologies with the space race in the Cold War at the time.

The 5G will allow the use of faster network data, as well as the widespread and coordinated use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, smart cities, automation, improvements in health, and in the military field.

The US has put pressure on several of its allies (Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Great Britain, and Canada to name some) to block Huawei’s advances in services and investments in their countries, while restricting the purchase of Huawei’s products and services on North American soil.

While it is true that several countries could give in from the pressure from Washington to “encircle” Huawei and restrict its services and products, so is the fact that many other countries, especially the many that have China as their main trading partner, in addition to all the pleiad of emerging and developing countries that are being seduced by the economic possibilities, and in this specific case, technology offered by China and its companies. What it would imply, a worldwide competition between American diplomatic muscle and Chinese sweet money.

And also in commercial terms, the progress of Huawei into the top of the tech companies is remarkable, due to its production methods and its business model, having surpassed, for example, APPLE among the largest companies that sells mobile phones being only second to Samsung.

Does anyone remember free trade? Competition? What’s up with that? Or was it just a trick? It seems that in the global economic game, the US throws the chessboard away when it loses, and uses the geopolitical muscle, without any problem, following the Groucho’s Marx doctrine: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

The fears about Huawei’s technology are hiding a power struggle, a hegemonic dispute over technology. So far the accusations of espionage against this corporation perhaps are valid in theoretical sense, but unprovable in facts, what left them as mere speculations. The accusations by the US against Huawei, through the speech of “the threat of espionage” are unbelievable, and hypocritical in some sense, and the speech is marked by a double standard… Who represents the threat?
is the same US that nowadays “advises” its allies and other countries to “protect” themselves against the “threat” of Huawei’s espionage in favor of its government, the same country that spied on its own allies in a wicked way, if we remember the cases that Assange and Snowden brought to light.

We can also highlight recently the Cambridge Analytica scandal – much of which has been well predicted by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic in his influential manifesto about the McFB world of tomorrow. The Cambridge Analytica fiasco plainly showed the unholy relations between the big technological “independent” corporations like Facebook and Google with the political power in the West.

Conclusions:

Technological competition is another chessboard of this new multilevel and multidimensional XXI Century Great Game, where the great actors move their pieces.

5G is the focal point for a global rush to dominate the next wave of technological development – a race many policymakers worry the U.S. is already losing, and that’s why they act in this aggressive way. The strategic competition for advanced, high technologies such as 5G, and innovations in the fourth industrial revolution, will mark the “podium” of the great powers of the 21st century.

The technological new cold war between the two largest economies and powers in the world shows no signs of diminishing, either the strategic competition.
Who will win this Great Game on the chessboards? The patience / precaution and forecast of the game of Go, or the strong bets and bluffs of poker.

The geostrategic chessboard is already deployed. Players already have their cards in hand, and have moved their tokens. Prestige is to come.

Juan Martin González Cabañas is a senior researcher and analyst at the Dossier Geopolitico

This Is the Best Cruise Destination in the World

If you’re looking for the ultimate cruise destination, one place just took the top spot in the cruise industry’s Wave Awards: Greece.

The U.K.-based awards recognize the best of the cruise industry, from the best locations to the best operators, and winners are decided by a combination of industry judges and public vote. The judges named Greece as the best destination — both as a port and a country — for 2019.

Greece has more than 2,000 islands, each offering their own charms and attractions, and the country’s ideal climate makes cruising possible for most of the year. Wave Awards representatives highlighted the picturesque seascapes and many cruise options — including smaller ships that visit quieter islands — as a major benefit.Greece’s islands are a longtime favorite, particularly with Travel + Leisurereaders. The island of Páros was named the best island to visit in Europe and one of the best islands in the world in the World’s Best Awards. The country’s tourism sector is growing at a record place, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.In the public vote, Greece came in second, just behind Barbados. Barbados also has a lot to offer, from the pristine coastline and 70 miles of beach to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bridgetown.

UNICEF Partners Meeting in Hilton Prague Old Town

UNICEF Czech Republic Executive Director, Pavla Gomba, thanked all partners who had provided financial, material or media support in 2018 to UNICEF at the UNICEF Partners Meeting, which was held on 5 March in the Hilton Prague Old Town. Certificates of thanks were given to partners by actor Jitka Čvančarová, writer Barbara Nesvadbová and ice-hockey player Patrik Eliáš. Also taking part in the event were founder and president of Zátiší Group, Sanjiv Suri, and gastronomy expert, Pavel Maurer.

Senate President meets Madeleine Albright

Senate President Jaroslav Kubera was the only Czech constitutional official to meet former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The bilateral meeting was held at Prague Castle as part of celebrations of 20 years since the Czech Republic joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Kubera and Albright mainly discussed ways to reduce the division within society which is prevalent not just in the Czech public space, but also that within Europe and America in recent years, and which certain politicians entrench through their statements and actions.

PragArtworks – Art’s in the House, Move on UP!

Art ́s in the House, Move on UP! is a remarkable collaboration with IMMOFINANZ and myhive Pankrác House. Louise Beer, founder and director of PragArtworks, has brought together a diverse group of contemporary Czech artists to create an exclusive exhibition in the heart of Prague. The exhibition showcases artworks in the urban office spaces of Pankrac House. This industrial environment is unconventional yet presents the perfect setting to showcase the wide range of contemporary works on display. The pop-up gallery not only offers a space for the artists to display their works, but also fosters a sense of kinship and community. Connecting the artists to their audience and creating an inviting atmosphere is what PragArtworks has set out to achieve since it was established in 2017.

I, the Brand – Holding the Mirror and Holding the Back

Since 2010, when I started my communications business in the Czech Republic, I became aware of how vital it is that our names are connected with sound, positive values. In my case it was integrity, freedom and partnership that were leading the way, taking me away from a media landscape troubled by crisis into a growing people development practice.

Little by little I realized that my clients, heads of small and large companies alike, were facing a similar challenge. Regardless of their intention – if they wanted to achieve something within the company, drive an acquisition, change careers or launch their own business – even the greatest leaders were all of a sudden at a loss. When asked why they personally wanted to communicate in a certain way, what was driving them, they often had no answer. It was much easier to hang on to the company direction, vision and values than to turn the mirror inside and allow their inner voice to take the lead in communications.

Allowing the Soul to Speak

If we were to look at the Eisenhower principle of prioritization, with tasks split along two axes – their urgency on the horizontal and their importance on the vertical – we would realize that personal branding sits in the upper left box – important, but not urgent. It’s like that medical check that you’ve been postponing for ages for fear of what you might find or have to change once you go through it. The appeal of important and urgent tasks is so much bigger – at best we can point at the urgency of the matter to find an excuse about why we spent all our time and energy on immediate assignments. Yet that is a brilliant example of short-term thinking. If you really want to think long term – and building a career and personal brand is quite a long term endeavor – you need to be able to step away from the lure of the immediate and into the realm of the important, the essential, the vital, which might be a bit bitter and messy at the beginning, but much healthier long term.

This is why, starting with our second session of personal branding I start stretching people’s focus with long term questions. “What’s really important to you? What do you want to leave behind? If you were to be hit by a car tomorrow, who would miss you? To what extent do you feel you fulfilled your mission on this Earth?” And so on.

You can imagine that this is the point when clients start to “fall in love” with me. Had they not already paid for their full personal branding package in advance, they would be running through the door and never come back. That’s why I call this moment the breaking point. In personal branding my mission is holding the mirror and holding the back. This is literally what I do: I hold people’s backs long enough for them to start looking into a personal mirror that is not fogged by outside factors like family, company or society expectations. Slowly, the dreams of youth – and the pain attached to losing contact with them – come forward. Slowly, allowed and held, the soul breaks through immediate impulses, emotions and ideas and starts to speak. This is the greatest moment and the biggest reward of my profession: that moment when the reconnection to self occurs and my clients come up with realizations beyond their wildest dreams. This is the reward for coping with the process and with the messy feelings around it: finding one’s voice and allowing it to speak freely while taking responsibility for cherishing and nurturing it for the rest of one’s life.

The Facets of the Personal Diamond

Imagine your personal brand as a multifaceted diamond shining in all its beauty on a precious purple bed. This diamond has several facets that are not all visible at the same time – it is not even necessary to show all of them to everyone at any given moment. What is vital however is to know what your personal diamond’s facets are and to become aware of how well polished they are in case you might need to show them to someone and allow them to power your communication.

So, what are the facets of your personal diamond? They are everything that is basically You:

    • your past, including your origin and family history, your roots, your place of birth, your ethnicity and nationality;
    • your core values, usually developed during the first years of life;
    • your innate talents and gifts;
    • your education, including the schools you attended, the things you learnt there and the skills that you developed;
    • your professional experience, including your past career successes large and small;
    • your hobbies and volunteer activities, which usually speak strongly of your values;
    • your personality and level of emotional maturity;
    • other particular aspects that make you who you are, such as your nickname or your “freak factor” meaning specific issues or experiences, positive or negative, that had a major impact on your life etc.

All these gifts are already in your coffer, building together the unique DNA thread of who your are. These are the edges and facets of your personal diamond that might be calling for your attention. Again, they don’t have to or shouldn’t even have to be all visible at the same time. But a good starting place is to realize that you have them and that they are your real assets when building your career and personal communications strategy.

If you find yourself at a crossroad, take a break. Give yourself a couple of days off for self-reflection and go back to those nasty questions I mentioned above. What do you really want to leave behind? What is there that is really important to you? Who would miss you if you were gone? What is your mission and your message for this world? And, mainly, to what extent do you live your mission in your everyday life and speak of it in your everyday communications?

This can be a tough place and you don’t have to dive into these muddy waters of the soul alone. Yet it is only alone that you can dive deep enough to recover your diamond from the depths, bring it up and start polishing it, one facet at a time. From what I’ve experienced so far, one day you will be amazed by the light that starts to emerge from the inside out and to guide you mercilessly on your journey. And that’s the true reward: for you, for coping with the process of bringing yourself forward in all your glory, and for me for holding the mirror and holding the back.

By Cristina Muntean

 

Cristina Muntean is a consultant, trainer, mentor and coach who specializes in personal branding, strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence for leadership. A former journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the Czech, Romanian and international media, she founded Media Education CEE, a PR advisory and training agency in Prague in May 2010. Her clients are executive level managers and entrepreneurs with Top100 companies in the Czech Republic and Central and Eastern Europe. Cristina is also an internationally certified trainer and coach with the Enneagram, a complex system of personal development, and a facilitator of systemic dynamics in business organizations. She provides her services in English, Czech, French and Romanian, her mother tongue. Cristina can be reached at +420 776 574 925 or at cm@cristinamuntean.com.

Wine from Tahiti or One Dream Fulfilled

Rangiroa coral island

Viticulture today utilises knowledge collected over almost three thousand years. It was likely Phoenicians who first began growing grapes, then the Romans, followed by many generations of monks until the first generation of today’s winegrowers. Growers were continually seeking out, testing, varying and improving methods of cultivation and wine production. Today, winemaking culture is supported through highly efficient research laboratories using cutting-edge equipment, but nature still has the first word. Hundreds and thousands of experts the world over are continuously exchanging experience, and communicating their successes and failures.

Wine press

Nothing of this sort occurred in Polynesia. Just one man alone made the decision to grow grapes here. He was unable to rely on any local experience of viticulture. All the questions had to be posed. What vine to use, what variety to plant? There are almost 4000 grape varieties. Where should the vines be planted? Nobody had any experience of growing vines on a coral bedrock in a tropical region. Furthermore, grape vines have annual cycles, and are used to alternating winter and summer periods. How can the particular and shorter incidence of sunlight at this latitude below the Tropic of Capricorn be utilised when grapes need long periods of sunlight in order to produce enough sugar, and colder nights to strengthen the vine, etc.?

Wine museum in Tahiti

It was clear that growing vines in Tahiti would require starting from scratch. Dominique Auroy surprised everyone. Sceptics, wine-lovers, experts, specialists and scientists.

“He experienced every moment of his life with great intensity.” This could be his epitaph; someone who has constantly needed new challenges to live. Dominique was very young when he came to realise that we are only the masters of our own fate when we see our dreams fulfilled. “For me, life without risk, without excitement and without pleasure is not a life at all. When I first arrived in Polynesia 40 years ago, I did not realise that I would spend most of my life here and that I would experience such a fascinating period of innovations and fundamental changes.” The 1980s in his life were marked by a large project that he believed in despite the scepticism of many. He won them all over when he created an incredible and massive construction: a hydroelectric power plant in the middle of the forests, which twenty years later secures 50% of the hydropower for the whole of Tahiti.

Grape harvest in Tahiti

His new challenge of growing grapes came later at the end of the 1990s. A few years before, he had become a shareholder in BraPac, a company that imported wine to Polynesia. He didn’t find the wine trade of great interest. Due to the high cost of importing wine to a country where a population of 250 000 people consumed 4 million bottles of wine a year, his plan to start growing vines locally began taking shape. But before getting down to growing grapevines, as a true visionary Dominique began working on the now renowned mineral water, Eau Royale. His next challenge was growing sugarcane and producing rum. In Tahiti, sugarcane is a native plant that has been exported and used in the Caribbean to produce rum. The Mana’o rum which Dominique Auroy produces is of the highest quality, and is highly rated amongst many experts around the world.

This was followed by a long and difficult journey from the first grape- vine shoot appearing to the first glass of wine being drunk. In the meantime, he founded a unique wine museum in Tahiti, and a branch of the fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts, Chevaliers du Tastevin, which this year celebrated 25 years of operation here in style. “Only in wine have I found the harmony and balance so important for life,” con- cluded Dominique’s speech at the celebration, and he modestly watched as the whole hall rose to its feet in long applause.

Rangiroa coral atoll

First the horizon appears in front of us; where the green-blue clear sea ends and the brilliant blue of the sky rises upwards. Here, in the South Pacific amongst the coral islands of Tuamotu on the atoll of Rangiroa, every visitor is enchanted by the nature-enveloped dazzling light of the tropic sun. The boat cuts through the calm turquoise lagoon, and suddenly in front of us a small coral atoll emerges, with a forest of coconut palms. We embark onto the shore and onto a wonderful sparkling white beach, but our surprise will come elsewhere, and what we see will arouse incredible emotions in us. At the end of the coral path lined with coconut palms, rows of grapevines suddenly appear, and the air is full of the aroma of ripe grapes. The courage and adventure of one man suddenly becomes clear. We find ourselves in the Dominique Auroy vineyards, in “Domaine de Rangiroa”. Local Polynesians are working hard under the hot sun. The harvest is over. The grapes (Italia and Carignan varieties) are put into small containers and transported by sea to the main island for processing. Thanks to the tropical climate, grapes are harvested twice a year. 40 000 litres of wine are produced annually, and this covers not just local consumption; the wine is also exported to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It took almost ten years for the group of determined people around Dominique to manage to tame the local natural environment, and for the world to be able to enjoy the first glass of this now renowned crisp wine.

Rangiroa, coral island in French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean

“I made the decision to take the path of adventure as my life’s journey,” smiles Dominique without pathos.

The results of many experiments often arouse admiration and respect in regard to the process used or developed rather than the results of the actual product. And so experts’enthusiasm and qualitative reviews of these white wines grown on the coral atoll, “Tahiti blanc de corail” and “Tahiti blancsec”,wasallthemoreimpressive.Thewineherecannotbecompared to any well-known white wines from the traditional wine-growing latitudes and climates. The first wine has a surprisingly rich composition of aromas. Its fresh fruity flavour of pineapple, ripe peach and dried apricots develops fully in the mouth. The second wine is full and golden, and very fresh, elegant and balanced in the mouth. It finishes with the flavour of tropical fruit blended with a subtle minerality.

“You’ve got to be patient and persistent in life. It’s unfortunate that some have not realised this and have tried to slow down this development from the beginning, but the pleasure is in overcoming obstacles.” Dominique Auroy has won his incredible wager twice over. Not only is it possible to grow grapevines on a coral island in Tahiti, but he has also demonstrated that the resulting wine is of high quality, today having won many awards. Here, Dominique has clearly extended the limits of human possibility and tamed a number of laws of nature.

“My greatest satisfaction is that the citizens of Rangiroa atoll have appropriated the vineyard, and they are proud of it. It is a wonderful reward. Wine production is about passion above all, and passion gives my life meaning and value. I trust that wine stands for all I have sought in life.”

Authors : Iva and Joseph Drebitko
Photos : authors’ archives

Monika Koubová

 

TAKE CONTROL of your own health

 

Dr. Monika Koubová, Lifestyle Medicine Physician

MUDr. Monika Koubová has spent over twenty years working in internal medicine in a hospital, as emergency physician in the pre-hospital acute care and in the emergency ward, saving patients. After many years managing life threatening health conditions she has come to learn that it is important not just to treat disease, but especially to prevent it. As such, she was the first board-certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician in the Czech Republic. Did you know that up to 70% of chronic diseases that heavily impact health care budgets can be stopped, reversed or even cured? Although we met up during the week, our interview took place over a home-cooked lunch. We discussed epigenetics findings, superfoods, silent killers and, in particular, how small changes in our habits can bring large results. There were also lighter-hearted moments during our serious discussions. MUDr. Monika Koubová can explain even complex scientific principles in an understandable and humorous manner.

Monika, you tell your patients that you can’t guarantee beauty or slimness. The traditional viewpoint of “lifestyle medicine” is that it deals with lifestyle diseases and their prevention.

The medical approach in lifestyle medicine is not about slimming, as one might assume here in the Czech Republic according to the various advisory studies that have been proliferating. In Australia, America and Great Britain, this term signifies a modern medical science based on long term research, which has led to an approach to chronic diseases of the modern era being stopped or cured. The huge range of what at first sight seem to be unrelated diseases has one common denominator: the modern era and our habits, or rather bad habits, which result in pathophysiological changes within our organism. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases and renal failure, which, for example, affect 10% of the population, without half of those affected being aware of it. 920 000 citizens of the Czech Republic suffer from diabetes, and it is estimated that by 2030 the number of type 2 diabetics will grow to 1 200 000. And those suffering congenital type 1 diabetes comprise just about 3 % of patients with diabetes.

You say that we rely too much on our own family histories. When I was in hospital in January, it seemed almost absurd to me, at 42 years old, that they were asking me about illnesses suffered by my parents and grandparents. I realised that it was I who was responsible for my condition. I would add self-critically that I had not been particularly responsible.

The belief that we inherit diseases from our parents remains prevalent. We do not inherit most of the diseases; we create them. If your grandmother died of a stroke, then that may have been the consequence of poorly treated high blood pressure, or many other related causes. Until the age of 40, our body is able to seemingly forgive a lot, but after that all our sins are summed up. With added interest. Preventive medicine has been a subject of study in the West for over 30 years as a result of the rapid increase in lifestyle diseases in developed countries. The modern era changes our biorhythms, lifestyle regime and thus the functioning of our whole body. Thanks to modern medicine, we are able to extend life expectancy. We have great cardiac and cardio-surgical clinics, specialized stroke units, diabetes and oncology centres, transplant medicine and the development of new medicines is significant. Behind an extended life expectancy, however, there is a rapid fall in vitality, and patients thus spend the last 10 to 20 years of their life dependent and reliant on the care of others. Even cancer research has shown that only 5-10% of tumours are inherited. You can even investigate the specific genes responsible for a tumour. Other types of cancer arise through pathological mutations during cellular division.

So we come to epigenetics as a field of medicine with great potential.

Epigenetics demonstrates that we can affect the behaviour of up to 70% of our genes regardless of our particular genome. We ourselves can influence whether most of our genes work for us or against us. I wouldn’t recommend going blind into genome screening without subsequent consultation with an expert who can recommend suitable adjustments to your lifestyle and diet. I compare epigenetics to a lock – it’s up to us whether we give a free pass to diseases and let them develop, or whether we stand up to the challenge of even poor genetic makeup and adjust our overall lifestyle. I don’t want to talk purely about alimentation. It can happen that we need to add some elements through vitamins, minerals, or even medicine in general. This incredibly complex field has had to set out its own path for itself outside the so-called mainstream of medicine, in which many studies are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. Epigenetics studies on patients with prostate cancer have shown that a treatment programme incorporating just a minimum of the drugs necessary, but also stressing changes in diet, sleep and exercise, can suppress the activity of adverse genes while, in contrast, supporting the activity of beneficial genes. The outcome is a reduction in tumour growth. The same principles for influencing how our genes behave undoubtedly also apply in the effect on some other tumours.

Can this type of approach be used to improve overall fitness?

I tell patients who have had a heart attack that if they follow all the recommendations and take the necessary drugs, then no more arteries need become clogged up. One can also speak of diabetes without insulin. Patients with type 2 diabetes needn’t develop their disease into daily insulin administration. But if insulin is already vital, they can work towards achieving a half-dose. Insulin, which is vital for some, unfortunately causes obesity and is also carcinogenic. Although the lifestyle regime measures I propose are more intensive, they bring results. Clinical studies have shown that through the right micronutrients one can reduce telomere shortening, leading to the slowing of the ageing process. All the procedures I use are the result of science-based clinical studies verified on specific patients. Although we have known some of the results for 30 years, the increase in lifestyle diseases demonstrates that we still haven’t learnt. A wider adoption of this medical approach will require not just much greater doctor training, but also a change in their rewarding. The current system is set up such that we are treating patients, not healthy people. I don’t want to always be treating my patients; I would rather restore them to health.

Diet is one of the key components of a healthy lifestyle. But dietary recommendations change so frequently that it is easy for the lay person to become confused.

There was a massive growth in the food industry during the 1970s, and food began to be produced industrially. Remember the film The Wing or the Thigh in which Louis de Funès fought against Tricatel? Industrially produced food, however, contain not enough of important micronutrients such as enzymes, vitamins and minerals which provide important nutrition to our bodies. Food can contain up to 100 thousand various micronutrients. There are also a lot of trends that promote erroneous and unhealthy dietary recommendations. I’ve got a patient who followed a ketogenic diet for 13 years, meaning she ate lots of fats and proteins, and no carbohydrates. At 52 years of age, she is experiencing severe osteoporosis, and has suffered necrosis of the hip joint. Paradoxically, osteoporosis is most prevalent in countries that consume a lot of meat and dairy products. The motto of milk for healthy bones is obsolete. Dairy products are tasty, but they provide excessive fat and salt. We absorb twice as much calcium from dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and Savoy cabbage, while also getting twice as much of calcium and a lot of protein from them. Another widespread myth is the advice to consume a lot of protein. We do need protein, but a specific quantity should be recommended on the basis of age and physical activity. Growing children, people over 65 and active athletes need larger amounts of protein than the rest of the population. In contrast to fats and sugars, the body is unable to store protein except of in our muscles. However to achieve that, our muscles must exercise. As such, it is better to consume protein in smaller amounts over the course of the day rather than all at once. And almost all of us suffer from a lack of fibre in our diet. Fibre is not just important for gut function, but it is also a food for the so-called microbiome. Up to two kilograms of our body weight comprises bacteria, bacterial films and the bacterial community in our gut. This collection is sometimes called our second brain, and only in recent years have researchers focused on its functions and importance. Again, if we take lactobacilli without the necessary fibre, then the lactobacilli won’t stay in our gut anyway, something the television commercials don’t stress. Instead of lactobacilli tablets, you can also eat sauerkraut or kimchi.

You’ve invited me to a home-made lunch. Your favourite motto is: Have all the colours of the rainbow on your plate and you don’t need to count the calories.

I’ve cooked home-made pheasant from South Bohemia. My 81-year-old father, a walking advertisement for lifestyle medicine, hunted and gutted it. He is still active, runs a medical practice once a week, teaches at university and is also an active hunter. The portion of meat is a lot smaller than that served in restaurants; about 0.8 grams of proteins per kilo weight per day is enough. And protein isn’t just in meat. We’ve got a beetroot, celery, rocket and chard salad as a side. I’ve gone for groats instead of rice, which contains protein, and surprisingly also fat, as well as slow-release carbohydrates. I follow the recommendations I give my patients. I hate diets and I’m not going to be counting calories. I give my clients a graph in which I draw a thick line. If you eat the recommended foods, you’re not going to feel hungry, you’re going to have enough nutrients, and it won’t be so hard to maintain the regime. Other foods won’t spoil the diet, but I only recommend a very small amount. And don’t ignore the folk wisdom that hunger is hidden thirst. I recommend drinking at least a quarter litre of water a quarter of an hour before a meal. During the day and overnight, we perspire about 3⁄4 litre of water, so it is important to drink properly in the morning. You can also begin every meal with a salad like Italian, Swiss and other of the healthiest nations do.

What happens in the initial examination and subsequent treatment?

I begin with a comprehensive initial examination, and on the basis of the problem or risks I determine what laboratory tests need to be done. I focus on examinations, which provide information of early signs of diseases. One of the tests is patented by Harvard Medical School for example. As it is comprehensive, this initial examination doesn’t take 10 minutes, but rather an hour. It is important to eliminate medical conditions which are not related to wide range of lifestyle diseases (e.g. thyroid disease). On the basis of the results, I propose suitable measures, whether they be medicines, or dietary or other changes. The number one killer now is no longer cigarettes, but rather a lack of exercise. Another silent killer is a lack of sleep. The first results following a change in overall regime come in 14 days, which is motivating for the patient. This is followed by further gradual changes. You can’t make too many dramatic changes at once, as they won’t be sustainable in the long run. Patients who come to me take control over their own health. I provide this programme to both individuals and companies. It has been shown in the USA, Canada and Australia that companies which invest in health improvement programmes (not to be confused with preventive examinations) don’t just have healthier employees, but also more motivated, more loyal and more satisfied employees. Corporate programmes, and also team workshops, take place on the basis of group consultations. The programme can reveal individuals’premature diseases, while also fostering a positive relationship to health and fitness in the company in general. Employees learn which habits they need to change for better long lasting health, their diet and spend quality time together and learn about new findings in the nutrition and food supplements field. And, of course, I work on the basis of evidence-based procedures, with the programme beginning and ending with laboratory tests.

By Linda Štucbartová

Drop in insect populations not part of natural cycle

Zoologist Petr Šípek on how dramatic drop in numbers can impact ecosystems

More and more analysis is pointing to a dramatic drop in insect populations in Europe and across the world. A long-term study in neighbouring Germany, for example, suggests that flying insect populations dropped alarmingly by more than 75 percent over the last three decades.

Are we on the cusp of extinction of various insect species? And, if so, what can be done to curb the downward trend?

Those were questions I put to Dr. Petr Šípek a specialist at the Department of Zoology at Charles University’s Faculty of Science.

CU Zoologist Petr Šípek. From Petr Šípek’s personal archive.

There is something like 10 quintillion insects on the planet and about one million species! Ten quintillion (10 followed by 18 zeroes)!

“Ordinarily people don’t think about insects or realize that there are so many and that they are the most diverse group of multi-cellular organisms. But we find insects in most ecosystems with the exception of marine and saltwater systems; otherwise they are present almost everywhere and usually in large numbers.”

Despite the numbers, various scientific studies around the world are seeing evidence that insect populations are largely on the decline. And the drop according to many indicators is not trivial but fairly significant to alarming, depending on who you ask.

“It is very difficult to map insect populations in general; you mentioned one million species but we estimated that another 5 – 7 million which have not been described and catalogued before now. Some of them may never be or may disappear before we have a chance, with land conversion going extinct. The task is enormous.

“For a long time entomologists had a sense that things were changing but exact numbers are hard to prove. You can count the number of butterflies on a meadow but it is very hard to estimate populations. That said, there is evidence now of big changes: there has been a huge decrease in insect populations and it is [no longer possible to ignore].

“In daily life, you can notice that there are fewer insects around than in the 1980s and 1990s: we see fewer of them flying around and you have to wipe the windshield of your car far less often than used to be the case…”

From Zoologist Petr Šípek’s personal archive.

Not as many are ending up splattered against the glass!

“There are also indirect indicators of the change, specifically of populations of insect feeding birds in ecosystems. If their primary food sources drop, their own population numbers suffer. There was a huge study in the Czech Republic conducted by the Czech Society for Ornithology and scientists from Charles University such as Jiří Reif and colleagues. They discovered that since 2004 there was around a 40 percent decrease in common species among common agricultural farmland birds. And that is quite a lot.”

We will talk more about the aspects of the negative impact but before we do, I would like to ask about the study in Germany from 2017, which surveyed developments for 30 years. It measured flying insect biomass for three decades and is now referenced in report after report.

“The funny thing about that is that scientists did not set out to estimate the biomass of flying insects and that was a side-product of their work. They monitored the situation over 30 years and then realised afterwards what they had in terms of data. The samples were unsorted and nobody really knew what was there at first but after all that time they realised they could count the average biomass of flying insects caught per day and according to that they could estimate how many flying insects there were.

“What they uncovered was remarkable: that there was a decrease of 2.5 percent per year. This was a long-term trend and this was not a situation with peaks and valleys but a continuous decrease. The study took place at small scale nature reservations so I think it reflected changes to the broader surrounding countryside and the impact of that.”

What are some of factors that are likely to have contributed to the population decrease?

“The German scientists were not able to point to a single factor but said it could be the impact of several, including what is known as extinction depth, which means it could be related to changes in the landscape that took place 10 or 20 years before. That makes it trickier to make clear connections. It can be difficult to link extinction to the changes but it can reflect things that happened 20 or 30 years before.”

The visible effect was staggered…

“Yes. That is correct. And for that reason, in this study, scientists were not able to see which factors had had an influence.

“That said, progress has been made: very recently there was analysis published in Biological Conservation in which the authors (having surveyed or studied some 600 long-term studies monitoring insects but focussing most on around 80 or 90 of those) outlined four major causes. The first is the intensification of agriculture and the conversion of land for agricultural use; the second was pollution (either from everyday pollution or from agricultural pollution in the form of pesticides and fertilisers), the third was biological reasons (such as the impact of new incoming invasive species), and the fourth was climate change.

“Members of the public often think climate change is a greater culprit, and it can be, but there are cases where it paradoxically help some species to survive. At least in Central Europe. Warmer conditions have seen some insects rebound or return after being driven off by land conversion. Some are finding an acceptable habitat again. The same is not true for mountainous areas. Animals there are losing their habitats because vegetation is shifting: insects that have been hard hit include bumblebees. Climate change is also having an impact in tropical areas but that is still not yet fully understood.”

From Zoologist Petr Šípek’s personal archive.

Extinction, we should perhaps also point out, is also part of the natural cycle, isn’t it?

“That is certainly true but that is not the case here: this is not about natural extinction. Rates are falling too fast. Common species are vanishing and this is not really a natural process. Species can of course go extinct but usually this is a very slow process. and what we see there is an evolution from the old species Sso we cannot say that what is happening is due to natural extinction. In fact, it is the opposite.”

You mentioned the fewer bugs splattered on the windshield: many people on their picnic or holiday probably don’t mind if there are fewer wasps or certain bugs but that doesn’t do justice to the seriousness of the situation. The role insects play in the food chain that can have a much broader effect…

“Insects may seem marginal in our eyes but you have to take into consideration the enormous role they play. Their role in the evolution of flowers and flowering plants, blossoms, was a joint work. It is estimated that 80 percent of plant species are pollinated by insects so their role is massively important: if you lose the pollinators then clearly there will be an impact on the ecosystem.

“Then you have insects that prey on other species so if you lose the natural threat, pests can multiply unchecked. It is about maintaining a balance: if you lose predators new pests arrive easily and usually they are among the most adaptable.

“The degradation of organic matter is another area where insects play a crucial role: with my group of students we did tests in the field where we left dead mice. In the spring, these mice are decomposed in 50 percent of case by burying beetles. If they are not, they are decomposed by flies; as each mouse, around 20 grams, can host around 70 larvae of Calliphoridae flies, which – in the next generation – will be able to produce 400 eggs each.

“If you lose the control element of the burying beetles, you risk in the summer and next season a much higher fly population. These are links that we can now uncover bit by bit. The general role played by insects is difficult to gauge, because each have their place or have a different role within their habitat.”

Will we humans feel the bite, for example, in food production, when a key insect species drops out?

“I think so. We see it already, with the problems faced by honeybee producers. This has an economic impact and we have seen large turmoil about colony collapse disorder which has affected bees in North America and also in Europe and the costs can be tabulated. You cannot have production without pollinators, you cannot grow apples in your orchards without them. So the impact is being felt. When a natural predator disappears, it has an effect and producers then have to use more chemicals against destructive insects.

From Zoologist Petr Šípek’s personal archive.

Generally-speaking, does it mean in the future that there will be less variety in species as some die out?

“There may be less variety and there will be a greater evenness of biodiversity around the world, and fewer insects that will be endemic to only some areas. But we will lose local assemblages and the local diversity. The make-up of insects from ecosystem to ecosystem will be much more alike, whether we are talking about insects here, the US, or France.”

I guess that the big “If” now is what we can actually do to change the trend. I suppose there, there is a big difference between government or internationally-funded projects which might provide solutions and between small things each of us or citizen scientists can do…

“Certainly we can start with ourselves and there are small things each of us can do to help insects. You can help create microhabitats if you have a garden or country cottage, not just insect hotels but small ponds without fish and generally looking after our countryside in ways that create diversity. Because, what you have across Europe is huge agricultural areas and areas that are neglected – land no one takes care of. And that’s bad, especially if you consider that all of the landscape and forestland and meadows have been careful created and tended to for centuries.

“So the management of deserted areas can help insects too. We recreated nature around us and if we just abandon parts now that is a prime setting for invasive species. We need to tend to areas and to not let them be overrun. We have to create good conditions. Grass can be cut in a way that helps insects and promotes biodiversity and heterogeneity.

“Then, agricultural firms, forestry companies and aquaculture, need to realise they have a responsibility too: they too are landscape engineers. They carry responsibility not only for food production but also for an impact on how landscape functions. They need to accept that and help look for solutions.

“Each of us can also exert pressure that we want the problem to be taken seriously. A lot of things are going on now, people are signing petitions and various organisations are focussing on the environment. We need to find a balance between economic and ecological concerns, namely a healthy environment which can support us and other living creatures. Education of course helps and a biennial exhibition I organise has proven enormously popular among schoolchildren – who are fascinated by insects the more they learn.”

 

Written by Jan Velinger

Photos: Petr Šípek’s personal archive

Source

Forget Mykonos and Santorini — Syros is the Greek Island You Must Visit This Summer

Syros may lack the white-sand wonders of its more popular neighbors. But for a certain kind of in-the-know traveler, that’s precisely its appeal.

As my husband, Emilio, and I lay on the deck of our Airbnb, I realized I’d run out of time to shower before the symphony. Eyeing the ladder that descended into the Aegean, I told Emilio that I would just jump into the ocean instead.

“Any time you can say that, it’s a good day,” he replied.

Every summer, after visiting my relatives in northern Greece, my husband and our two young children — Amalia, 6, and Nico, 3 — set out to discover someplace in the country new to us. We’d been on the Cycladic island of Syros for only half an hour, but we could already tell we’d made a good choice. On other islands, such as Syros’s neighbor, Mykonos, we’d debated whether to stay in town or on the beach. Here, we were in the heart of Ermoúpolis, the Cyclades’ capital — an Italianate dream of palazzos, theaters, and cafés that is home to half the population of Syros — but the sea was steps from our front door.

While Syros is on the same ferry line as Mykonos, it sees a fraction of that island’s foreign pilgrims, perhaps because it was long viewed as a commercial and industrial hub with massive shipbuilding operations. With fewer spectacular beaches than some of the Cyclades, Syros doesn’t fit the lazy-whitewashed-village-atop-a-sandy-shore vision most Americans have of the islands. The visitors who do come — the majority are from France and Scandinavia — are drawn by the festivals and thriving art scene, the more than 1,300 Neoclassical buildings, and the incredible cuisine.

If Ermoúpolis keeps Syros from being thought of as a desert-isle dream, the fact that the island has a thriving city by the sea makes it alluring to those interested in life beyond the beach. Bobbing in the waves opposite our room, I gazed up at the row of palazzos. Nearby, teenagers cannonballed off the large dock that is the town swimming spot. Atop the hill that rose behind them was the blue and gold dome of the church of Agios Nikolaos, patron saint of sailors. The view of Ermoúpolis from the sea, I realized, is even more stunning than the view of the sea from the land.

That evening, I found myself staring up again — this time at the ceiling of the Apollon Theater, which opened in 1864 and was modeled after La Scala and other Italian theaters. We were attending the opening night of the Festival of the Aegean, a two-week celebration of opera, music, and dance held every July. Before picking up his baton, the Greek-American conductor Peter Tiboris, the festival’s founder, urged the audience to notice the frescoes. The outer ring shows Verdi, Bellini, Dante, and Mozart; the inner ring Homer, Aeschylus, and Euripides.

Read the rest.

Director of IFIMES with Secretary General of UN

(left) António Guterres, Zijad Bećirović

Director of the International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) Assist. Prof. Dr. Zijad Bećirović, accompanied by IFIMES Main Representative at ECOSOC/UN Irena Mernik Knee, met UN Secretary-General António Guterres at UN Headquarters in New York.

Director of the Institute Assist. Prof. Dr. Bećirović presented to the UN Sec-retary-General Guterres the work of the Institute in the region of the Bal-kans and the Middle East, with a special emphasis on projects related to the special consultative status of IFIMES whit the ECOSOC/UN.

The IFIMES International Institute intends to issue a special edition of the European Perspectives International Scientific Journal in the next period, dedicated to the UN and its role in the world.

The Secretary-General of the UN, Guterres, stressed the importance of the UN and importance of global stability and peace to enable universal pro-gress of humanity.

At the end of the talks, UN Secretary-General Guterres and Bećirović agreed that global security, stability, peace and fast solutions of open is-sues are of great importance.

Source 

Czech 100 Best

Comenius the pan-European society for culture, education and scientific-technical cooperation has staged the “23rd annual competition Czech 100 Best”. The objective of this competition is to discover, select, visualize and reward Czech companies, enterprises and societies from the entire spectrum of economic activities, who achieve remarkable, extraordinary or positively noteworthy results.

On the Friday of 30th November 2018, the finale of the “100 Czech Best” survey based competition occurred at the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle in the presence of more than 700 VIP guests, including the President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Mr. Jaroslav Kubera, the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, Mr. Radek Vondráček, Senators, MPs, Ministers Mrs. Nováková, Mr. Toman, Rector of the Charles University, Deputy Ministers, 1st Deputy Police President, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Czech Army, Ambassadors and others.

During the Gala the awarded were establishments and institutions of 8 industry categories with immediate impact on the welfare of Czech citizens. I.e.: Tourism & Hotel Services, Dynamic Growth & Stability, Information & Communication Technologies, Inventions – Deployment – Export – Profit, Construction & Transportation, Employment & Cooperatives, Agriculture & Food, Health – Education – Humanity.

One of the peaks of the event was the recognition of nine extraordinary women and ten men with the popular title “Lady Pro” and “Gentleman Pro” respectively.

The ceremonial peak of the event was the declaration of top ten “best of the best” of the Czech Republic.

An integral part of this last day of November at the Prague Castle was the morning conference on the traditional theme “Key Factors of Success”, where a diverse list of personalities on the subject had the right to speak about their success.

 

Key Factors of Success

Czech 100 Best

5 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Mind & Body This Spring

With the cold winter days finally subsiding and slowly giving way to the warmer seasons of the year, the time is just right to get back on track with your healthy plans and habits – not just for the sake of your physical health, but your psychological and emotional wellbeing as well. After all, 2019 should be the year when you become the healthiest version of yourself.

The anticipation of the joyous sights and sounds of spring creates the perfect backdrop for an entirely new approach to personal health and fitness – a holistic approach that will help you rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul. Here are the five ways to achieve this, and so much more.

Start with a wholesome approach to nutrition

Your eating habits can have a profound impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, as well as your performance in your personal and professional life. While you might have gotten away with a few bad diet choices during the colder months of the year, now is the time to bring back the healthier eating habits in order to banish those extra kilograms from your frame.

Eating healthy once more will make you feel better all around and help you ease into a good workout routine while at the same time cleansing your mind and making you feel good about yourself. Remember, your diet choices can greatly influence your mindset, so be sure to introduce plenty of healthy foods such as fruits and veggies to help banish the wintery blues.

Start exercising on a regular basis

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and long-term wellbeing, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not like finding the motivation to work out on a regular basis is easy. This is especially true for those business leaders among you who have a hectic schedule and numerous responsibilities in your personal and professional lives.

Nonetheless, it’s important that you recognize the power and potential of daily exercise, in particular, how it can help you find inner peace and improve your physical performance in real life as well. So start slowly by introducing a couple of light sessions a week. Up the training frequency every week until you’ve made daily exercise a habit you simply can’t live without.

Complement healthy habits with healthy supplementation

Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. These are the keywords you need to introduce into your diet if you want to supply your mind and body with the nutrients essential for long-term cognitive health and physical wellbeing. However, it’s also important to be aware of the fact that the modern way of life often forbids us from reaching our daily requirements for these nutrients.

This becomes especially problematic when you’re trying to uphold a workout routine along with your daily schedule, which is why introducing workout supplements with protein into your diet as well as a daily multivitamin complex is essential for your overall health. Nailing your exact nutritional needs and using healthy supplementation to fuel your mind and body will allow you to stick to your healthy habits in the long run.

Reconnect with Mother Nature

Speaking of exercise, springtime is the perfect time to get out of the stuffy gym environment and into the great outdoors. Don’t be a slave to the same gym routine you’ve been doing for months, but rather dare to venture outside to make the world your own outdoor gym and reconnect with Mother Nature.

Simply going for a jog or doing HIIT in the park will be enough to cleanse your mind while giving your body a new challenge to overcome. When you find yourself among the trees and the critters that permeate the natural world, take a moment to close your eyes, and breathe in the freedom and serenity.

Part with the old and embrace the new

On a final note, understand that spring is the season of change. This is your opportunity to change for the better yourself, and more concretely, leave the past behind and embrace what’s to come. This is a new chapter for you, so make it a good one.

Final thoughts

After months of cold, dreary weather, the sun is finally about to poke out its pretty head and bathe the day with its warm light. Embrace the beauty to come and use this opportunity to rejuvenate your mind and body in a holistic and wholesome way.

 

By Peter Minkoff

Peter is a lifestyle and travel writer at Men-Uall magazine, living between Ústí nad Labem and Antwerp. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.

Barbara Richardson

 

On Dreaming and Planning

 

H.E. Barbara Richardson, Ambassador of Canada

Barbara Richardson has served in the Czech Republic for three years. She chose Prague to be her final posting and shares how special she finds her first posting in Europe. Prior to serving in the Czech Republic, she had a remarkable thirty year diplomatic career in Asia and Africa. Besides advancing Czech-Canadian bilateral relations, Ms. Richardson often speaks on the theme of diversity and gender equality. Her remarkable career makes her a true and aspiring role-model for working mothers in high positions. Find out more about what Canadians and Czechs have in common or what is her career advice to girls and women, but also to men.

Your Excellency, you have had a remarkable career journey, serving as a Canadian diplomat and three times ambassador on several different continents. What are your career highlights?

I have been so fortunate to have had this career and all these experiences. Not only have I had a wonderful life but I was able to share all my profound experiences with my son. I feel strongly that young people need to be informed about world politics. They cannot think about their own respective countries only, they need to understand that we are all part of something bigger in order to be able to make the changes the world and the globe are going to require. The Canadian point of view is that we cannot do it alone. Therefore, we need to understand different cultures and parts of the world and see them for what they are. I have been in different parts of the world and also some difficult parts of the world, my son grew up realizing that on the outside a country might look differently than when you live in it, interact with people, understand the history, peoples’ needs, and finally realize that we all share the same needs. As a young girl, I always felt I wanted to make a difference in the world. But then I had no vision how I could do that. My career enabled it and I feel very lucky that I found a job I could identify with, I loved and enjoyed. I have always told my son that when he is asked in future about what he does, he should be proud and happy about what he is able to reply.

You started your career abroad in Asia when your son was only five months old. Then you moved to Africa. All this was happening more than three decades ago in a male dominated profession. In fact, high ranking professional diplomats being mothers at the same time are still more an exception than a rule. Who encouraged you?

I had the great benefit of a female head of human resources at the time that I had planned to take the posting. When I found out that I was pregnant, I approached her saying that this was probably the end for a posting. She said: “Absolutely not, this is the time when you need to go to a posting, because you can go to parts of the world where it is easier to get help with childcare and running the household!” I went to the Philippines, where I had all the assistance I needed and raising a child there while working was actually easier than in Canada back then. The culture in the Philippines is a very child-centric one, so my son was very happy and pampered there. While I was in the Philippines, there was a temporary opportunity to go and serve in Singapore. Again, I felt that with a son only two years old, I might be excluded from the opportunity. At that time, I approached my manager and asked her that if I made all the necessary arrangements, in terms of taking my son with me – staying at the hotel room and arranging a babysitter to stay at no extra expense for the government, if she would consider me as an applicant. It worked out and I was given the opportunity. I was lucky to live in a time when companies realized that they need to become more flexible workplaces. The more models of different ways of working we have and the more demonstrations of the competencies that diversity, including gender, brings to the workplace, the easier it is for managers to make decisions with flexibility and different working schemes.

You seem to have been navigating your career with regards to opportunities while not being afraid of challenges. From Asia, you went back to Canada, only to continue your career in Africa.

Much of the younger generation talks about career planning and they have these five-year and ten-year plans. I admire people who are capable of that. I was never one of them. I have always chosen my job based on what sounded interesting and what I considered a useful thing to do. I chose my posting in Kenya as it represented a great challenge. From Kenya, we covered six countries: Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia and Southern Sudan, not being independent then. I considered it the best political job within the department because of the scope. The peace-talks going on in two of the countries or the breakthrough elections enabled me to live throughout some extraordinary moments of history in that time and that part of the world. I am glad I made the choice, since Africa is going to be an increasingly significant continent for the future of the globe. From the perspective of a mother, I think my son developed compassion there. He was nine years old then, in many ways a baby for me. The Kenyans view a nine-year old boy as a young man. In some parts of Kenya, a boy of that age is given a spear and asked to go out to kill a lion. My son very much enjoyed being treated as a young man by Kenyans. As all parents eventually learn, children rise to our expectations. Later, I returned to Africa and served in Zimbabwe. Looking back at time spent in Africa, I suggest to everyone to go and visit this beautiful part of the world. Sometimes, I felt like I was living in a National Geographic Magazine.

After all your experiences, does not the good old continent of Europe sound boring?

I chose Prague as my last assignment. I chose the Czech Republic for many reasons. I have known a couple of refugees from Czechoslovakia and Prague sounded a bit exotic. Little did I realize that I came in an extraordinary and politically intriguing time. I arrived here after the election of President Trump, after the move to the right and far right in some other European countries, after the Brexit vote and all of that has made my assignment much more turbulent and complex than I anticipated. Let alone living in Prague which many people consider the most beautiful city in the world, in the centre of Europe.

Thank you for speaking so positively about my birth-town. I am sure you have noticed that Canada is like a dream country for many Czechs. Czechs like Canada and Australia, even though they have never been there. It seems we tend to love far away countries, but not superpowers. Were you surprised by the intensity and warmth of Czech-Canadian relations?

In some ways yes, in other ways no. Everywhere I lived, people mentioned Canada as a country where they would like to move. Particularly people from difficult parts of the world see Canada as a country that accepts immigrants. In the Czech Republic, people not only say they love Canada, but they immediately mention why. They always talk about the outdoors, the beauty, Rocky Mountains, the oceans and the Arctic. I have noticed passions Czechs have for the outdoors and all the outdoor activities, actually on much higher scale than most Canadians do.

What about Canadians and their relations to Czechs?

There is not a lot of knowledge about the Czech Republic in Canada. Canadians of a certain generation know about the Velvet Revolution or the split of Czechoslovakia that happened without a war which is very fascinating, but the younger generation is not as aware. The Czech Republic is known as a travel destination and its reputation for its beauty. There is a lot of scope for commonality between Czechs and Canadians. Neither of us is a superpower country. Czechs and Canadians share a view of the world and values.

It is time to discuss not only immigration but also diversity. “Diversity is Canada’s strength”. The motto of your Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on the notepad I have received as a gift. However, many Czechs still seem to fail to appreciate the full potential of diversity. What is that the Czechs are missing?

I have met many Czechs who do value and support the idea of diversity. Many point out the Vietnamese community as a recognition what another culture can bring. They recognize the value Vietnamese businesses brought, they see them integrating and providing value for the Czech society. Diversity is a long process to reach the point when it is widely accepted and valued as being an important fabric in a society. However, we have such different history and geography, that I understand certain Czech people being skeptical and hesitant about someone coming from the outside. For centuries, the Czech society has been very homogenous. In Canada, except for indigenous people, we are all immigrants and we all share the common recognition that we and our families come from somewhere else. We also recognize what diversity has brought to our country in terms of languages, culture, innovation and skill sets. When we talk about an economic migration, we pick and choose those who can add value to our economy.

You mentioned Canada’s population reaching currently at 35 million people. I remember that 30 years ago, I learned the figure 27 million at school.

Without immigration, our economy could not grow. Already 70 years ago, we recognized that and started doing economic modelling related to the economy, which is determining how many new people we need in Canada to drive the economy. Based on that modelling, we have developed a very specific immigration program and model. Every year, across the whole Canada, a broad survey is done on what kind of experiences and positions are needed. We bring about 1% of population per year. For some, it might be frightening, for us it is seen as useful and essential. There is a recognition that immigration drives our prosperity, our future success and future vision. We target the best in the world. Equal to our perspective on immigration and providing the safe haven to those who need it, the inclusion comes next. Thanks to our work and program for inclusion Canada has not made some mistakes as other countries with regards to the true integration of newcomers to what has become the multiculturalism society. It is Canada who should be thankful to immigrants for choosing our country helping to build it. Like many Czechs did.

You are known to be an advocate and supporter of gender equality and you actively promote women empowerment. What would be your mentoring advice to Czech women? What would be your advice to Czech men?

Canada does not support the attitude of us preaching to the rest of the world, because we have many problems on our own. Canada may have a more progressive approach to gender equality but many issues feel similar to the ones our society has faced with regards to gender equality. When I talk to young women today, I always encourage them that their potential is limitless. When I talk to young women, I mention how often many women say “I was lucky” with regards to their distinguished career. Men usually do not say it. They think “I deserve it”. My advice is: “Plan to be lucky and do the hard work to be lucky”. Women work hard. There is a Canadian politician who said: “Women have to work twice as hard, be twice as smart, to do twice as much to be seen as half as good to men.” However, she finished the quote by saying: “Fortunately, that was not that difficult”. But that was way back in 1960s. I also suggest: “Dreaming is planning”. When I was a little girl back in Alberta, I dreamed big about all sorts of opportunities. Yes, there are going to be obstacles along the way. With regards to men, I encourage them to mentor young women. We tend to hire, mentor and give opportunities to people who are like us. Naturally, men are more likely to support other men. Therefore, I think it is important for men to mentor young women and to learn from that experience which can benefit them as well, as they can learn more about women’s perspective on both life and work. Like with immigration, there is an economic and business case. Gender equality is not about being nice to women, it makes economic sense for companies as it allows to attract the best talent and to be smarter, innovative and excelling. Is there any company that would not be interested in reaping the benefits?

What will the year 2019 bring to Czech-Canadian relations?

This will be a politically big year not only for Europe, but also for Canada, as we also will have our own elections. Canada has a set of priorities for the upcoming year. Security and defense will come first, as we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic joining the NATO. The Czechs and Canadians both support democracy and rule-based order, and there will be an opportunity to commemorate values and principles while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Trade is also information. After the ratification of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the statistics show that mutual trade is growing and that such agreements are important. As far as culture is concerned, we will be involved at One World Festival, a jazz pianist David Braid is coming back to Prague. On July 1, the Canada Day, we will open the Czech-Canada production of Charlotte at National Theatre. The story of a Jewish woman from Germany who was killed in Holocaust shows what happens in a society that rejects values of diversity and inclusion. I must not forget hockey-diplomacy. There will be National Hockey League Games in 2019 and next year, the Junior Hockey Championship will be held in the Czech Republic. We also have been working on expanding the number of students who study in the Czech Republic and also how many people travel as tourists to the Czech Republic. It comes back to the question that the Czech Republic should have been known more in Canada. The Czech Republic has an impressive number of post- secondary educational institutions. The quality of your research facilities across the country, built with the help of the EU funds, working on knowledge- based approach to the future, should be more known in Canada, as this is another approach we share in common. I will be sad to leave the Czech Republic later this year, as it has been wonderful, enriching and such a different experience to all my postings. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to come here.


By Linda Štucbartová

 

BIOFACH and VIVANESS 2019

In Nuremberg, the BIOFACH organic food trade fair and the VIVANESS Natural Cosmetics Fair were held from 13 to 16 February. The largest European organic food fair celebrated its 30th anniversary with a record number of exhibitors: 2989 at Biofach and 284 at Vivaness, a total of 3273 exhibitors from 98 countries. Botswana and the Comoros made their debut at BIOFACH, while the Philippines and Serbia represented for the first time at VIVANESS.

Trends at BIOFACH: vegetarian / vegan diet, protein products, convenience (semi-finished products) and zero-waste products.

Vegetarian and vegan products continue to be a significant trend, that is also reflected at the BIOFACH Novelty Stand. In addition to classical vegan ingredients such as soy, customers are also thrilled with cashew nuts, almonds or peas. Protein-containing foodstuffs, whether in the form of oils, rods, spreads or cocktails, are also popular. Another sustained trend is for uncomplicated meals that are quickly prepared. Convenience products are now an integral part of the range offered by the organic segment. However, more and more consumers also focusing on „external values”, i.e. packaging. Innovative packaging, just like the “unpackaged” concepts under the category „zero-waste”, is a significant issue in the sector. Trending are turmeric and other exotic flavours as well as kimchi, the lactic fermented vegetable typical of Korean cuisine. Vegetarian offer was presented by 1245 exhibitors and 1345 by the vegan. Also, worth mentioning are gluten-free and lactose-free segments (1,200 and 890 exhibitors), as well as raw food (a food not modified at more than 45 ° C) presented by 561 exhibitors.

Trends at VIVANESS include probiotic cosmetics, Nordic beauty and also zero-waste products.

Bio from all over the world
BIOFACH presents organic food from all over the world in all its variety. The VEGAN, WINE and OLIVE OIL products have their own dedicated worlds. In addition to presentations, tastings and a specialized accompanying program took place. In the experiential worlds of OLIVE OIL and WINE, the best products were awarded the Olive Oil International Award for Oils and MUNDUS VINI BIOFACH for Organic Wine.

New Trends
Biofach: A total of 541 new products were introduced, the trade visitors voted for their favourites to win the Best New Product Award in seven categories. Five German products won and one from Austria and Poland: Käserebellen GmbH Pumpkin cheese (fresh products), Schrozberger Milchbauern Ice cream (frozen products). In the category of Dried Cooking and Baking Products, Georg Thalhammer received awards for Pesto seaweed-wild garlic. HANS Coffee & Berry from HANS Brainfood won the award in the other dried products category. In the non-food products Primoza, impressed the trade visitors with The Growing Calendar. After the leaves have been squeezed at the end of the month, the seeds can be planted. Austria has won Landgarten Almond with Rose Blossom in chocolate, forest fruits and cherries in chocolate in the category of dried products and sweets. In the category of drinks, the Polish company Nutracevit was awarded for BIOHASKAP, pure haskap superberry juice.

Vivaness showed 155 new products in 6 categories won by German companies: Black soap with activated carbon from SPEICK Naturkosmetik in face care, in the category of body care was awarded Weleda for Skin Food Serie (butter on body and lips), Benecos dominated decorative makeup cosmetics, special cosmetics reigned Speick Naturkosmetik sunbathing, Denttabbs with dental tablets scored in drugstore, Wellness was the best Coscoon Cosmetics with body butter. Danish company Unterkram won hair shampoo with Green Matcha shampoo.

BIOFACH and VIVANESS Congress is the biggest international congress for the organic food and organic cosmetics sectors. There were over 9500 participants in 139 meetings in six forums. Congress focused on the relationship between agriculture, processing, nutrition and health. The main congress topic was: “The organic system –healthy in a holistic approach.” The congress will cover topics like biodiversity, soil health, clean water, wild plants, animal welfare and nutritional choices.

Visitors and exhibitors
The fair was visited by 51500 professional visitors from 143 countries, half of the visitors were German. There were 797 visitors from the Czech Republic. The largest number of exhibitors was Germany 1020, followed by Italy 423, Spain 220, and France 213. In 2020 the fair will expand in the two most modern exhibition halls, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.

Czech Republic at the fair
At the end of 2018, more than 4600 farms ecologically managed in the Czech Republic with over 520 thousand ha, represented 15% of farmed land. The average size of the Czech ecofarm was 119 hectares. In the EU we have the third largest ecofarm on average.

Production of Organic Farming in the Czech Republic
The total production of organic farms in 2017 is estimated at CZK 6768 million, representing a 5.1% of the total agricultural production. Unfortunately, about half of the ecofarm production (grain, milk, meat) is exported abroad. The rest remains in the Czech Republic and is used for food production, but only a part of it is used in the bio-quality market. Due to the low demand of Czechs for organic food, a number of bio-materials end up in common foods. On the Czech market, processed foods such as baby food, coffee and tea, as well as milk, dairy products, fruits are the most sold.

Market and consumption of organic food
The total organic food turnover of Czech subjects reached CZK 4.19 billion in 2016. Of this, consumers in the Czech Republic spent 2.55 billion CZK on organic food. Organic food producers are already 750. Almost 40% of the total turnover of organic food was exported (goods for CZK 1.64 billion), compared to imports of organic food from abroad. The average annual per capita consumption increased to CZK 241 (in the EU it was 54 euros) and the share of organic food in the total consumption of food and drinks reached 0.9% (in the EU already 7%). Andrea Hrabalová from the Czech Technology Platform for Organic Farming explains: “Average Czechs spend six times less on organic food than the average European, and after 30 years of organic farming in the Czech Republic they still do not know why to buy domestic organic food. It is clear from experience from other countries that the main driver of EZ development is not subsidies but long-term and conscious consumer demand.” Our organic farming is doing well and is not lost in the world. Europe has 350,000 biofarms and 2.4 million worldwide. Domestic bioproduction would potentially make four times more biofoods than it is today.

Photos by: NürnbergMesse

Text by: Jaromír Hampl

Tourists Now Have to Pay an Entrance Fee Before Setting Foot in Venice

Here’s why Venice is going to charge admission.

We’re used to paying admission fees to enter tourist attractions and amusement parks, but paying to enter a city is a new concept to most. After seeing an estimated 25 million visitors each year, Venice, Italy is breaking the mold by becoming the first Italian city to charge visitors an entrance fee.

This week, the city approved a 3 Euro per person fee for all day-trippers. The new day-trip entrance fee will go toward maintaining the World Heritage site. According to Reuters, of the 25 million tourists who visit Venice each year, around 14 million spend just one day, and many take picnics and sleep on cruise ships, bringing little income to local businesses. Under a seven-year-old law, overnight guests are already charged a nightly tourist tax.

Venice’s local population has been declining since World War II, from roughly 175,000 to 50,000 people, while the number of tourists have increased. The city is repositioning itself as an open-air museum and as Luca Zaia, Veneto governor, told Reuters, “Venice needs respect, and as is the case with museums, sports stadiums, cinemas, trains and airplanes, it needs to have planned visits … which makes it sustainable both for tourists and the city.”

Collecting the fee may get complicated, however, as day-trippers can enter the city by plane, cruise ship, car, train, or bus. Transport companies who bring tourists into Venice may add the entrance fee to their ticket price or, as The Daily Beast reports, the city may make use of the turnstiles located at the entrance to the old city from the main square used by cruise ships.

Venice has a beauty and historical appeal that’s not to be missed; you’ll just want to make sure you factor an entrance fee into your travel budget.

Source

Debate on reduction of emissions

On the 28th of November 2018 the European Commission adopted the Strategy “A clean Planet for all”. For businesses it is a good starting point for the debate on future action in this field. However, the target of the EU being climate neutral by 2050 is rather idealistic. The EU has the most ambitious targets worldwide and we need to reach a well-balanced scenario which will support investment in low-carbon emissions technologies and products and at the same time not hamper the EU’s competitiveness. In order to reach a well-balanced solution we have to push for coordinated action across the whole planet. Therefore, it will be crucial to engage in a dialogue with other major economies of the world. As for the Czech Republic, the main challenge will be to change its heating plants sector which will require huge financial resources and investment in R&D&I. Those are the main outcomes of a debate on the EU long-term strategy to reduce the emissions organized by the Representation of the European Commission in Prague, Liaison Office of the European Parliament in Prague, Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic and CEBRE-Czech Business Representation to the EU on the 7th of December 2018 in Prague.

© CEBRE – Czech Business Representation to the EU

CEBRE founders meet MEPs

The mandate of the current EU institutions is slowly, but steadily coming to an end. However, several important legislative proposals with a significant impact on businesses are still being finalized. The impact of several proposals, notably from the area of clean mobility and mobility of employees, were discussed by CEBRE founders together with Czech MEPs on 16th November in the premises of the Confederation of Employers’ and Entrepreneurs’ Associations of the Czech Republic in Prague.

© CEBRE – Czech Business Representation to the EU

The Czechoslovak Foreign Institute entered into the 10th decade of its activities

The Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, established 90 years ago, celebrated its jubilee at the Strahov Monastery in Prague, with the participation of three hundred members, personalities from the social and political life and foreign diplomats. A turnout of guests represents a clear evidence of the Institute being perceived as an important and respectable institution.

The chairman of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute Jaromír Šlápota welcomed the guests and thanked them for taking their time to celebrate the anniversary of the institution, which at the time when we hear from media more information about the split and messed up society, brings people together and unites them. The abbot Daniel Peter Janáček then appreciated the fact that over the last ninety years of its existence the Institute managed to retain its relevance and keep itself up to date. Prof. PhDr. Ivo Barteček, CSc. mentioned the three generations of personalities of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute: the first generation of the founders, who in the years 1929–1939 sought to create the new institution to support the national economy and social order and at the same time to help the Czechs and Slovaks living and working abroad, the second generation associated with the restoration activities of the Institute after 1945 and the following four decades full of turbulence, and the third generation, which after 1990 managed to return the Institute its originally intended mission and is inherently associated with the name of the current chairman Jaromír Šlápota, who has been leading the Institute since the middle of 1992.

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute eight personalities and one institution have been honoured for contributing to the improvement of teaching Czech compatriots abroad. A thank-you certificate and commemorative Silver Lion were awarded to: JUDr. Eva Dobrohrušková, Ing. Vladimír Bezděk, M.A., Vladimír Bílek from Croatia, Ing. Karl Hanzl from Austria, JUDr. Jaroslav Hot, Michael Joseph Pojezdný, Ing. Petar Petkovov Stanchev, Evermod Gejza Šidlovský and the company MADFINGER Games, a.s. Brno. The award was accepted by co-founder of the company Tomáš Šlápota. Then, the recepients had the pleasant opportunity to enjoy the art of Felix Slováček, musician and member of the Institute.

“Is 90 years in the life of a community a lot or a little? It is enough. Since this community has been alive all the time, it means it is a good community,” Michael Joseph Pojezdný, the former long-time abbot of the Strahov Monastery and a member of the Institute, said in his speech on the address of the Institute. Vladimír Bílek, a member of the Croatian synod for the Czech and Slovak minority, greeted those present on behalf of eleven thousand compatriots in Croatia, who profess to be of the Czech nationality, and thanked to the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute for the excellent cooperation and care of the equipment of Czech schools in Croatia, which are teaching Czech to 1,500 children. “For expatriates in Austria, living there already for four generations, the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute is an important link with their old homeland. At the present time when there are no easy conditions for the maintenance of the Czech language in the world, the cooperation with the Institute is even more important for them”, Ing. Karel Hanzl, the chairman of the Komenský School association in Vienna mentioned and he handed over to the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute an honorary plaque, as an award for a long meritorious work for education of youth and for its dedicated action in favour of the development of the expatriate movement in Vienna. Then PhDr. Libuše Benešová and Senator Ivo Valenta, vice-chairmen of the Institute, thanked to all the members who had contributed to the implementation of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute projects for compatriots.

The final word belonged once again to the chairman of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute. He stressed the principle of tolerance, which the Institute has in its statutes, and which allows a useful collaboration of people of various political views, he remembered the names of the members, who had left their marks in the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute, and mentioned the fact that the Institute never changed the attribute Czechoslovak in its title and still remains a patriotic institution. At the conclusion, similarly as ten years ago at the St. Agnes convent, when the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute celebrated its 80th birthday, he wished participants good health so that they could get together in next ten years at the party to celebrate hundred years of the Czechoslovak Foreign Institute activity.

Zarif’s sudden resignation: The beginning of the militarization of the Iranian diplomacy?

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed his resignation, a quiet diplomat and a seasoned politician, one of the soft faces of Iran’s foreign policy, for what is known as a political wisdom who can able to bring Iran an acceptable nuclear agreement. It was enough when the dean of diplomacy of the 20th century Kissinger given him a copy of his book dedicated with “To my enemy who deserves respect”.

His political independence gave him a margin for political maneuvering, which was rarely had his predecessors from the former Iranian foreign ministers. But the mentality of the revolution seems to be dominating the mentality of the state in Iran. The result is that he announced his resignation on 26.02.2019 and which was rejected from President Rohani who is reformer like him.

The possibility of the possibility of the political transformations in Iran is closer to speculation than expected. We can’t analyze about Iran’s foreign policy without Zarif, as long as Iran today seems to not care about the consequences of confrontation with the international community.

President Rouhani himself may be a subjected to a scenario similar to Zarif scenario. Eventual questioning in the parliament and the call of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad to his impeachment and forming a transitional government to continue confrontation with US.

The reformist movement in Iran believes that the conservatives along with the deep state clerical establishment is convinced that if things continue as they are internally and externally, the character of the next president will be military. The new Leader should be a strategic military figure such as Qasem Soleimani (Commander of the Quds corps) or Mohsen Rezai (former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the current secretary of the Expediency discernment council). General Qasem Soleimani will stay as the key figure among others, because of his relations with the deep state, and even externally with his relations with various political and military movements in the Middle East) Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libanon) connected to Iran.

Despite the many reasons discussed in the background prompted Zarif to resign, this resignation indicate that there is a big dissidence in the Iranian political system. At the time Zarif called for necessity of Iran to deal with European conditions more seriously , the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued the most critical words to the Europeans, and considered them as partners with the US in an attempt to destroy Iran.

The main reason behind this resignation is the nature of dealing with Iran’s foreign policy. The bilateralism that has characterized Iran’s foreign policy since 1979. The Iranian political divergence has caused a lot of paralysis And raise the skepticism of the international community. When Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif uses the language of diplomacy with others, we find the generals of the Revolutionary Guard and the advisers of the Supreme Leader use the language of threats and intimidation

Despite Zarif’s continuous attempts to prove an independent foreign policy away from the conservative and reformist conflict in Iran, he did not succeed in that either. Each faction has a particular view on Iran’s foreign priorities, which in turn restricted many of Zarif’s foreign efforts. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards try to return back the nuclear negotiations to the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, and withdraw the file from the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

The Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards want the end of the Trump’s presidency term, without any concessions. Any succeeded foreign minister cannot change anything. As long as the Advisers of Khamenei are the planners of Iran’s foreign policy, the military diplomacy will be the shape of Iran’s foreign policy.

Zarif wrote in his memoirs published in 2013, entitled “Mr. Ambassador” says “in diplomacy, you have to always smile … but never forget that you are talking with the enemy.” He was very realistic and regarding the nuclear agreement he thinks that the agreement cannot be perfect, and an ideal deal for a party, it will be catastrophic for the other party.

Zarif who was continued attacked from the both sides (Conservatives in his country and some US officials) Iranian conservatives described Zarif as a coward because he was studying in the United States rather than defending his country during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. US Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican who opposes the nuclear deal, wrote a tweet about Zarif in 2015, in which he twitted “you hid in U.S. during Iran-Iraq war while peasants & kids were marched to die”. Zarif’s answer was by congratulating Senator Cotton on the birth of his son!

An experienced diplomat will be missed not only in Iran but in all global diplomacy and how much we need like him in our world today.

Bakhtyar Aljaf
Director of IFIMES
(International Institute of the consultative status with the UN)

Spain Has a Secret Ski Valley Hidden on Its Northern Border

—and the food and wine are every bit as good as you’d expect. If champagne breakfasts and hearty dinners in mountain villages sound like your scene, you may want to consider the Spanish Pyrenees for your next ski trip. There Tom Robbins discovers first-rate cuisine and a distinct, beguiling blend of cultures—both traditional and modern.

For an hour or more,  we had been descending through a forest of black pine and fir, following a stream we could hear but not see. The snow lay deep, smothering the creek and turning tree stumps into giant white mushrooms. There were bears in these woods, said my guide, a young Spaniard named Peru Ortiz de Zarate, and bearded vultures that crunch on the bones of dead mountain goats. But we were making far too much noise to risk meeting these animals, laughing as we pushed past the trees that grabbed at our rucksacks and ski poles.

Finally, as if pulling back a theater curtain, Ortiz de Zarate parted two branches to reveal our destination. Ahead was a clearing in the forest, where a wooden bridge straddled a burbling stream swelled by melting snow. Beyond it, looking like something from a fairy tale, lay a deserted hamlet named Montgarri — a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century and once a key staging post for travelers crossing the Pyrenees between Spain and France. Today just two buildings remain, cocooned in silence and slow time: a 16th-century church with rough stone walls and a dilapidated spire, and the former rectory alongside it.

Our heavy-booted footsteps rang out as we crossed the cobblestoned courtyard, swept clear of snow. Inside the rectory — now converted into a refuge for climbers and skiers — a Spanish pointer dozed beside the glowing logs of an open fire. A waiter brought us olives and glasses of cold beer, then raked the embers and fixed a grill above them, throwing on some vast beef ribs for a lunch that would last until 4 p.m. Afterward we drank patxaran, a rose-colored liqueur made with sloes and flavored with cinnamon. We walked over to the empty church so I could light a candle, then hurried out to catch the last ride back to the ski resort — a snowmobile that pulled us along on our skis. Hanging tipsily from the rope as we climbed a track through the darkening forest, I smiled into my scarf, happily exhausted by the most memorable day’s skiing I’d had in years.

If the joy of travel is threatened by the homogenization of global culture — the fact that today’s Insta-ready hotels, restaurants, and stores can look the same, whether they’re in Brooklyn or Bangkok — then skiing is particularly challenged. As much as we love the sensations of the sport, most ski trips have an inherent similarity, no matter where in the world they take place. Days pass in the familiar routine of going up lifts and down pistes. Evenings are spent surrounded by the usual mountain clichés: antlers and antique skis, glühwein and fondue.

Read the rest.

ELAI celebration event

European Leadership & Academic Institute (ELAI), which provides open, practically focused workshops with leading personalities of Czech business, organizer of two major events Innovation Week and Entrepreneurship Week, hosted a celebration event at the end of January, 2019. Lecturers, clients and friends of ELAI were invited to enjoy lovely evening at the King ́s Place Prague in the Old Town.

Want to feel more confident?

I think that most of us do. The question is: what are we doing to cultivate real, deep self-confidence? And, what is it we may be doing (without even realising it) that is jeopardising our self-confidence? Let’s talk about, shall we… 🙂

Edita Randová

 

“It all begins in your mind”

 

Edita Randová, world-renowned mezzo-soprano

Edita Randová is a Czech mezzosoprano. She has held concerts on every continent, taken part in major music festivals and performed at the famous Carnegie Hall. She has represented the Czech Republic and its music through tours in Australia, China and Brazil, always under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has a passion for foreign policy, and last year she completed her Master’s degree in International Relations. Her mission is to introduce classical music to young people. To this end, she founded the international music festival Tóny nad městy, for which she is Artistic Director. Some of her most significant recordings include a CD with Antonín Dvořák songs. In spring, she is releasing a new CD focused on Dvořák’s early songs, which are not well known