“Claiming our European future together”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
It was almost a year ago that H.E. Mr. George S. Yiangou, Ambassador of Cyprus, arrived in Prague to assume his role as ambassador for the first time. He appreciates the warm reception he received from Czech state officials, gets inspired by Czech presidential icons Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Václav Havel, and is happy about finding the missing historical connection between the two countries at Karlštejn Castle. “Our countries share the common principles and values that underlie life in the Union,” the Ambassador says, “and I hope we will persevere in claiming our European future together.”
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born and raised in Cyprus, which I care very much for. After finishing my studies abroad, and an employment stint in academia, I joined my country’s Foreign Service. I am a career diplomat by trade, a husband, and a proud father of two daughters. I think that should suffice by way of a brief introduction. Just not to forget to mention that I always believed in something that Václav Havel once said: “Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs”.
What are some of your impressions and highlights from almost a year of being in the Czech Republic? This is my first Ambassadorial posting, and I love it deep in my heart. So does my family, by the way. From Prague’s stunning architecture which comes straight out of a fairy tale, to the Czech countryside which brims with history and natural beauty. From a professional point of view, I cannot stress what a warm reception I received from Czech state officials and colleagues alike, be it at Prague Castle, the Office of the Government, the Černín Palace, and elsewhere.
As for the highlights, let me share one that really staggered me: For quite some time, I had been trying to track down connections in the pre-20th century history of relations between Cyprus and Czechia, but to no avail. Until a friend with outstanding historical knowledge advised me that, in the middle of the 14th century AD, King Peter Lusignan I of Cyprus had visited Bohemia and met with the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. You can hardly imagine my joy when I then discovered that the meeting between the two monarchs had been recorded on a fresco painting in the Church of the Virgin Mary at Karlštejn Castle, about a one-hour drive from Prague, which was the Imperial Residence of Charles IV.
Does being an ambassador easily blend into your lifestyle?
Long hours of work and sacrificing personal interests are part of an ambassador’s life. Then again, if you are organized enough and feel your job is meaningful – which it is if one considers that the crux of what we do pertains to the safeguarding of our countries’ well-intended national interests – you will be much happier as an ambassador, which at the end of the day is in itself a way of living. In the case of Cyprus, where over the past fifty years we have learned to live with an ongoing existential threat, this aspect is even more heightened.
Is sacrificing personal interests the most difficult part of being an ambassador?
In my view, the worst downside of our profession has to do with the fact that there is not a good work-family life balance, given that we must schedule our family lives around our job. For a father like me, whose children are still of a young age and want to spend time with their dad, this is perhaps the most difficult part of being an ambassador, but also for diplomats of all ranks.
With the comfort of direct flights, Cyprus is a tempting holiday destination for Czech people. What awaits those travelling to your home island? It is true that Cyprus is an absolutely delightful holiday destination in the Mediterranean Sea, with beautiful beaches, idyllic mountainous terrains, natural wonders, and ancient historical sites. Further to that, our long-standing expertise in hospitality and quality of services make our guests’ stay memorable. But you were very shrewd in pointing out the existence of direct flights from Prague to Larnaca, throughout the year in fact, which has contributed to the significant increase of tourist flow from Czechia – and the plan is to bring in even more Czech visitors. One need not forget that, because of weather conditions, Cyprus can also be a wonderful winter destination, with great potential for alternative forms of tourism such as sports tourism (including cycling), ecotourism, gastronomy tourism, wine tourism, and many more.
How do you describe the status of Czechia-Cyprus relations?
You know, Cyprus and Czechia share a long-standing, close, and friendly bilateral relations. As member states of the European Union, which we both joined in 2004, the two countries share the common principles and values that underlie life in the Union: freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and promoting peace and stability in the continent and beyond. Of course, there is always a high degree of potential for further development of our bilateral ties, and, as a matter of fact, we have started exploring the development of mutually beneficial projects, including in fields such as cybersecurity, renewable energy, human rights (including women’s rights), education, et cetera. Now, one sector where we can certainly do more is that of foreign direct investments, which obviously goes in both directions. But, from the point of view of my country, I think we need to do a bit more to showcase Cyprus as a great location in terms of having a legal, financial, and operating climate for business, where Czech investors can set up operations, expand their current ones, establish largescale warehouses and regional centres, and so on.
This interview is done on the occasion of your national day. What are you wishing for your country? And for the Czech Republic?
Indeed, on 1st October we celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus. But for us, our independence and sovereignty have never been self-evident. In 1974, we had to face the Turkish military invasion, causing a huge blow to the country in all aspects of life, which resulted in almost 37% of Cyprus ́ territory remaining under foreign occupation. Even though, over the course of time, we managed to turn Cyprus into a thriving and modern European state, my wish is for President Nikos Christodoulides’ tireless efforts to break the current deadlock and see through the resumption of negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive, viable, and functional settlement of the Cyprus issue, on the basis of the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and in accordance with the European Union principles and values.
I hope the Czech Republic continues to see peace and progress, and that, in a world full of geopolitical challenges, it will persevere – along with partners like Cyprus – in claiming our European future together, and in defending our common values. It is in this very vein that we stand united in our support for Ukraine. I would have been remiss had I finished without alluding to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the founding father of Czechoslovakia, who was a great statesman and set a standard for democratic principles and respect for human rights, and whose vision of a just society, where liberty prospers and truth prevails, continues to guide everyone up until now.