“India is proud and humbled to have the Czech Republic by its side”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
Indian Ambassador H.E. Mr. Hemant Kotalwar came to Prague in September 2020, just in time for the Czech government’s announcement of a complete COVID-19 lockdown. It didn’t stop him, and he immediately started exploring the vacant streets of Prague’s old town, followed later on by more regions of the Czech Republic. Do you want to know what he considers the weirdest thing he encountered while exploring our country? We have the answer to that… and much more.
You have been in the Czech Republic for two years. What was your first impression of it?
I came to Prague just when the Czech government announced a complete lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The silver lining was that I got to explore this stunning city without the usual throngs of tourists. I got to fully immerse myself in the rich history and beauty of the historic district. The people of Prague were incredibly friendly and hospitable, which made my stay even more enjoyable. Thanks to the efforts of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I had a comfortable experience despite the COVID restrictions.
Over the past two years, I had the opportunity to interact with the Czechs living in different parts of this beautiful country. Every meeting had something to offer, helping me further strengthen the bonds between India and the Czech Republic. I am not only impressed by the country’s rich history and culture, but also by its technological strengths.
Is that what you do in your free time – wander the streets of Prague?
Yes, quite so. When I have some free time, one of my go-to activities is exploring the charming streets of the old town of Prague. The city is absolutely mesmerizing, and no matter how many times I visit, I am always left in awe of its stunning architecture and rich history.
I am particularly fascinated by the history of this region, and love spending my time reading about it.
Do your interests fit a diplomat’s lifestyle?
Talking to people is a delight for me. Whether it is exchanging ideas or simply sharing a laugh, I relish the opportunity to connect with others, and to delve into the depths of their unique perspectives. My role as a diplomat thus provides me with an excellent opportunity to interact with people from different walks of life, from politicians to bureaucrats, from businessmen to industrialists, and from professors 19 to students. In addition, interacting with the Indian community that is dispersed across the country remains a source of constant encouragement.
How did you become an ambassador?
I started my career as an electronics engineer, but after just three years I knew that my true calling was in diplomacy. I joined the Indian diplomatic service in 1996, and since then I had the opportunity of serving in several world capitals like Brussels, Algiers, and Riyadh. I also worked at the Indian Mission, attached to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
Joining the diplomatic service is a dream for many, and I am no exception. My aspirations are driven by the desire to reach the summit of success in my profession, the prestigious position of an ambassador. This role is not only a privilege, but also a symbol of the highest level of diplomatic representation. It is indeed an honour to be posted to a significant European nation like the Czech Republic, with its rich history and strong ties to my home country. I am grateful to my government for entrusting me with such a prestigious role, and I look forward to serving with distinction.
What is the most difficult part of being an ambassador, in your opinion?
As an ambassador, navigating the delicate dance between two nations is a Herculean feat. On one hand, we are tasked with promoting our country and forging stronger ties with the host country, both at bilateral and multilateral levels. On the other hand, we must delicately convey the nuanced perspectives of each other in order to foster effective communication and mutual understanding. To top it off, adjusting to a new culture and environment adds an extra layer of complexity to the already challenging day-to-day of diplomacy.
What is the weirdest thing you have encountered in our country?
Visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, a Roman Catholic chapel filled with bones, was a bizarre yet enlightening experience. It left me with a newfound admiration for the Czech’s imaginative ingenuity. Another highlight, not weird but quite adventurous, was organizing a visit of a group of over 100 members of the Indian community to Bohemian Switzerland. Furthermore, the participation of senior citizens in this adventure was inspirational.
Is there a large Indian community in Czechia?
Over recent years, the Indian community in the Czech Republic has seen a substantial increase in numbers. From tech-savvy IT professionals to entrepreneurial business owners, the Indian community has made its mark in the Czech Republic. At present, there are over 8,500 Indians residing in the country, with around 1,500 students studying at various universities. While a small number of Indians have been living in the Czech Republic since the 1980s, the majority have arrived in the last few years.
India is among the popular holiday destinations for Czech people. How do you promote your country?
India has been an important tourist destination over the past several decades, with temples and yoga, the Himalayas and beaches, all holding an attraction to the Czechs. The electronic visa scheme for EU nationals has been a major success. In the post-COVID world, we are looking at several initiatives through tourism road shows, publicity campaigns, participating in tourism-specific exhibitions etc. Around 20,000 Czech tourists visit India annually.
What is the status of Czechia – India relations?
The India-Czechia bilateral relationship is characterized by warmth, friendship, and a strong history of cooperation. Over the past several years, the relations have further deepened, with high-level visits from both sides. The visits of former President of India
Mr Ramnath Kovind to the Czech Republic in 2018, and that of former Czech Prime Minister Mr Andrej Babiš to India in 2019, have indeed elevated the relationship to new heights. The two Foreign Ministers met in Prague in June 2022, and in Vienna in January 2023. We are looking forward to the visit of Czech Foreign Minister H.E. Mr Jan Lipavský, accompanied by a business delegation, to India very soon.
Bilateral trade and investment relations are also improving significantly. Defence and Science & Technology cooperation constitute important pillars of our relationship. Over the past several years, the Czech Republic has become an important centre for higher learning for Indian students – especially in the in fields of medicine, engineering, and the humanities.
This year, India is celebrating its Republic Day and 75th independence anniversary. Would you like to say a word on this occasion?
Representing my country abroad is an honour, and occasions to celebrate Republic Day abroad are always a matter of great pride. This Republic Day comes at a time when we Indians are celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, an occasion to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence. As India enters into Amrit Kaal, the 25-year-long leadup to India@100, India is proud and humbled to have the Czech Republic by its side, a country with whom it has had a strong friendly relationship since historical times.