“There is not even a single ‘IRRITANT’ in our bilateral relations”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Archive
As a true lover of skiing and snowboarding, who was lucky enough to experience the atmosphere of the Zermatt mountain resort, I have a soft spot for Switzerland. This makes me even happier than usual to hear the Swiss Ambassador, Mr. Philippe Guex, say that the relations between our two countries are extraordinarily excellent – to the extent of having literally zero issues on the list of bilateral irritants.
You have a doctorate degree in business management. What made you switch over from this field to diplomatic service?
It was a coincidence that after my studies I started a career in the diplomatic service. As you say, everything was planned for me to engage in a career in banking. Not only did I have a doctorate degree in business management, but I was also the assistant of a professor of financial management. By chance, I spent a few months in Zaire (now the Republic of Congo), where I discovered the diversity of the tasks of a diplomat.
I really liked this diversity. The fact that there were just a few candidates with an economic education certainly helped me to succeed at the diplomatic exams and join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Can you share some of your impressions from the Czech Republic during your tenure in our country?
I arrived in the Czech Republic in September 2020. The first thing that struck me was the beauty of the city of Prague, which is a jewel of baroque architecture and art nouveau. The discovery of the different regions of the country of 1,000 castles” was then my second wonder. Finally, as a history lover, I am fascinated by the richness of the historical past of the Czech lands through the centuries. I like to research the historical links between the Swiss cantons and the Kingdom of Bohemia, historical links that go back to Emperor Charles IV.
The EU Council presidency of the Czech Republic started on 1 July 2022. What are you, as a representative of Switzerland and former deputy head of the Swiss Mission to the EU, Brussels, expecting?
It is obvious to everyone that the priorities of the Czech Presidency of the EU Council had to be redefined in light of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army. For instance, the joint management of the refugee crisis, the reconstruction of Ukraine, redefining the continent‘s energy security, and the strengthening of European defense capabilities. But personally, I think that the main challenge for Prague will be to keep all EU countries united behind its Presidency in the European Union‘s common efforts to support Ukraine.
How do you see the current status of Czech-Swiss relations?
I will not surprise you by saying that our bilateral relations are excellent. What did surprise me when I took up my post in Prague was that there was not even a single issue that gave rise to some irritation at the bilateral level. In all the countries I had served in before, there was always a short list of issues that were described as „irritants“. Here, there were none. Another example of the quality of our bilateral relations is the successful visit to Prague by the President of the Swiss Confederation Ignazio Cassis in May of this year. It was an opportunity for him to discuss Switzerland‘s European policy with his Czech counterparts and to recall that Switzerland stands together with the European Union when it comes to Cohesion Policy which aims at reducing the economic gap with the most advanced EU countries. These are not only nice and friendly words. Switzerland will finance projects in the Czech Republic over the next few years up to 1,600 million crowns, primarily in the field of the environment.
Does Switzerland, with its many well-known attractions, still need to be promoted abroad?
The beauty of the Alps, our watches, cheese, chocolate, peace, and security are the basis of the traditional image of Switzerland that is well spread abroad. It is the DNA of the Swiss soft power. But Switzerland is not only that – it is also a country of innovation at the cutting edge of some technologies.
In order to promote the image of Switzerland as a modern and innovative country, an itinerant exhibition is travelling through the Czech Republic. The exhibition is dedicated to the “how clean tech can save the world” topic. It was launched in Prague in March by Bertrand Piccard, the famous Swiss explorer and adventurer. Liberec and Pardubice were the next stops of the exhibition. The next host cities will be Brno (5 Sept. – 7 Oct.) at VIDA Park and BVV MSV, and Ostrava (15 Oct. – 15 Nov.) at OC Forum Nová Karolína.
You have 30 years of experience as a diplomat. Can you give some advice to the next generation of ambassadors?
The notion of „public diplomacy“ was totally unknown 30 years ago. Today it is a working tool that has not only become indispensable for every diplomat, but is gaining in importance every day. The challenge for the younger generation of diplomats is not so much to be present on social media, which is not very complicated to do, but rather to understand the mechanisms of manipulation of public opinions through the (malicious) use of social media.
How do you “recharge” in your free time?
I love to hike, especially in the Gruyère region of Switzerland (where the cheese comes from and where I have a mountain chalet). I also like to read – mostly history and politics books, but from time to time I also read short stories. For example, I recently read the novel ‘Jozova Hanule‘ by Czech writer Květa Legátová.
This interview is taken on the occasion of your national day. Do you have any wishes on this special day?
On August 1, Switzerland will celebrate the 721st anniversary of an alliance that was the first step on the long road to independence from the Habsburgs. Today, with the war led by Russia, Europe is at a turning point in its history. At the end of this war, I hope that our two countries will live on a continent whose security (in a broad sense) will no longer be just an illusion.