“Each of us has to figure out our own priorities and choices”
Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: archive
The diplomatic career of the current Ambassador of Denmark in the Czech Republic, H.E. Mr. Soren Kelstrup, started back in 1992. In this interview, he talks about his childhood curiosity, shares impressions of us Czechs that he got during the two years of working here, and gives some thought-provoking answers. What does he think of Czechia supporting Ukraine? Why doesn’t he like to give other people advice? And when does Denmark celebrate their national day?
A supporting family is crucial for success in any human endeavor. Do you feel this way too?
I am 61 years old and married to Helle, with whom I have four children – two boys and two girls. The youngest is 24 now, so only Helle is with me on this posting in Czechia. I feel very privileged to have her with me and to be the Danish ambassador here. Moving a family every four years can be a challenge. Not so much for myself, since I stay in the same world of embassy work and contacts with Copenhagen wherever my posting is, but for my family it is more complicated. Several times, our children had to leave friends and the world they knew and felt comfortable in. For my wife, it has sometimes been a bit tricky to start all over again, building a network and a meaningful daily life. However, we have always agreed to focus on the positive sides of moving, and on the many new opportunities and experiences always waiting when you pack your bags. We feel grateful to have such a privileged life.
What made you become an ambassador in the first place?
When I grew up as a child in a small town in the western part of Denmark, I was always curious about the size, beauty, and diversity of our planet – I wanted to travel and see it all. Later, in high school and university, that curiosity translated into a keen interest in international affairs. Therefore, working for the Foreign Ministry became a dream for me, and I was lucky enough to start working there in 1992.
Being an ambassador fits your lifestyle perfectly, then?
That’s correct! I have the privilege of seeing the world and meeting so many interesting and inspiring people. For me, being an ambassador is a combination of work and an opportunity to feed my personal curiosity.
How many countries have you served in so far?
I have served in Romania, Switzerland, and Estonia, before coming here to Czechia in 2021. In between postings, I worked in the MFA in Copenhagen – all in all, 31 years in the service until now.
As Ambassador for Trade Policy, I represented Denmark in the Trade Policy Committee in Brussels, where EU member states meet regularly to discuss and shape the common EU trade policy. For a small country like Denmark, it is a huge advantage to have a common trade policy with the other 26 EU members. This is because the weight of all of us together brings a much stronger position, and more advantages than if Denmark stood alone in global trade.
You have been in the Czech Republic for two years already. Can you share some of your impressions of that time?
I have been very impressed by how Czech society has dealt with the Russian war in Ukraine. Czechia has been a staunch and efficient supporter of Ukraine, and it is the country that has received the most Ukrainian refugees if you measure per capita. I have met ordinary Czechs who spontaneously opened their homes to Ukrainians they had never met before. And Czech authorities and volunteers managed to quickly organize a very efficient system for receiving and helping the refugees.
The fact that so many Czechs still support Ukraine – despite going through tough times with high inflation and energy prices – is what has left the biggest impression on me so far. But of course, my first impression back in 2021 before the war was seeing beautiful Prague and getting used to it as my new hometown!
Can you briefly describe the current status of Czech – Danish relations?
Our bilateral relations are excellent! Politically we are like-minded on most issues – from the importance of staying strong in our support for Ukraine, to the need for the further deepening of the EU’s internal market. On trade and investment cooperation, there are no real problems to deal with. However, our bilateral trade clearly has the potential for further strengthening, and we work every day at the embassy to achieve that.
Together with my excellent staff at the embassy, we also work to make Denmark visible through participating in events, meeting people, and telling them about Denmark. Of course, we also use social media like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to make Denmark and the work we do at the embassy more visible.
Can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of ambassadors?
Hmmm, I am always a bit hesitant to give other people advice since I believe that each of us has to figure out our own priorities and choices. But, if you are asking what I would have done differently in my career, I could have been better at prioritizing my family and friends and a more sustainable work-life balance.
This interview is done on the occasion of your national day. What greeting would you give to your country?
Actually, Denmark does not have a national day. Since we have never been occupied by another country for a longer period, we do not have a fixed date for the establishment of our country, and therefore no national day.
But we do have three dates which can be used for national celebrations: our Queen’s Birthday on 16th April, our Constitutional Day on 5th June, and our so-called Flag Day on 15th June, which refers to a myth of the Danish flag falling from the sky in 1219. Most Danes see our June Constitutional Day as the most important of the three.
However, here in Prague, we have a nice tradition which I appreciate very much. We celebrate together with our Nordic and Baltic friends on one common date. This only happens in Prague, but in my opinion it should also be happening in many other capitals! This year, Tuesday 16th May has been chosen.
Such a joint reception is a good occasion to celebrate the excellent peaceful and strong cooperation between the eight Northern countries of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden. And, in fact, this is just what I wish for my country, as well as for Czechia: friendship and cooperation with other countries.