“Tunisians have chosen freedom and dignity”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“A career diplomat with 26 years of experience, a pure product of the Tunisian public schooling system”, is how Ambassador of Tunisia, H.E. Mrs. Yosra Souiden, describes herself. How does she see her home country? What does she love about her job? And does she think that Czech people know Tunisia well?
What made you become an ambassador?
Many reasons! But let me tell you that I love this job because it always knows how to keep its mysteries and charms; it’s a continuous adventure. Being a diplomat means being versatile and multi-skilled at work, and always willing to learn and adapt to all situations. In fact, the different missions we have can go from organising a visit of a high dignitary and participating in a meeting on disarmament or bioethics, to leading an economic delegation or organising a concert. After experiencing the work of a diplomat in several levels and positions, further serving my country as an ambassador seemed natural.
Can you tell us more about your rich diplomatic career?
I am a career diplomat with 26 years of experience, a pure product of the Tunisian public schooling system. After my legal and political studies in Tunis, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1997 and had an opportunity to represent my country in Paris, first as a cultural and scientific counsellor at the embassy, and then in our delegation at UNESCO. I also represented Tunisia in several instances at regional and international conferences.
At the beginning of my diplomatic career, I was in charge of political affairs regarding the Arab region, and then of those on multilateral relations and the UN, before joining the Presidency of the Republic as Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs Advisor to the President of the Republic in 2017 in charge of European, American, and multilateral affairs. That position had a great impact on my diplomatic career, and allowed me to top off my career with my nomination as ambassador.
As an advocate for women’s rights in Tunisia and everywhere else, I fought with my peers so that women could access decisional positions. I am really proud to be a female ambassador and to share all these values with many other colleagues and partners, especially here in Prague, where the dynamic diplomatic community is reinforced by around 20 female ambassadors and chargés d’affaires.
What is the most difficult part of being an ambassador?
As a woman ambassador in a very friendly country with a long tradition of bilateral cooperation, I am very honoured and pleased to fulfil my mandate in such conditions. But as much as being an ambassador is a really exciting job, it has its downsides when it comes to family life. Finding a balance in this area can get complicated; to me this might be the most difficult part of being an ambassador, or a diplomat in general.
Can you give a piece of advice to the next generation of ambassadors?
I am not 100% sure that we will need ambassadors in the classical sense of the word in the future. Anyway, younger generations are going to need a lot of flexibility and wit to adapt to the new requirements of the job, particularly new technologies and the new international challenges.
What was your first impression of the Czech Republic after your arrival?
I first came to the Czech Republic in January 2020, and Prague looked like a winter wonderland with its numerous Christmas markets and weather that is so different from the Tunisian one I got used to. I was struck by the uniqueness of Prague; the city was incomparable to any other place I had been to.
Then, throughout the three years I spent in Czechia, I had the opportunity to build many friendships, and to discover the richness and refinement of Czech culture. I also had a chance to visit many cities in the Czech Republic, amongst which were the most famous cities of Brno, Karlovy Vary, and Český Krumlov. I must admit that this country has some of the most inspiring landscapes I have ever laid eyes on, making me understand why so many artists were inspired by the Czech Republic in their works.
It is a pleasure to hear that your first impression of Prague was so magical. Can you share more of your three-year experience in the country?
Time goes by very fast! Almost two years of this period were taken by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its related measures and restrictions. I think that this difficult episode of our lives will be unforgettable, especially for us diplomats. Indeed, direct contact is an indispensable tool in our work.
Despite that, I can say that during my stay in Prague I have had the chance and pleasure of representing the country of the Jasmine Revolution in the country of the Velvet Revolution. I met remarkable interlocutors, understanding and attentive to see peace and stability reign in Tunisia, which remains a close partner of Europe.
The strongest moment for me remains the gesture of friendship and solidarity that the Czech authorities expressed towards my country in July 2021, by offering Tunisia medical protective equipment at a time when the health crisis reached a critical level in my country.
Tell us about Tunisia, please.
Tunisia is an ambitious country known for its cultural diversity and the 3,000 year-old civilisation of Carthage. My country’s position is a real geo-strategic asset for Tunisia, and has been for centuries: located at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, it is a perfect pathway between the north and south of the
Mediterranean Sea, as well as between Europe and Africa. Moreover, Tunisia is a country with a young promising population that is qualified in several fields (such as medicine, engineering, law, etc.), and I believe that it is the result of the great choices Tunisia has made since its first years of independence. In fact, Tunisia has invested all of its resources in building a modern and liberal society, where education has been accessible to all citizens, serving as a social elevator, and where women’s rights have always been guaranteed by the Personal Status Code of 1956.
A group of four Tunisian civil society organisations were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. What did they win the prize for?
As we just talked about, and it‘s important to remind it, Tunisia is a young, educated, and liberal nation that spoke out in 2011, demanding freedom, dignity, and employment, hence igniting the sparks of the Jasmine Revolution and embarking the country on a political, economic, and social transition. Since the process was not always easy from a political and economic point of view, and did not respond to the initial aspirations of the Tunisian people for a prosperous and stable democracy, Tunisia is now, after only a decade of transition, trying to rectify the process in order to consolidate its position as a lasting democratic experience in our region. In fact, the consecration of the democratic process, the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms are irrevocable and guaranteed as the foundation of social peace – for which Tunisia won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
You represented your country in many multilateral conferences and forums, and you served as a representative of your country to UNESCO. Are such organisations still relevant today?
More than ever. The international system is, nowadays, an essential tool for diplomacy and international cooperation (whether bilateral, regional, or global).
Since the pandemic, it has been proven that not a single country can survive on its own. Climate-related issues are also a global concern, as well as globalisation as a whole, and the ongoing economic crisis we are facing.
Moreover, the fight against all forms of organised crime (such as the trafficking of weapons and human beings) and terrorist groups requires a combination of efforts and the exchange of expertise, making these international organisations relevant bodies.
What is the current status of Czechia – Tunisia relations?
I am pleased to tell you that the relations of friendship and cooperation between Tunisia and the Czech Republic, based since their creation on sincerity, mutual respect and trust, have been characterised during the past three years by a newfound dynamism. This especially resulted in the holding of a session of political consultations at the level of the Secretaries of State of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as well as many official contacts such as the visit of our Minister of Tourism. On the other hand, Czech people know Tunisia mainly as a tourist destination, and we would like to translate these friendship bonds into tight economic relations, reflecting the potential of both countries. Thus, we are organising a mixed economic commission this year, which will allow us to discuss together the means of strengthening and diversifying trade volume. Our trade in 2022 reached over 469,862,000 Euros, making Tunisia represent 11% of the Czech Republic’s trade with Africa, its 3rd biggest African supplier, and 4th biggest customer on the continent.
In this regard, the embassy makes every effort to promote Tunisia as a hub in Africa, and an open gate to many regional markets. Furthermore, we are working on connecting the economic operators of both countries in Prague, as well as in other dynamic regions of Czechia such as Brno and Zlín. A delegation of Tunisian businessmen visited Prague and Brno last November, and I hope that we could open up to various areas such as digital, mechanical, electrical, agrifood, and pharmaceutical industries, in which Tunisia is becoming a confirmed destination of foreign direct investments. In this context, I should also mention that we are benefiting from Czech expertise in the field of water treatment and management.
The prospects are promising, and, with my team, we will try to develop these exchanges.
You mentioned Czech tourists in Tunisia. Are you promoting your country to see tourist numbers rise even more?
Yes, it is part of our mission at the embassy to further increase this number, and to make my country, which is only a two- hour flight away from Prague, better known to Czech tourists. Although known as a seaside tourism destination, Tunisia attracts tourists all year round as it has plenty to offer in winter too. In fact, it is the most popular season for thalasso centres and spas, with visitors from all around the world. It is also in winter that Tunisian and European golfers flock to our golf courses.
You can explore the country’s cultural richness, with Carthage of course, but also Dougga, Bulla Regia, and the Roman amphitheatre of El Djem. There are also many other amazing sites and gorgeous museums like the Bardo in Tunis and the archeological museum in Sousse, well known for their exceptional collections of mosaics. The Tunisian Sahara is also becoming a popular destination for adventurers who enjoy racing and motorbike, 4×4, and quad bike adventures. Fortunately, after two years of the pandemic, the Czech tourist market is recovering, and even exceeds the levels witnessed before the health crisis. The figures of the Tunisian National Tourist Office recorded, in 2022, the entry of 111,243 Czech tourists (the 4th ranking nationality of tourists), against 12,692 in 2021 (an increase of +776.5%), and 107, 584 in 2019 (which was the reference year).
Tunisian officials certainly see this as a sign of the Czech people’s trust in our country. Perhaps it is also a sign of rapprochement, and we highly appreciate the cooperation between the two countries in the times of the pandemic, when Prague and Tunis put the two destinations on their list of safe countries and mutually recognized each other’s vaccination certificates.
There is no doubt that tourists can certainly enjoy their holidays in Tunisia. What about you – what do you do in your free time?
I love reading and music. During the numerous lockdowns we went through, I tried to do every activity I wanted to experience before, and I discovered the plastic arts, and, my favourite activity now, painting.
Lately, I have been trying to go sightseeing in the Czech Republic, and enjoy the beauty and cultural richesses of the country (my favourite city being Český Krumlov).
This interview is done on the occasion of your National Day. What are you wishing for your country? And for the Czech Republic?
There are many similarities between our two countries and people, whose histories are affectionately linked to the Velvet Revolution and the Jasmine Revolution. In my country, we can consider that we have succeeded in making great strides since 2010, and the political transition is underway, despite all the difficulties it has encountered. The most important challenge to win is to achieve great economic reforms, and the process has already begun. The same thing happened in the Czech Republic, and the results are impressive. Your model can only be an inspiration to us.
So, as we celebrate one of the most important events of sovereign, free, open, and modern Tunisia, the 67th anniversary of its independence, I believe that Tunisia can count on its national assets, its dynamic and ambitious youth, as well as on the support and understanding of its partners, to find the path of economic prosperity to which the Tunisian people aspire.
I wish for both Tunisia and Czechia to stay prosperous and stable. To my fellow citizens here in the Czech Republic, and to all Tunisians, I also extend my best wishes for prosperity and personal accomplishments.