The Iraqi Minister of Culture, Mufid Jazairi, met in Prague this week with his Czech counterpart, Pavel Dostal, to discuss what kind of assistance or expertise the Czech Republic might be able to provide the war-torn country. The National Library in Baghdad — which along with other Iraqi cultural institutions was pillaged after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime — lost countless precious books to looters while others were seriously damaged. Radio Prague's Martin Mikule spoke with the Iraqi culture minister about Czech-Iraqi cultural relations and what this country can do to help.
"The Czech side is trying to help us with renewing of that, preparing new equipment for the library, helping us with restoration of books and documents that were damaged, and preparing specialists - cadres that can do it themselves after returning from the Czech Republic."
Have you cooperated already with some of the Czech officials recently as for the help to Iraqi culture?
"Well before that we were mainly discussing the possibilities. It started two months ago when the Czech government decided to give about ten millions Czech Crowns helping the culture in Iraq, and this amount is now supposed to be used first of all in helping the library as I said and partly financing costs for restoration not only of books, but also of paintings, archeological pieces made of stone or other materials."
I know that you also lived here in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia), you also speak very good Czech. Have you gained here any special experience that you can use now as the Iraqi Minister of Culture?
"Of course, I've been personally very much interested in culture generally, and I tried to live culturally. I know a lot about the Czech culture and I know that the Czechs can really help us. I know a lot about some particular culture themes including this restoration. When I considered - as a minister in Baghdad - the preparation of our cadres, I immediately recalled what I'd learned here in the Czech Republic."
Obviously, you are still in touch with the Czechs. Is there anything special in the approach of Czechs to Iraq? Anything common in the mentality etc.?
"I can talk about one thing that is really in common; that is the love to culture. Our people are naturally attracted by culture and it's difficult for them to live far from culture. That's why Saddam Hussein couldn't reach his goal in damaging and destroying our culture. It was impossible because the roots of culture and our people are really very deep. I think it's the same with the Czechs, and this is very important."