In the Czech Republic, much has been made of the new US president’s Czech connections, given his former marriage to socialite and businesswoman Ivana Trump (formerly Zelníčková) from 1977 to 1991. Together they had three children who have now become household names – Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka – and of course Donald Jr. speaks fluent Czech. The hope is that this and other factors could be assets when it comes to Czech-US relations.
A number of Czech politicians are taking stock of the so-called ‘Czech connection’, that through his marriage to his ex-wife Ivana, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, ‘knows’ the Czech Republic. Their eldest son Donald Jr spent many summers in the former Czechoslovakia, and the father himself visited in 1990, albeit under unfortunate circumstances: to attend the funeral of his then father-in-law, Miloš Zelníček, in Zlín.
His former mother-in-law, Marie Zelníčková, now in her 90s, told the Czech daily iDnes ahead of Trump’s triumph that she held him in high regard. After he won, his ex-wife Ivana, who reportedly coined that famous nickname “The Donald”, wasted little time in asking her ex-husband to name her the next ambassador to Prague, a suggestion that was welcomed not only by Prague Castle but also by the head of the current government Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka.
Ivana, a celebrity in her own right who obviously speaks Czech, could be a strong asset: some compared her potential nomination and star power to that of the first post-1989 US ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Shirley Temple Black. It is also considered an asset that her first son, Donald Jr, influential in the transition team, speaks Czech, something he displayed in an interview in Riga in 2012 in which he discussed the Trump Organisation’s business interests.
In the interview, which is on youtube, Donald Jr discussed how important Czechoslovakia had been in forming him as a person. He made a point of saying that experiencing life with his relatives behind the Iron Curtain had been crucial in offsetting the luxury in which he grew up with and gave him a more balanced world view. And, in the interview, he even displayed a bit of his Czech:
“Já mluvím česky perfektně, víš. I am fully fluent in Czech.”
Some Czechs abroad threw their hat in the ring for Donald Jr’s father before he was elected. The well-known Czechoslovak-born jazzman Laco Deczi, made no secret of the fact he was a fan of the real estate magnate and of his children.
“I like Trump because I know a lot of people who work for him. Trump says everything straight. Then, there is his family, he has those Czech kids, they are very smart and very nice. Trump is a good guy. He will bring change.”
There are hopes that under the Trump administration, Czech and US ties will only improve. Not long after winning the election, the president-elect telephoned Czech President Miloš Zeman inviting him to the White House in April - a response not afforded to Mr Zeman by the Obama administration. Notably, Miloš Zeman was the only European politician to endorse Mr Trump before the election at a time when most – including Brexit champion and now UK foreign minister Boris Johnson - were ridiculing Mr Trump as hopelessly unfit for office.