Every year the Czech Foreign Ministry awards the prestigious Gratias Agit prize, which honours the work of outstanding individuals abroad. Those, either of Czech descent or with strong ties to the Czech Republic, whose work has contributed to the betterment of others through altruistic, humanistic and cultural projects, while promoting the Czech heritage. This week, the recipients for 2003 were honoured at Prague's Foreign Ministry.
It was most valuable company at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday: thirteen laureates and three organisations honoured from around the world for their achievements promoting the Czech Republic abroad. For some, in their early eighties, it was an acknowledgement of their life's work. No small achievements, according to Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who was clearly moved:
"I would like to extend my thanks to all of you because you have done an excellent job. This is maybe a 'mission impossible'. A never-ending mission to say that the Czech Republic does exist, living in the very centre of Europe. You are 'apostles' spread all over the globe, in real touch, with real people, and I am deeply convinced that everything you have done is something which is very beneficial. Thank you so much."
Among those to receive the Gratias Agit prize: Israel's Ruth Bondy a Czech-born survivor of the Holocaust and renowned translator of literature from Czech into Hebrew, including works by Bohumil Hrabal and Milan Kundera. Another recipient: Canada's Jan Travnicek, who emigrated in 1949, running the Masaryk institute in Toronto for 23 years. He also helped put together a very special Czech venue.
"Masaryktown was purchased by Czech emigrants in 1948 and it was a run-down farm which was meant for the Czech community as a recreation area. I would say Toronto. But, today it is the middle of half-a-million population, so it's a very valuable piece of land and a very beautiful park with a Czech restaurant and other activities. It is becoming, more and more centre of our activities in Toronto. We are very pleased it is still surviving us for more than fifty years of its existence, and we will do our best to keep it going for many years to come."
Not only individuals of course were honoured, but also institutions, among them the Czech Cultural Centre Houston in the US. That centre is run by Effie M. Rosene, a 2nd generation Czech who points out her centre's services are essential considering the size of the population with Czech ties in her state.
"In Texas we probably have more Czechs than anywhere else in the world except your own country here. There are many, many - there are over a million - of Czech heritage in Texas. So we have a very active Czech community, we have many organisations, but our Czech centre in Houston is the very first of its kind. We are eight-and-a-half-years old since our inception in 1995 and we are currently in construction of our permanent home. It will be a beautiful three-and-a-half story typical Baroque Czech-style building, and it's in the middle of the museum district in Houston. We teach the Czech language every week, we do lots of translations, we do a lot of public relations about the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and certainly the United States and Texas. But yes, it's a wonderful thing, something we want to do forever. To keep representing the Czech heritage of days gone by, and certainly looking to the future to keep enlarging that beautiful heritage."
Heritage - that is certainly what the Gratias Agit honours are about - for a full list of this year's recipients and their extraordinary achievements you can visit the Czech Foreign Ministry's web site at www.mfa.cz.
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