Havel to represent the Czech Republic as goodwill ambassador

18-06-2003

Judging by the responses to our competition, in which we asked who you considered the most interesting Czech of all time, the former president, Vaclav Havel, remains for many the strongest symbol of the Czech Republic. Now the Foreign Ministry is planning to make use of Vaclav Havel's good reputation abroad by making him a special ambassador.

Vaclav Havel is to be made the Czech Republic's first ever goodwill ambassador. The move does not come as a complete surprise, as there had been some talk of him assuming some role even before he stepped down as president at the end of January. At the end of last week Mr Havel held talks with the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, at which he agreed to take on the new role.

In many ways, it is easy to understand why the former president is the perfect candidate for the job; he has a reputation around the world as a champion of democracy and human rights, and he knows many world leaders personally.

The finer details of his role as goodwill ambassador are still to be worked out, but it seems he will concentrate on two main areas. The first is Cuba, specifically raising awareness around the world of human rights abuses in Cuba and helping dissidents. Mr Havel was, of course, a dissident himself for many years and has close contacts with opposition figures in Cuba. While president he often expressed his support for the country's dissidents and met Oswaldo Paya, a leading critic of Fidel Castro's, on several occasions. Mr Havel's second area of concern will be the European Union. It is expected that he will occasionally step in and try and resolve disputes that arise within the union.

Though he was offered the role of goodwill ambassador less than a week ago, Vaclav Havel has not disappeared from the public eye since he retired, and has just opened an office on Prague's Vorsilska Street. In a recent interview on Czech Television, he said he his plans to read a lot, start writing again and travel after he stepped down had not been realised. That was partly due to fact that there were great demands on his time; he receives three times as many invitations to various events now as he did when he was president. Returning to life on civy street has entailed learning such things as how to use a mobile phone; previously he had someone to do it for him.

18-06-2003