Prague’s American Center exhibition shows “Life with the Radar”

20-05-2008

The Czech and American governments have reached a deal under which a US radar base would be based in central Bohemia. With most Czechs opposed to the project, Prague’s American Center, part of the U.S. Embassy, has launched a photo exhibition entitled “Life with the Radar”. It documents life on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which hosts the radar facility that could one day be moved to the Czech Republic. Radio Prague talked to Miroslav Konvalina, the head of the American Center and a former Czech Radio correspondent in the United States, who is one of the authors of the exhibition.

“It was a unique opportunity for Czech reporters, only a few of them have had a chance to visit the Marshall Islands and the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll surrounding the world’s largest lagoon. People may be surprised, just as we were, to find out that there are 13,500 people living in the close vicinity of the radar. We had a chance not only to talk to the locals working at the base but also to take photographs of children at the American school – there is an elementary and secondary school on the island. There are also unique pictures of the inside of the radar.”

The exhibition is entitled “Life with the Radar”. What is life with the radar like?

“The exhibition does not carry any message in this respect. We just wanted to show what we saw because we know that most people in this country will never have a chance to go there. There are beautiful beaches; there are playgrounds, swimming pools, a golf course. Some of these facilities are very close to the radar. We were in fact surprised that the people who work at the base sometimes have their family barbecues just outside the radar.”

Many people in the Czech Republic, especially in the area where the radar might be stationed, are concerned about health issues, about all those beams coming out of the radar and their effects on people’s health. Do the people on the island have health concerns about the radar as well?

“We met a local doctor who’d been working at the base for 20 years and he said that there were no health issues. I spoke to the mothers and teachers of the local kids and they told me that for them, the equatorial sun was a bigger concern than the radar. Their husbands and spouses work at the base or around it, and there have been no concerns.”

You said that the island with the radar base was not a place to go on a holiday. Is it difficult to get there? Is access to the atoll restricted?

“Somebody at the base just has to know that you’re coming, and you have to have an invitation. But there are regular flights to the capital Majuro, to Kwajalein and to Guam and you can even come as a tourist on your yacht. We saw a couple of yachts with visitors. But it’s not a resort, there is no hotel and all the facilities only cater to the people who live at the base.”

The exhibition has just opened. Who are you hoping to attract, what kind of visitors?

“The American Center has no regular gallery. But we have programmes for schools every day, there are seminars like the one next door for NGOs. Every month, a couple of thousand people are involved to our programmes. We also hope that we will reach a new audience – young and educated people who come here to search our databases or look for something in our library.”

20-05-2008