Janina Hrebickova - the Czech Republic's woman in Iraq

17-06-2003

Janina Hrebickova is the Czech representative on the body which has been set up to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq. Ms Hrebickova, who is 42, is an award-winning journalist by profession but stints working for United Nations Television - in places such as the former Yugoslavia - led her into the field of consultancy and administration. Janina Hrebickova is just about to leave for Iraq, but she did find the time to come into our studio, where I asked her if she enjoyed doing her job in countries which have undergone great upheavals.

Janina Hrebickova, photo: CTKJanina Hrebickova, photo: CTK "I love it. I love it, because it very complex. It sort of pushes you to be very responsible, because you are not responsible only for the job you're doing, but you're responsible basically for the fates and the destinies of millions of people who were left completely alone because of the bad regimes their countries were functioning at. And you're also responsible for your behaviour towards many, many international workers who are either in the political, economic, social or humanitarian or other fields, working for different international organisations in the region. And that's very exciting, very difficult but very, very interesting."

Do people in these countries sometimes resent outsiders coming in and to some extent telling them what to do?

"I think that you're right to a certain extent and basically I inexperienced this in my own skin. That was one of the reasons why I didn't come back within the last twelve years. It was not only the fact that I loved my job, and I just wanted to do it because I saw the importance and the sense out of it, but also I tried twice or three times to come back and I didn't meet with the enthusiasm or the energy from the people or from the organisations here as I was expecting. I think the situation now has changed, it's not the same like six, seven, eight years ago...I will see, actually, how it's going to be because after twelve years now I'm employed within the Czech institution (the Foreign Ministry) again."

What do your friends and family here think of the career path you have chosen?

"They think I'm a bit crazy and I'm the black sheep of the whole family, I guess. But I think that during the past twelve, fourteen years they have had enough time to get used to it. I think that only now after many, many years they really did get to understand I will never do a job without feeling that it makes sense, that it goes somewhere and it helps someone, so I think that now they got used to it."

Now you're off to Iraq as the Czech co-ordinator for the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance - what will you be doing exactly in Iraq?

"I will be co-ordinating all the political and other relationships and developments between the coalition partners, Iraqi partners and the Czech government and the Czech experts who will be working there with me. I will be also trying to introduce our quality and our potential to the Iraqis and to the Americans and the British, who are leading the coalition office. And also I might be leading the media forum that is going to be created to democraticise, or to put into effect the democratisation of the nationwide Iraqi media."

That sounds like a very difficult task - what particular problems do you expect in that job?

"It's a very, very complex job, it's a very unknown job, to tell you the truth. Because nobody knows what exactly is going to happen. The coalition partners are trying to find their place in Iraq, and their responsibilities and their positions and the Czech government and the Czech side is trying to find its own itself. The way how I'm going to create it basically depends very much on me and on the skills that I'll be working there with, the skills of the experts. But I think that the most difficult would be to get into the Iraqi community, so that we can persuade them that yes, we are on the side of the coalition forces but also, yes, we do respect you. We want to listen to you and we want to help you the way how you need it, not the way how we impose it."

How many Czechs will be in Iraq? I read maybe a month ago that the foreign minister, Cyril Svoboda, was hoping to send something like 20 experts to act as advisors - has that quota been filled?

"Well, we have selected, after a difficult process, 15 experts and three of my closest secretaries, assistants that will be working with me, and we selected these people according to my agreement with General Garner and the first group of coalition leaders in Iraq. However, now as you know Mr Bremer and his staff is leading the coalition. It remains to be seen still, and to be approved still, if the quantity of the people that we agreed upon will stay the same and if the placement all around Iraq will be the same. I want to believe that it will be the same but this is what I'm working upon right now."

I understand that you've already been to Iraq and that you stayed at one of Saddam Hussein's palaces is that right?

"Right, at the beginning of May, and it's still the case, all the coalition workers were gathered in one of the biggest of Saddam's palaces in the centre of Baghdad, where people were working and living. Now the situation is changing a bit. We all will be working there, however, people are trying to find their accommodation out of the palace, because it's almost impossible, working and living conditions in that palace are very, very hard, and I guess that you can't get the proper energy for doing the job professionally and well. Also the communication lines are very poor; you have to work only with the satellite phones that don't work inside the buildings, etcetera. So I think that now there is another step, that people are trying to rent some houses or to live in hotels which are outside that palace."

Your work I suppose will be largely humanitarian. I presume at the same time many Czech companies would like to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. Is it hard to strike a balance between humanitarian assistance and business?

"Yes, and everybody has to understand, regardless of if I like it or it or not, or if they like it or not, that my mission is not to create Czech foreign business there. My mission is to introduce the brains and the skills of the experts in different fields of the society, including the topmost political one, to Iraqis and Americans and British. And during that time those people would definitely find contacts and have meetings and create the conditions that would be very fruitful and very good for foreign business and for the Czech companies that are waiting to start their business there. However, I must also say that without the dynamic, and without the active and reasonable approach from the side of Czech companies, directly to the Iraqi firms or Iraqi businessmen, they cannot expect that my office will take full responsibility for that."

Do you have any idea how long you will be in Iraq?

"No, it's just in the skies."

You are a woman, of course, working now in a Muslim country - does that bring particular problems, or does it possibly have advantages?

"I don't know yet. I would like to say that because I did work in Egypt many times, and I did work in Israel and the Occupied Territories and Lebanon many, many times and I never had any problems. So, I can say that I can expect the same in Iraq. However, I do not know Iraq well. It's still in front of me to study it and to discover it. But according to what I've read and what I've heard, I don't think that this is going to create a huge problem because I believe that, if I show to the local community that I'm really interested and I want to listen, I think that automatically the response will be positive."

17-06-2003