Earlier this month the President of Romania, Ion Iliescu, paid an official visit to the Czech Republic. He arrived just a few days after Romania, along with six other countries, joined the NATO military alliance and so officially became an ally of the Czech Republic, a NATO member since 1999. The Czech Republic, which is about to become a member of the European Union, also supports Romania's EU candidacy.
Last month, the Czech Prime Minister visited Romania and Macedonia with the aim of boosting trade and economic relations and strengthening ties with the Czech community in Romania. Aboard the plane with the Czech delegation, Radio Prague spoke to the Czech deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar about the Czech Republic's relations with these Balkan countries just after the official visit.
"Our bilateral relations are traditionally very good. What is new is the fact that we are becoming a member of the European Union on May 1, and they know it, they realise that the position of our country as an ally of those two countries inside the European Union is the new value, the added value towards our bilateral relations. And I'm sure that promises which were made from our side that we could help them, we could be advisors, we could support their journey into the European Union are taken seriously from their side and that they are very grateful for that. So I would say that our bilateral relations after this visit are even stronger and they have a good perspective."
Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar. President Vaclav Klaus expressed his hope that Romania will successfully conclude EU accession talks soon, while Senate Chairman Petr Pithart offered what he called advice in Romania's efforts to become an EU member. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar again.
"Generally, I would say that the main message or the main result is that we, as the Czech Republic, a country which is very supportive of the enlargement of the European Union but, of course, there are some preconditions which must be fulfilled. It is clear that those criteria are the same for everyone. But we could help as those who already went through this process of negotiations, we have personal experience. We offered our concrete, very personal experience and we could really help by giving them a chance to understand our own mistakes and to learn the lessons from our mistakes. So it could help. Of course, this is not only about the European Union it is about the membership in NATO as well, it is about our cooperation in the international field and it is also about the Western Balkans and the situation here which is quite fragile, as you know, and we very much appreciate the role of Romania and Macedonia in this region, in the peaceful solution of the problems here."
Historically, Romania became an ally of the newly constituted Czechoslovak state already in 1921, three years after an independent Czechoslovakia was proclaimed. Along with Yugoslavia, the two countries founded a political, economic and military alliance known as the Little Entente, which fell apart on the eve of the Second World War. After the war, the countries became part of the eastern socialist bloc.
Before 1990, Romania was one of Czechoslovakia's largest trading partners but after the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, business relations stagnated. Today, Czech companies are again interested in doing business in Romania, especially now the country is going to privatise some of its large state-owned companies and banks.
Romania is home to a large community of ethnic Czechs, whose representatives Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla met during his visit to Bucharest. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar says the Czech Republic does care about Czech expatriates abroad.
"I would say that our approach to Czechs living abroad, or to our countrymen is very decent and serious and traditionally we look after them and after the relations with them and I would say in the last few years it has much improved. There is even a chance for them to participate in the elections to the lower house of our parliament. There are some significant steps which were made in the past and I am sure that even in the future there will quite a serious interest from our country to cooperate with them and to use them as natural allies abroad who could be our, I would say, ambassadors, who could help us as quite an important lobby group in some political questions and other things."
As Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar says, traditional Czech communities abroad are dwindling and they need more attention from Prague if they are to maintain their customs and traditions.
"Those who are living in Eastern or South-Eastern Europe, they need more help from our country because as you have heard they are becoming a smaller and smaller group and many of them, especially young people, are leaving and they are going to the Czech Republic to look for jobs and better future. And the Romanian side expressed their interest to keep them there because they are quite hard-working people and they are a valuable part of Romanian society, so traditionally we were helping them with improving infrastructure, supporting schools and teachers in their schools who could teach the Czech language and every year they are receiving quite good money from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their projects. I wouldn't say they were complaining that we don't care about their life and they were not complaining that there is a lack of interest. They were just complaining because they realised that the future of this community is somewhere in the mist. They don't know how they can survive, young people are leaving. So that's the way to help them to improve the living conditions, and improve welfare, living standards to stay there. Frankly, Romania is going to be a member of the European Union, too, and one day we will be in the same space of one organisation and one of the basic freedoms in the free movement of people and once it will be even for them."
An industry expected to show significant increase in the future is tourism. Romania used to be a traditional summer destination for Czechs, being one of the few maritime countries under Communism that Czechs were allowed to visit. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many people preferred to spend their holidays in the West, but now some are rediscovering old favourite destinations. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar says many Romanian Czechs could find jobs thanks to growing incoming tourism from the Czech Republic.
"I am sure, from the other side that many Czechs are discovering the beauties of Romanian nature and countryside. Especially, the mountains are magnificent, they are beautiful. More and more Czechs are going there and not only tourists but hopefully, even some business people, some investment from the Czech Republic would come there, I'm sure because, from a tourist point of view, it's really so attractive and beautiful that they will have a chance to work maybe as agents for Czech tourist agencies and other investment will be there as well."
The interest in strengthening ties goes both ways. During his April visit to Prague, Romanian President Ion Iliescu officially opened an institution aiming to strengthen Czech-Romanian cultural relations. Among other activities and events, the Romanian Cultural Institute will provide a library of Romanian literature and show Romanian films.
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