What first comes to mind when someone mentions the Czech Republic? Most people think of good beer, some think of the former president Vaclav Havel ; others of Jaromir Jagr or Pavel Nedved. However despite the fact that the Czech Republic has been a fully fledged member of the EU since 2004, few people in Europe and beyond know much about it. The Czech Foreign Ministry has launched a campaign to change that and aims to present the Czech Republic as a modern, dynamic state in the heart of Europe.
Although Prague is now one of Europe's most popular tourist attractions - the years spent behind the Iron Curtain have left their mark. Opinion surveys suggest that the country is often seen as a rather backward, rustic, post-communist state. Jana Adamcova, who heads the ministry's PR department says that many people have even failed to register the fact that the Czechoslovak federation broke up in 1993, leaving the Czech Republic an independent state:
"Many people still connect our country with the name Czechoslovakia - that is a strong brand label to this day - but we must present ourselves as an independent state. People don't know a great many things about our country - so we feel it is time to present concrete icons, concrete symbols, to illustrate our innovativeness, our rich culture and our history."
What do people know about us - what first comes to mind when you say you are from the Czech Republic?
"It is definitely Prague - Prague, Prague, Prague. And then they know our beer, they know Vaclav Havel, they know Czech glass and they know Skoda cars."
The Foreign Ministry wants to tell the world just how much the Czech Republic has to offer - and in cooperation with the website aktualne.cz it asked Czechs to pick the TOP 100 people or assets that they think would best represent their country. Aktualne cz.'s Miroslav Cepecky explains what the project involved:
"We asked people to pick one hundred subjects or personalities and more than 25 thousand people voted in the project. We ended up with five different categories: science, business, culture, the historic sights and natural beauties. In each category there were twenty representatives and the most popular - the one most people picked - is at the top - the rest are simply listed without any special order. "
Were there any surprises?
"I think that the Top 100 really is the cream of the crop - the best the country has to offer. But there were surprises in what people proposed should be on the list. Like some people wanted plastic bags to represent us because they are so popular with Czechs and so many people use them. Also some companies seemed determined to get on the list - like one second hand car dealer. All the employees voted it should be on the list but with so many people involved -25,000 in all - things like that dropped thought the net and we ended up with only serious representatives."
There are 20 representatives in each of the five categories. Among them the opera singer Emma Destin, athlete Roman Sebrle, scientist Frantisek Krizik, dubbed the "Czech Edison", who built the first electric railway in Prague in 1891, Otto Wichterle who invented contact lenses, painter Alfons Mucha, composer Antonin Dvorak, film direktor Milos Forman, Charles Bridge, Laterna Magika, the crystal glass industry, the Czech song Skoda lasky - also known as Roll out the Barrel - and - Czech beer, but of course many, many others you may not have heard of.
So how does the ministry hope to highlight these Czech achievements and assets? Jana Adamcova again:
"We will include the Top 100 in all our promotion materials that is sent to our embassies and Czech centers around the world. They will appear on posters, brochures and on our web pages for a start."
The ministry's web page promoting the Czech Republic is at: www.czech.cz
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