With thousands of Americans visiting the Czech Republic every year, the United States is one of the most important markets for CzechTourism. How does the state tourist board go about attracting US tourists? And after the boom of the 1990s, can it persuade Americans to keep coming back? At her New York office, I discussed those questions and more with Michaela Pálková-Claudino, director of CzechTourism in the US.
After many years of discussion and planning, extensive renovation work on New York’s Česká Národní Budova (Bohemian National Hall) is finally close to completion. Later this year, the imposing five-storey building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side will open its doors – and become home to many of the most important Czech institutions in the city. Ian Willoughby has been to see the Bohemian National Hall – I spoke to him on the line from New York and asked him first to tell us something about the history of the building.
Martin Palouš was one of the first signatories of the Charter 77 protest document. Since 1989 he has been a parliamentary deputy, an academic, and Czech ambassador to Washington. Now, however, Mr Palouš represents the Czech Republic at the United Nations in New York. When we spoke last week at his office on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, we began with the subject of Charter 77 and his days as a dissident.
In January 2009, the Czech Republic will for the first time assume the EU presidency. But the current Czech coalition government may have a problem – its policies have often seemed hostile to European consensus politics. With bilateral negotiations between the government and the US on a proposed radar base as well as a visa waiver programme, many have the impression that the current government, like its Polish counterpart, is hostile to the EU.
The Lane Motor Museum in the US city of Nashville made the news here in the Czech Republic recently when it commissioned a copy of a 1940s Tatra aero sledge or aero luge, a remarkable car on skis. It is just the latest addition to what the museum’s operators say is the largest collection of Czechoslovak cars outside Europe. I discussed its vintage vehicles with owner and auto enthusiast Jeff Lane on the phone from Nashville.
Two American citizens who were detained by the foreigners’ police in the town of Prostějov three weeks ago have been deported from the Czech Republic. The two men had overstayed the 90-day period for which no visas are required. They originally asked for asylum in the Czech Republic hoping to be allowed to stay but withdrew the request when they were told their chances of obtaining asylum were practically non-existent. The Czech Republic’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone has made life difficult for US citizens living here illegally. While in the past they merely had to cross the country’s borders once every three months in order to get a fresh stamp in their passport now they would have to travel outside of the Schengen area in order to start a new 90-day period in the country.
Mr Topolánek also spoke about his visit to Washington last week, denying that there was any link between a US pledge to add the Czech Republic to its Visa Waiver Programme and American plans to build a radar base in central Bohemia. The prime minister said Czech politicians had been trying to win visa-free travel to the US since 1989 and it was not the work of one government. Mr Topolánek has previously said the Czech Parliament will vote on the radar base around the time of a NATO summit in Bucharest in April. Opinion polls have suggested most Czechs are opposed to the building of such a facility.
EU officials have criticized the Czech-U.S. memorandum of understanding that paves the way for the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the U.S. visa-waiver programme. Citing European Commission sources, the Brussels-based daily Europolitics reported on Thursday that the bilateral Czech-American deal might “scupper” the current agreement between the United States and the old EU member states on data transfers concerning passengers travelling to the U.S. by air. Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate, whose country currently presides over the European Union, said that most EU countries want to negotiate visa agreements with the United States under a common strategy. Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer rejected the criticism saying that the Czech-U.S. memorandum is in line with EU legislation. Mr Langer also pointed out that the Czech Republic had been waiting for four years for the EU to take action leading to the abolishing of U.S. visas for the new EU countries, and only then did the Czechs start negotiating with the Bush administration.
A replica of the Czech made Tatra aero sledge, which was produced for the Germans during the Second World War, has recently been made for a collector in the United States. The little car with skis instead of wheels and a large propeller at the back was intended to serve the German Army in Russia. On Tuesday the replica was successfully tested on the snow of Jeseníky Mountains.
The Czech interior minister, Ivan Langer, has signed a memorandum of
understanding with the United States which is the first step towards the
Czech Republic being included in the US visa-waiver programme. Though not
legally binding, the memorandum paves the way for a full deal between the
two countries. US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who
co-signed the document in Washington, said if all went well Czechs would
able to travel to the States without a visa from the end of October or the
beginning of November this year. However, to do so they will have to
provide US authorities with personal data via the internet before being
allowed to enter the country. The information in question is in line with
an agreement reached between the US and the EU last year, the website
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who also took part in the signing ceremony, said it was an historical moment; he said the agreement represented the fulfilment of a dream for generations of Czechs.
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