By Jaroslav Horák, Ambassador Czech Republic.
If we want to talk about the Czech – Dutch relations, we should not forget a long historical period of relations between the Netherlands and the predecessor of the Czech Republic – Czechoslovakia.
Diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia were established on 13 November 1919 soon after the birth of independent Czechoslovakia. But mutual contacts go back to the early Middle Ages, although they were very sporadic. At that time, there was no Czechoslovakia, the less the Czech Republic. In this context, it is used to talk about the Kingdom of Bohemia or later the Czech lands or Czech country, as they were 300 years part of the Austrian monarchy. A certain revival, particularly in the areas of culture, occurred just under the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II. In the 17th century, when the Netherlands was experiencing its Golden Age, Emperor Rudolf transferred the cultural center of the monarchy from Vienna to Prague and there were mainly Dutch artists in Prague who contributed to the great development of artistic style – mannerism which was then widely cultivated in the imperial court.
But the critical links were formed during the 30 Years War when the Netherlands wanted to ensure its security interest in the strong Czech anti-Habsburg revolt. Mutual sympathy at the time were based on protestant religion to which even the Czech countries have reported up to 85 percent of the population. The symbol of Czech – Dutch reciprocity then became a person of Johann Amos Comenius – see below .
Before the World War II, relations between the two European democracies – Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands – were correct, although quite different in terms of foreign policy objectives. Diplomatic relations were interrupted during the WW II but soon after their restoration in 1948, both countries went completely different directions. While the Netherlands became a founding member of NATO and the European Communities Czechoslovakia, after the communist putsch in 1948, received strong dependence on the USSR and fell into ever greater isolation.
The Second World War, however, left one more legacy for Czech / Slovak – Dutch relations. Many Czechs and Slovaks who fled their occupied homeland to Britain were fighting against Nazism as crew members of the British RAF. Many were shot down just above Dutch territory and 45 of them are buried on war cemeteries in the Netherlands.
During the long 41 years, until the democratic revolution in 1989, mutual relation did not flourish. It was an impact of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain separating the world of prosperity and democracy from the world of economic backwardness and political totalitarianism.
The Netherlands “rediscovered” Czechoslovakia in 1990 after so called Velvet Revolution. A large part in this shift was played by the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel who made a tremendous job in bringing Czechoslovakia, and then later the Czech republic, back to Europe and to the world. A new chapter in history of mutual relations then was written by a peaceful breakup of the Czechs and Slovaks, the division of Czechoslovakia into two independent states and establishment of diplomatic relations with the Netherlands at the ambassadorial level.
Today, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic are members of NATO and the EU which means they are allies and partners. Both countries share the same values and are dedicated defenders of democracy and human rights. An important component of bilateral relations is undoubtedly economy and trade. The Netherlands ranks the fourth place in the volume of foreign investments in the Czech Republic. The main Czech exports are machinery and cars. Philips was perhaps symbolically, among the first foreign capital corporations that came after 1989 to Czechia.
Cultural ties and tourism are the spice of the relationship. About 185,000 Dutch tourists visit Czechia annually. In addition to the magic of capital Prague, they are attracted by Czech mountains but also by South Bohemia where even Dutch villages are located. Promotion of tourism in the direction from the Netherlands to the Czech Republic is the main task of Czech Tourism in Amsterdam and the slogan under which it presents the Czech Republic as an highly attractive tourist destination is “Czech Republic – Land of Stories”. There are also comfortable air links between the two countries. From Amsterdam or Rotterdam to Prague and/or from Eindhoven to Brno it takes only 75 minutes by aircraft!
Presentation of the Czech culture is dealt by the Czech Center based in Rotterdam which organizes exhibitions, concerts , literary and film evenings. This year is the Year of Czech Music with a number of anniversaries of the famous Czech composers – Antonin Dvorak, Leos Janacek, Bedrich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinu and Josef Suk. Czech Center is going to organize the exhibition on Antonin Dvorak in Beverwijk (June 2014) and then to co-organize the Festival of ancient music from the time of the Habsburg monarchy in Utrecht (August 2014).
Talking about the Czech – Dutch reciprocity, I can not forget one of the most important personalities of Czech and European history, a personality which has linked the two nations for centuries – Johann Amos Comenius, truly the first Czech emigre who, in the beginning of the 30 years war (after 1620), had to leave his homeland for religious (and political) reasons and never returned to it. Comenius ended up his long pilgrimage throughout Europe in protestant Amsterdam where he died in 1670. Comenius was a bishop, scholar, philosopher and educator who gave the world, inter alia, new teaching methods that are used even today. It may be a speculation but his method of illustrative teaching through images (processed in the work of Orbis pictus) could have become a prototype of the Windows operating program.
Comenius was buried after his death in Naarden close to Amsterdam, where his grave is located next to the Comenius Museum with the permanent exhibition. I can highly recommend everyone to visit it and get acquainted with the legacy of this great thinker and the founder of modern pedagogy. In the Netherlands, many schools and businesses are named after Comenius.
Finally, I add some useful links: