By René Kubásek, director of the Czech Centre Bucharest
A group of Czech artists made a street experiment earlier this year – during their two-day-long performance at the Street Delivery festival in Bucharest, they asked random people about the first thing they associate with the Czech Republic.
Evidently – the result was beer. Expected. And Prague. And Franz Kafka and Václav Havel. And of course, Arabela with Rumburak, who seem to be more popular in Romania than in the Czech Republic. But among the often expressed associations there was also surrealist sculptor, puppeteer and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer. Or genius contemporary musician and composer Floex. Or Jirí Menzel, filmmaker that received high state decoration in Romania two years ago.
Here comes the role of the Czech Centre in Romania. To present the Czech Republic – a culturally rich country that combines great traditions with special contemporary vibe. We are doing so by organizing, or participating at over 100 artistic events annually, by hosting Czechs artists at residencies in Bucharest or by organizing Czech language classes.
But how to provide a true and attractive mix of what a country represents culturally? In our case – how to “beat” Arabela with her dark foe? We try to be open, inclusive and inventive.
On the occasion of anniversary of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvorák we challenged contemporary Romanian musicians and DJs to remix his work. In just couple of days the remixes put online reached thousands of listeners who might have never come across the Humoresque or Symphony from a New World.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia we invited Slovak and Czech cimbalom players to have a battle on their instruments, just like rap musicians do their battles. The fight was fierce, but unlike the rappers, our cembalist got together in the end of the day to unite into a joint concert.
To celebrate Czech literature and to introduce authors that have not yet been translated to Romanian, we distributed their short texts to analogue photographers in Bucharest (it appears they are many more than you think!). They were also given a role of black and white film and 24 hours to capture the text visually by their cameras. Four days later, 1800 handmade developed photos accompanied by the texts that inspired them, were exhibited at Foto Anexa on Calea Mosilor.
Like Romania, the Czech Republic is a post-communist country with all its consequences for society. Despite of that, the country has managed to build – especially thanks to former president Václav Havel – a strong civil society. This is also very much reflected in the programme of the Czech Centre – seven years ago we launched One World Romania, festival of documentary films on human rights, which is now held in memory of its former patron, Václav Havel. Ten thousand people come regularly in March to watch movies that open discussions on many extremely relevant topics of not only post-communist society.
We do invite and work with Roma artists from both Czech Republic and Romania, and we proudly participate in the week dedicated to sexual minorities.
Josef Koudelka, one of the world’s leading photographers, came to Romania to present the exhibition of his notorious photos taken during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He came to mark 45 years since the invasion, and to thank Romanians for being the only country of Eastern block, which condemned the occupation.
Our job gets easier with all the more Romanians tourists coming to the Czech Republic to have a first hand experience with the exquisite tapped beer or to admire beauties of Charles bridge and Prague Castle. In Prague’s tourist buses you get Romanian guided information in your eye phones, and the Bucharest-based musicians called Travka even composed popular song “Vreau sa simt Praga” (I want to feel Prague).
Literature could not be absent among the Czech associations – Milan Kundera with his unbearable lightness of being, Jaroslav Hasek with Svejk, or Bohumil Hrabal with his poetic works. But we try to promote also the new generation of writers by publishing their work as part of Cartea Ceha project. Many contemporary writers will come to Bucharest next May, when the Czech Republic will be the country of honor at the important Bookfest fair.
Still this year we plan to present to you more of our culture and identity – In the beginning of October Czech musicians will come to the Soundczech festival, on Mondays we will screen documentaries in a friendly atmosphere of the Czech Centre at Ion Ghica 11, and the above mentioned Jan Svankmajer will come to Bucharest in December with an exhibition and a film retrospective.
And what were the other, more unique associations people had when hearing the Czech Republic? For example sausages, Golem, bad shoe style, drugs’ decriminalization, or garlic soup. Well, there was also Lech Walesa and Bratislava… So as you can see, it is impossible to present you all of this, but give it a try and come to explore the Czech culture. You can do so both in the Czech Republic, and in Romania.