Two years since he entered office in the Italian capital, an interview with Ambassador Buriánek, among memories and the present

Now fifty years old, with a wife, three children and a well-rounded curriculum between the Old Europe and the United States. Above all, a wide experience of life, culture and politics that he will cherish forever, his close collaboration with the former Czech president Václav Havel. Petr Buriánek, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic in Italy and Malta since 2011, welcomes us for the interview to look back on his first two years of office at the embassy in Rome, during one of the first hot summer days in July. A short talk on Europe, Italy and Havel, of course, and of his recent visit, as part of his work, to Palermo, but also of his acquaintance with the “multiple and diverse regions” of Italy that makes it so charming, but “difficult to understand”, as he likes to put.
16 ambasciatore trinita dei monti(L’ambasciatore Petr Buriánek con il figlio Matyáš a Trinità dei Monti, Roma)

The Ambassador, who speaks fluent English, French and Croatian, excellent Russian and German, decides to try out his Italian, a language that he has been studying and of which he has a basic knowledge. “I visited Italy as a tourist only two or three times in the summer, or I happened to come to the country for ministry assignments – Buriánek explains. – In my role as ambassador in Croatia from 2003, I had contacts with Italy and learned a lot from the relations we had between Zagreb and Rome. On that occasion, it was interesting to discover that in the Northeast of the country there is a Czech minority and an Italian one who live in the same area and who have been cooperating for some time. However, working as a diplomat in Italy is not a simple thing – the Ambassador admits. – It is a very important country in the EU, part of NATO and the G8, and a central player on the European scene. Italy is a very complex country, also because it was unified just over 150 years ago, which is why many regions are different one from the other, in their autonomy and from a juridical point of view: each with its own characteristics and it is thus difficult to understand. From the work point of view, there is high professionalism, which makes it a very pleasant combination and a great challenge to understand the country and be able to promote and support bilateral relations”.

However, for the Czech ambassador, with a qualification in Modern History of Central Europe, and attendance at the Goethe Institut in Berlin, the University of Perpignan, the United States Information Agency and at the Ecole National d’Administration, one of the most intense periods of his personal and political training was when he was together with Havel. I remember him with great emotion, when he talked about what he called a “legacy” to the European generations of today and tomorrow. “I consider his work to be even more relevant now than a few years ago. Today we talk about a lack of great leaders in the EU, capable of steering Europe ahead. It is in his speeches on European and international issues that we may find the necessary inspiration for today’s political leaders” he explains, recalling the artificer of the Velvet Revolution. He conceived the EU as a very complex entity that is not only political or economic, but also one consisting of values and with spiritual foundations. What I believe to be even more important is that he did not only affirm these values but he acted accordingly. Havel’s personality consisted of an interesting combination: on the one hand, he was reflexive, doubtful and hesitant, but on the other, he was determined when making decisions”.

“Havel – Buriánek goes on to say – was a very shy person, who listened to others and pondered a great deal, but in the end he was able to express great personal courage – unlike what is often happening today: many people never doubt about their positions or opinions, but when it comes to translating them into facts… it is easier said than done. I see his inspiration and legacy not only in his ideas and thoughts, but also from his life and the way he lived through it”, he concludes.

And this is why the ambassador was very impressed and pleased by what happened in Palermo at the end of June. The municipality has decided to dedicate a street or a square to former Czech president Václav Havel, who died in 2011. The announcement and the promise was made by mayor Leoluca Orlando to the Czech ambassador in Italy during the film festival of the Visegrád group Countries, which took place in the Sicilian capital. “During the meeting with Orlando, the mayor himself told me of his intention to dedicate a street or square to Havel. A rather unusual thing, because in Italy this can normally take place only 10 years after the death of the personality. The Mayor is anticipating things: it is a gesture of friendship, not only to the Czech Republic but also to Central Europe. It is a gesture of respect towards Havel, an important personage that has also laid his roots in Sicily”.

It is a further sign of the very good relations between the two countries, that reached its peak in 2012 with visits by various ministers, the prime minister and the president of the Republic. “Relations between the Czech Republic and Italy in the last year have been very intense – the ambassador affirms – and for us, Italy is by tradition a very important partner, both from a commercial point of view and for its role in the EU and NATO. We have common interests and positions: for example, the further integration of the Western Balkans into the EU, the accession of Turkey into the EU and the Middle East issue between Israel and Palestine. However, we admit that geographically there are different viewpoints on Eastern Europe and North Africa: Italy obviously has major interests towards North Africa and the Mediterranean and Prague, for historical and traditional reasons, places more emphasis on its partnership with the Eastern countries, such as Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Caucasus. in these south and east directions, we do listen to each other”.
17 ambasciatore VVa_prezident._8.zari2011.d.(With the President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano, during the presentation of the letter of credence, October 2011)

The visits that took place in 2012, “during a very complex moment for the Eurozone, that I would consider almost critical, helped us to understand each other better. Therefore, I would like these meetings not only to be a single experience, but to become more productive and held on a regular basis in the future”. And with regard to relations between the two countries, Buriánek recalls an aspect that goes back to the First World War, but which is still valid today as a basis for good relations: “The story of the Czechoslovak legions, established in Italy during the Great War, must be passed down and made widely known, because it is unique and interesting. The establishment of an independent Czechoslovak army in Italy that fought alongside the Italians against the enemy. We are grateful to the associations in northern Italy for taking care of the graves of the Czechoslovak legionaries – and that thanks to this are passing on their memory. A legacy that is worth respecting”.

by Daniela Mogavero