Press Release: SVU Scores a Home Run in Ceske Budejovice

A press release from the Czechoslovak Academy of Arts and Sciences

SVU Congresses and Conferences of late have been remarkably successful. The just completed 23rd SVU World Congress, held in the South Bohemian Metropolis Ceske Budejovice, has not been an exception. While the Czech soccer team did not perform as well this year in the World Cup as expected, one can say, without any reservation, that the SVU Congress was a real hit, and, in fact, “scoring a home run.”

The University of South Bohemia, which hosted the Congress, provided visitors from all over the world a truly warm welcome. The warmth of the welcome was also reflected in the temperature which exceeded 33 degrees Celsius, making it one of the hottest seasons in the city’s and region’s history. Fortunately, there was a gentle breeze which made it agreeable in the shade to some, or even pleasant to others. In the evening, and in the subsequent days, the temperature dropped down significantly, partly due to minor and intermittent showers, so that the lack of air conditioning in the city was not a problem.

The Congress, as a whole, was a remarkable event, both in terms of its contents, a plethora and variety of topics and high quality of individual papers. There was a general consensus that this was the best Congress SVU ever staged.

Although a few of us came already on Saturday, June 24, the majority of overseas attendees began arriving on Sunday in the early afternoon. Most of them came directly from the Prague-Ruzyne airport in one of the buses provided by the University. The buses brought them to the University campus, in the vicinity of the University Hostel “Bobik”, where the registration desk was located, enabling the participants to register immediately upon their arrival. The registration went relatively smoothly because most of the oversees participants were already preregistered in the US, thanks to the efficient work of Blanka Kudej and her husband Svata.

After registration, the Congress participants moved their bags to their rooms in one of the University dorms which were conveniently located next to the Hostel “Bobik.” Having done so, most of them then hurried to the close-by city bus stop to take part in the guided tour through the historic part of the city. Immediately after the tour, which lasted about three hours, there was a Social-Get-Together which was attended by a large crowd of overseas, as well as local Congress participants. The food was plentiful and the famous local beer “Budvar” enhanced the prevailing joyous atmosphere and exuberant mood.

The long day was crowned with the final event on the famous Ceske Budejovice square, bearing the name of its founder the Bohemian King Premysl Otakar II. Here our Congress participants were treated to a concert performed by a noted South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic which performed Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” It was a fabulous performance by one of the leading orchestras in the Czech Republic. Afterwards, most of us went to bed, but, as I later learned, a sizeable group ended up in one of the local pubs to get more taste of famous Czech brew.

The SVU Congress officially opened on Monday, June 26, with a ceremony held in the recently completed cultural center “Bazilika” in the midst of the City to which the Congress participants were transported by the University buses. The kickoff time was at 10 AM but several of us, who were responsible for the organization and preparation of the Congress, were there earlier so that we could take part in the scheduled press conference. Subsequently, together with Rector Vaclav Buzek, I had the pleasure of welcoming President and Mrs. Klaus upon their arrival in front of the building and escorting them to one of the Bazilika’s elegant receiving rooms. Here was already assembled a group of Ambassadors from both sides of the Atlantic, together with other VIPs. After a few formalities of small talk, I raised a glass of champagne and toasted the President, and others joined me. He reciprocated, commenting on the importance of the SVU Congress and the role SVU has played on behalf of the Czech Republic.

We were then taken to the head table in the large Bazilika Hall which was already full to the last seat by the Congress participants. The academic procession followed, consisting of University Presidents, Rectors, Provosts and Deans from overseas, as well as from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, dressed in their traditional academic attire, to the tune of Janacek’s music. It was quite a sight.

I then officially opened the Congress. Then came the welcoming speeches by the University Rector Vaclav Buzek and the Governor of the Ceske Budejovice Region Jan Zahradnik. Afterwards, President Klaus presented a brief address in English.

After a short recess, the ceremony continued with the greetings and short messages from a number of Ambassadors from the US, Canada and the Czech and Slovak Republics and other dignitaries, including President of the Czech Learned Society, Scientific Secretary of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Rector of Charles University. The whole proceedings was very impressive and, as some people who saw it on TV, commented, “it had a majestic look.”

As the academic procession left the hall and the audience followed, the Congress attendees were treated to an enormous “rout,” the Czech word for a festive buffet. The tables were overflowing with a large variety of warm and cold dishes, meats, salads, assorted cheeses, sweets, hors d'oeuvres, vegetable trays with tangy dips, stuffed mushrooms caps, marinated foods, mini quiches, meatballs, wines, soft drinks and ever present “Budvar” beer. In spite of large crowds, I am sure, nobody went hungry. Here you had the chance of meeting many interesting people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as from overseas.

At about 2:30 PM the attendees reassembled in the main hall where the Plenary Session was about to start which I had the honor to chair. The theme of the session was “Diplomatic Relations between North America and the Czech and Slovak Republics.” The panelists comprised the respective Ambassadors from the Czech and Slovak Republics, the United States and Canada. It was a highly informative and amiable session in which the Ambassadors, not only charted the official course of their Governments’ positions and actions but also a meeting in which they showed their human side and talked about their experiences in their assigned country posts to which they showed an obvious attachment, admiration and love.

When it was over, most attendees were taken back by the University buses to the University grounds. A sizeable group, however, went with me to the Theology Faculty building where an exhibit of the “Czech Bible through the Coarse of Centuries” was housed. Together with the Faculty Dean, the City Bishop and the director of the exhibit we opened the exhibit. It was a beautiful display of rare texts from the time of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius to date. The exhibit was open during the duration of our Congress so that other Congress participants could view it at their convenience.

Those who previously purchased tickets had supper at the University “menza” (cafeteria) but, as I suspect, most of the attendees skipped it because they were still full from the scrumptious “rout.” The busy day ended “with a crescendo” at the University Congressional Hall in “Bobik” where the piano virtuoso Radoslav Kvapil gave a memorable performance of Mozart, Smetana. Suk and Martinu’s works. It should be noted that Radoslav Kvapil, who is our SVU member, performed gratis, without any compensation.

The days that followed were just as exciting as the first two. The attendees could select from as many as twelve concurrently run academic sessions from Tuesday morning till Friday noon, held on the premises shared by the University of South Bohemia and the Czech Academy of Sciences. A lack of space does not allow me to give a description of individual panels. Suffice it to say that practically every area of human endeavor was covered, ranging from history, literature, philosophy, the arts, education, politics, law, business, economics, trade, and the media to natural sciences and engineering, medicine, agriculture, and environment.

This time, there was a strong representation of medicine and natural sciences, including three medical panels, one in mental health, two in public health, another in nerosciences, five in biological sciences and another in physical sciences and engineering. Most of the panelists were scientists of international standing.

Apart from specific disciplines, the program featured a number of highly stimulating symposia. One dealt with the “University Leadership on Both Sides of the Atlantic,” in which high-level university officials participated, including presidents, chancellors, vice presidents, rectors, provosts and deans.

Equally enticing was a panel on “University Partnerships and Cooperation between the US and CR and SR,” in which the university representatives with active programs in the referenced counties recounted their experiences with collaborative arrangements and projects. In another symposium, members of the Czech and Slovak diplomatic core discussed their experiences and the role in representing the Czech and Slovak Republics abroad. Among the Czech symposia, one of the most interesting ones was a two-day seminar on the Czech archives and resources relating to history of Czechs abroad. A number of leading archivists took part in the seminar, including Jiri Krestan of the Czech National Archives and Milena Secka of the Naprstek Museum.

An entire section of the Congress was devoted to Czechs and Slovaks abroad in which such topics as emigrations and re-emigration, US settlements and communities, Czechs and Moravians in Texas, cultural contributions of Czechs and Slovak emigrants, and preservation of national heritage abroad were discussed.

What was unique among the English panels this time was the fact that a considerable proportion of the panelists were individuals with interest in some aspect of Czech and Slovak culture or affairs without roots or any Czechoslovak background.

Two other events need to be mentioned. In the early afternoon on Tuesday, there was a book showing (“knizni prezentace”) during which recently published SVU publications were shown and discussed by Dean Ivo Bartecek and myself. They included the Proceedings of the last SVU Congress in Olomouc, bearing the title Moravia from World Perspectives. Selected Papers from the 22nd SVU World Congress, published in two volumes by Repronis in Ostrava in 2006.Also shown were recently issued two CDs - one containing Selected Papers from the 2003 SVU North American Conference, Ceda Rapids, Iowa, and another containing a revised SVU Directory.

At about the same time on Wednesday, Prof. Joseph Kohn and his colleagues made a presentation of the planned Vaclav Havel Library. Inspired, in part, by the American model of Presidential Libraries, the Vaclav Havel Library will house Havel’s works and papers, document the complex battle for democracy and freedom in the second half of the 20th century, and stimulate discussion, research, and publications on the ongoing struggle for human rights and the challenges of post-communist political and civic engagement.

Practically every evening some concert or other cultural attraction was featured. Thus on Tuesday night there was a performance of South Bohemian Philharmonic with the repertoire of music works by Mozart, Dvorak, Pablo Sarasate and Beethoven. The added attraction was the noted Czech violin virtuoso Pavel Sporcl. After this concert, the Congress attendees could go to the Premysl Otakar II Square where a special program, entitled “Co Cech, to muzikant” (Every Czech a Musician) was given. On Wednesday night, there was a special performance in the Bobik’s Congressional Hall by two SVU members, Budimir Zvolanek - clarinet and Marie Bobkova - piano. Later that very evening, one could view, on the city courtyard, Theatre J. K. Tyl, performing the play “Svetaci.” On Thursday evening, one could attend the Theatre Street Festival “Kvelb” - a popular puppet theatre - from 7 to 11 P.M. If you preferred, you could have attended instead a flute recital, featuring Hana B. Colombo - flute and Fabrizio Vanoncini - organ. Their program consisted of music by Vivaldi, three music pieces by Bach, and one piece by Handel. On Friday night, the Congress attendees could again hear the music performance by South Bohemian Philharmonic which played Edvard Hagerup Grief, Josef Myslivecek, Antonin Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana. And finally, on Sunday night, there was a swing concert “Muses on the River,” featuring Zatrestband from Trest which presented popular music and songs from Jerry Herman, Jaroslav Jezek and Frank Sinatra.

At the conclusion of the academic program on Friday noon, the Congress attendees moved to the cultural center “Bazilika,” where the remainder of the Congress program was held and where it was concluded. It started at 2 PM with a Plenary Session over which I had the pleasure to preside. The first item on the agenda was a keynote address by the President of the Czech Academy of Sciences Vaclav Paces who talked on “Czech Science in the Globalized World: Challenges and Pitfalls.” After his thoughtful and brilliant presentation came a discussion panel ”What Have We Learned and Where We Are Going” in which Zdenek Brandl, Vladimir Papousek, Libor Grubhoffer. Michael Bauer, Vaclav Paces, Karel Raska and I took part.

During the SVU Award Ceremony, which followed, I had the pleasure of acknowledging several individuals for their assistance in organizing the present Congress by awarding them SVU Presidential Citations, i.e., Prof. Vladimir Papousek, Prof. Libor Grubhoffer, Docent Michal Bauer, Vladimir Matajs, Zuzana Galatikova, Gabriela Dudova, Blanka and Svata Kudej, Cecilia Rokusek, Karel Raska and George Tesar. Presidential Citations were also presented to Clinton Machann, Andrej Elias and Jiri Eichler for their contributions for their continuous and sustained contributions to the Society, as a whole. Last but not least, two other individuals have been singled out for a special recognition by awarding them “Beyond the Call of Duty Award” for “they have been always there, whenever needed, always loyal and always dependable: Frank Mucha, SVU Treasurer and Eva Rechcigl, my wife.“

The occasion was also used to present SVU Fellow certificates to several Fellows who have been honored with such distinction and who were present at the meeting. They were: Prof. Vaclav Paces - for his achievements in the area of biological sciences, Prof. Leopold Pospisil - for his achievements in social sciences, Prof. Frantisek Sehnal - for his contributions to biological sciences, Prof. Vaclav Vitek - for his contribution in engineering and Prof. Josef Jarab - for his contributions to humanities.

The Award Ceremony was concluded with the presentation of Andrew Elias Humanitarian and Tolerance Award to the noted Czech journalist Petra Prochazkova for her humanitarian work and for calling to public attention violations of human rights. After acceptance of the award, together with an honorarium of $1000, Petra Prochazkova gave a talk in Czech on “Iluze zapadu o dopadu humanitarni pomoci” (Illusion in the West about the impact of humanitarian aid), based on her personal experiences.

The very busy afternoon ended with SVU General Assembly meeting, followed by a press conference. Then came a beautiful music performance by the South Bohemian Chamber Philharmonic, mentioned earlier, and a “rout,” hosted by SVU member Jan Seyfried, for which we are very grateful to him.

Some of us took also the advantage of the two scheduled excursions on Saturday and Sunday, to Cesky Krumlov and Hluboka, respectively, which was a pleasant way of finishing our sojourn in South Bohemia.

All in all, the Congress and everything else connected with it were great. The memories of the beautiful South Bohemian region and its friendly and hospitable people will stay with us for ever. Thanks again to everyone for making it such a memorable and unforgettable event.

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