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H.E. Ms. Ivana Hlavsova, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Serbia

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a continental country in Central Europe, whereas in the geopolitical context, the UN lists it as being in Eastern Europe. With an area of 78,866km², it is bordered by Poland to the north, Germany to the northwest and west, Austria to the south, and Slovakia to the east. The capital and largest city is Prague. The Czech Republic consists of the following historical territories: Czechia (Bohemia), Moravia, and Czech Silesia; this trinity is also represented on the coat of arms. The Czech Republic is divided into 14 administrative regions (kraje) which are further divided into districts (okresy), and finally municipalities (obce). It joined the European Union in 2014 and it is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The transition to a market economy in 1990 brought about a gradual privatization process. During the 1990s, the Czech Republic held the top position on the list of most developed post-communist countries. The land is very fertile. Bohemia is known for hop growing (and beer production), while Moravia is famous for grapes (and winemaking). The most important industries in the Czech Republic are the automotive industry (Škoda Auto), the machinery industry, local wood processing, and the manufacture of glass and ceramics. Tourism holds an especially important spot in the context of Czech economy. Charles University in Prague, founded in the 1340s, was the very first university in Central Europe, as well as all Slavic countries. Some of the students and professors were: Jan Hus, Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Ernst Mach, Tomáš Masaryk, and Edvard Beneš. The famous Karlovy Vary International Film Festival also takes place in the Czech Republic. Czech film directors Jiří Menzel and Miloš Forman are very well known all over the world. Menzel, Forman and Emir Kusturica, among others, graduated from the school of film (FAMU) at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.

We had the honor to talk to Her Excellency Ms. Ivana Hlavsova, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Serbia.

1 Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

I feel great. Belgrade is a pleasant city, and it is especially interesting for us because it is situated at the confluence of two large rivers. The city is marked by a highly developed culture, amazing restaurants and rich social life. The same may be said for Serbia – many charming landscapes and large areas of wild, untouched nature.

2 How long have you held the position of ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your career in diplomacy before you came here?

I have been in Serbia for four years now. Before coming to Belgrade, I had dealt with this region as Head of the South and South-East Europe Department, and I was also ambassador in Slovenia. Over the course of my career in diplomacy, which began in 1993, I was also Chief of Diplomatic Protocol, Consul General in Los Angeles, Head of the North and South America Department, as well as Executive Director of the NATO Summit Office in Prague.

3 What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like?

The relationship between our two countries is really great. There are no open questions regarding politics, and the Czech Republic fully supports Serbia when it comes to entering the EU. We are actively trying to assist Serbia on that path, especially through bilateral developmental cooperation, as well as through European instruments such as twinning and other types of projects.

Economic relations are also very good. Economic visits are becoming more and more frequent, and we are also nearing the resolution of the clearing of debt from the period of the former Yugoslavia. All monitored parameters have pointed to systematic growth in the exchange of goods between our countries in the past years. In addition to traditional trade, mutual investments, especially from the Czech Republic to Serbia, have lately been increasing as well, which is very good.

Yet, we see huge, unexploited potential. Together with our Serbian partners, we strive to further improve our economic relations and eliminate any barriers we come across in practice. The tenth successful session of the Mixed Intergovernmental Commission on Mutual Economic Relations, which focused on these exact matters, took place in December 2017.

4 Your Excellency, how many Czech companies operate in Serbia and how much has been invested in our country?

The specific statistics are not available to the Embassy, nor are Czech companies obliged to inform us of their activities in Serbia. However, according to our records, there are several dozen business entities operating in Serbia. They cover a wide spectrum of legal forms – some have daughter companies in Serbia, others have branch offices, while many Czech companies are present in Serbia either through their commercial agents, or self-representation. Czech investments in Serbia in the previous period amount to EUR 14.6 million (data for 2015). Thanks to last year’s investment made by the Czechoslovak Group (CSG) into IMK 14. oktobar a.d. Kruševac, these figures will increase significantly.

In this case, one-time statistics are less important than the medium-term trend. I am really pleased that this trend is very positive and has been steadily rising in recent years. The positive experience of certain companies has attracted other interested parties, so the number of Czech companies in Serbia is steadily increasing.

5 How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government, given that this year marks 100 years of established diplomatic relations between our two countries? What do you think about the cooperation between business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development?

As you mentioned, this year marks 100 years of established diplomatic relations between our two countries, as well as 100 years of Czechoslovakia, which we will celebrate together with the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Belgrade. We have a couple of big events planned with our colleagues from the Embassy of the Slovak Republic to celebrate this anniversary. Our partners in Serbia are also aware of these events and we have their support. At the end of March, we are opening an exhibition entitled “Staklo – nastanak i život” (“Glass – Creation and Life”) at the Museum of Science and Technology, which will present all possible applications of glass, as well as the glassblowing process. In addition, we also have plans for other events throughout the year, and all the information will be available on our web and Facebook pages. The cooperation between business associations reflects an overall good bilateral cooperation. The cooperation between our chambers of commerce is phenomenal, which is also true for regional chambers. For example, there were the recent visit by the Regional Chamber of Commerce Moravia-Silesia and the presentation of our Embassy’s economic adviser at the Zlin Regional Chamber of Commerce, which was also attended by the Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia in the Czech Republic.

6 What is the nature of the foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to the Czech Republic, and what does it import from it?

Even though we have grown accustomed to trade growth over the past few years, the dynamics of the exchange of goods has been truly fascinating. Exports from the Czech Republic have increased by a fifth, while exports from Serbia have increased by 10%.

When it comes to imports in Serbia, passenger cars are still in the lead. Other items include electricity, coke fuel, cables and electronics.

Exports from Serbia were dominated by seats (for the Czech car industry), electricity, plastic pipes and hoses, electric motors and electric switches.

Given the new Czech investments in Serbia, it will be interesting to see the development of the import/export structure in the years to come. At this time, we do not expect drastic changes at the very top of the list, but we can assume that some new items will eventually make their way to the top.

7 In 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic and the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia. Can you tell us what exactly the donation is for and how much money has been invested in the fight against the migrant crisis?

Being situated in the very center of Europe, the Czech Republic does not have to deal with the migrant crisis directly, but still feels an obligation to help other countries faced by this problem. For this reason, the Czech Republic has made donations to Serbia in 2015, 2016 and 2017 for strengthening border police capacities, as well as the asylum and migration systems. The first memorandum was signed in 2015, when a total of EUR 390 thousand was granted to the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration and the Ministry of the Interior for activities related to strengthening the Serbian asylum and migration systems, i.e. direct help for the refugees. The second memorandum was signed in December 2016, when EUR 780 thousand was granted to the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia for activities related to strengthening the system for border protection management, while the memorandum from 2017 provided a donation of EUR 1 million to the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia for strengthening the migration management system and the asylum system.

8 When it comes to investments, how do investors from the Czech Republic regard the Serbian market? What are the most influential companies that have made investments here?

Serbia, as a foreign investment destination, has the following advantages: it is the largest market in the Balkans outside of the EU, it is characterized by geographical and cultural proximity, a steadily growing economy, a qualified workforce, cheap inputs (energy, gas, etc.), as well as free access to the EU and Russian markets. For Czech investors, factors such as linguistic similarities and the Slavic mentality also come into play.

When it comes to shortcomings, businessmen from the Czech Republic usually complain about the poor rule of law, overly complicated and often contradictory regulations, as well as slow administrative procedures. Therefore, it is in this area that I see most room for improvement.

9 Today, Serbia is a candidate country for entering the EU. Our country faces great challenges that will require intense effort and strong political will, especially in terms of chapters 23 and 24. In your opinion, what will be crucial for Serbia to become a member state?

I agree – Serbia is facing great challenges, the toughest being the reforms in the context of chapters 23 and 24. It also needs to be said that the legal norms of the European Union must be complied with in all chapters. Thus, other problems will need to be thoroughly addressed as well, whether they are related to foreign policy or the environment. Needless to say, resolving bilateral disputes will play an important role. All of these factors combined create a huge task that is going to require strong public support and appropriate handling of the EU topics. I would also like to point out that Serbia has full support of the Czech Republic on its path towards joining the EU.

10 Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and the Czech Republic in the fields of science, culture, and education?

The cooperation between Serbia and the Czech Republic in those fields is incredible, and the Embassy is working on further improving this cooperation. For years, the Czech Government has been granting scholarships to Serbian students to study in the Czech Republic, and the interest has been great. We also have a good relationship with the Faculty of Philology and its Department of Czech Language, Literature and Culture, and we are always willing to open our doors to students form other faculties, to show them our historic building and introduce them to the work we do here at the Embassy. So far, we have had the opportunity to host students from the Faculty of Philosophy, Faculty of Philology, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Architecture, and we are also expecting a group of students from the Faculty of Political Sciences. Also, artists, authors and scientists from the Czech Republic often come to Serbia and vice versa. The Embassy is always willing to help, but we are so glad to see such good cooperation outside of the Embassy as well, which perfectly illustrates the good relations between our countries.

11 How would you present your country as a tourist destination? Which characteristics and landmarks would you highlight?

It makes me happy to know that the Czech Republic is a very popular destination among tourists from Serbia, in addition to being a key destination of many school trips. Aside from Prague and other cities, sites and landmarks protected by UNESCO, castles and spas, I would like to make Serbian tourists aware of our diverse nature where they can spend their active vacation.

12 What do you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

What I like most about Serbia are the nice, welcoming and friendly people, exceptional food and wine, as well as beautiful riverbanks and mountains. Unfortunately, I have little free time in Belgrade, but when I do, I like to take a walk or ride my bicycle along the paths near Sava and Dunav, as well as Kalemegdan in the evenings. I have also frequently travelled to different parts of Serbia, but I won’t mention specific destinations since the list is too long.