Old friends, New ties

For about 15 years, the Czech Republic put its energy and resources into meeting re-quirements to join the European Union, said Czech Ambassador Jiri Sitler, who is based in Bang-kok.

With this goal accomplished last year, the Czech Republic can now turn to parts of the world where it used to be active, such as Cam-bodia—about 700 Cambo-dians studied at Czech universities on Czech government scholarships in the 1960s and 1980s, he said.

Of course, the fact that Cam-bodia’s new King spent more than a decade in the Czech Republic and has close friends in Prague cannot fail to add to Cambodia’s appeal.

King Norodom Sihamoni, who acceded to the throne in October, was 9 years old when he went to study in the Czech Republic, which was part of Czechoslovakia at the time, said Sitler.

He left at 22, after graduating from the Academy of Music Arts in Prague in 1975. Then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk, his father, had visited the Czech Republic at least three times in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sitler’s research reveals that, from 1962 until 1970, then-Prince Sihamoni stayed at the Cambo-dian Embassy residence. After Lon Nol ousted Norodom Siha-nouk from power, the young prince was forced to move out. He went to live with the family of Mrs. Novotna, the director of the first school he attended in Prague.

From the start, the prince proved weak in mathematics but excelled in the arts. He began private ballet lessons in 1965, and showed a knowledge of music, and especially of opera, beyond his years.

“The King is not only fluent in Czech; he speaks it like a native, with no foreign accent whatsoever,” Sitler said.

His favorite book is Babicka, or the grandmother, published in 1854 by Czech writer Bozena Nemcova. During an audience in November, King Sihamoni told Sitler that he regretted having left it in Paris. Sitler has since brought him a new copy.

Shortly after King Sihamoni’s coronation last year, two Czech projects were launched.

The firstinvolves monument restoration. During the meeting of the International Coordinating Committee of Angkor last December, the Nuclear Physics Institute of the Czech Science Academy offered its support to restoration teams at Angkor.

Using a series of tests including neutron activation analysis, the institute’s scientists can determine stones’ nuclear structure to help identify compatible material for restoration work.

“This analysis entails irradiating the samples of sandstone with neutrons in a reactor, and measuring radiation spectra and thus generated radionuclides,” said institute spokesman Karel Kranda.

This represents a contribution of 130,000 euros, or approximately $167,000, and the Czech government is considering expanding the project, Sitler said.

The second project involves food distribution and support given to the sick and needy in Takeo province. The $150,000 effort is managed by the small NGO Rainbow Center, said Sitler.

Among other Czech activities, award-winning director Jiri Menzel came to Phnom Penh in October for the presentation of two of his films at the French Cultural Center. And paintings done by children at the Terezin concentration camp was held at Tuol Sleng Museum in February; Nazi Germany sent about 140,000 people to that Czech camp during the Second World War.

This July, Petr Kolar, the For-eign Affairs deputy minister for bilateral relations, will make an official visit to Cambodia. His delegation will include representatives from Czech NGOs that are considering funding projects in the country, Sitler said.

A Czech film festival in Phnom Penh is also being planned for the end of the year or early next year, he said. The program may include a 1986 film about a Czech medical doctor who is separated from his Cambodian fiancée during the Khmer Rouge era, and tries to find her in the 1980s.

 

 

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